Tiken Jah Fakoly ADD

Concert Report: Tiken Jah Fakoly in Berlin, Germany (March 25, 2023)

03/28/2023 by Gardy Stein

Concert Report: Tiken Jah Fakoly in Berlin, Germany (March 25, 2023)

When asked about the biggest reggae artists hailing from Africa, most people will mention the following three names: the late Lucky Dube, Alpha Blondy and Tiken Jah Fakoly. While the first singer already passed away (RIP!) and the second had to take a year off from performing live (following a minor surgery of his vocal chords), the latter is very much alive and well, blessing thousands of fans with his music on the current Braquage De Pouvoir Album Release Tour. Last Saturday, it was Berlin's turn to bask in his presence, and here is an overview of how that went.

Reaching the venue Festsaal Kreuzberg is easy, as it's very central, located right on the banks of the river Spree that runs through Germany's capital. Doors open at 7pm, and the people who have already assembled at the entrance are happy to escape the drizzly rain that's been in and out all afternoon. Radiating joy and excitement, they enter the building to the soundtrack of Bob Marley, take off their jackets, greet friends and grab a drink.

During the next two hours, the location gradually fills, reaching a total of 900 people of all ages, styles and colors, united for this show. Around 9pm, some of the fans start chanting "Tiken Jah, Tiken Jah!" in high anticipation, and, shortly after, the lamps are dimmed and the musicians take place behind their respective instruments. When the lights flash back on and a powerful intro is struck, the stage is full. Ten band members share the space up there, and since they are essential for the musical quality of the night, a short introduction is due. As we are dealing with reggae, let's start with the rhythm section: on bass, it's Valery "Valess" Assouan (the man with the hottest shoes in the place), and Ludovic "Ludo" N'Holle sits behind a drum set, his bass-drum prominently featuring a red-gold-green outline of Africa. To his right (our left), barely visible, are Jean François "Jeff" Quellec (trombone), Didier Bolay (trumpet) and Jean Baptiste "JB Moundele" Dobiecki (sax), while to his left (our right), Jean Luc "Dave" Remy hits the keys. In front of him, Julie Brou and Elodie Saint let their sweet voices be heard in a medley of Danga, Baba and Les Martyrs, accompanied by Colin Laroche De Feline on guitar. What immediately captures my attention, though, is the man standing next to Colin and the instrument he holds. His name is Andra Kouyate and he plays a ngoni, a traditional West African lute that, in his case, is even a double one. He also plays a talking drum in several songs, the first of which sees the man we all came for appear.

To the well-known announcement of Dernier Appel ('Final Call'), Tiken Jah Fakoly enters the stage, all royalty, clad in a wide, intricately embroidered hooded gown and holding a long wooden rod. He later tells me that this rod was given to him by a Jamaican who happened to be on set for the cover photo shoot of his album Racines in 2014 in Kingston, and he carries it with him ever since. "Bon soir! How are you? Thank you for coming tonight! Are you ready to take your plane to Africa?" he greets us and, during the next chorus, holds out his mic for the crowd to sing. The response is intense and immediate, and it will stay that way all through this special night.

Actually, the audience really surprises me with their level of understanding French and knowing Tiken's lyrics. Even the songs of the new album are well known already, as the next track Le Peuple A Le Pouvoir shows, to which many people sing along: "Le peuple a le pouvoir, il ne le sait pas. Quand il le saura, il gagnera tous les combats." ('The people have the power, but they don't know it. If they knew, they would win every battle.'). Real fans here tonight!

Introducing Africa, Tiken explains: "This is a song about something that is not normal. Africa is one of the richest continents in the world, and still its people are poor. How can you be rich and poor at the same time?" and then jumps right into the song. His dynamism is contagious as he strides from side to side, breaking into a dance now and then, and the audience moves along with him and the beat of the music in the subsequent Tonton d'America and, also from the new album, Gouvernement 20 Ans.

"The next song is for the African children!" he then declares, presenting Ça Va Aller. My linguist self celebrates each and every song written in a person's mother tongue, as this keeps languages alive and lends visibility and esteem to them. In this case, the song is in Bambara, not Tiken's first language, but closely related to Dioula, another Mande language spoken in Côte d'Ivoire and other countries.

Loud clapping, whooping and whistling accompanies the intro of Plus Rien Ne M'Étonne ('Nothing Astonishes Me Anymore'). Published in 2004 on his album Coup De Gueule, it is indeed one his most well-known songs to date, and literally everyone present seems to join in the chorus. Goosebumps! The energy is felt by the audience as well, and when the song is ending, the chanting of "Tiken Jah, Tiken Jah!" is back.

At this point, I want to give a shout-out to light engineer Frédéric Perennec aka Fred l’indien. Not only does he provide clean and bright spots on both the singer, his band and the audience (perfect for photography!), but also does he create a distinct mood for every song, adding a visual splendour to the already magic sonic experience. For Religion, he chose purple, highlighted by some delicate yellow patterns that move through the hall, and the subsequent I Can Hear is bathed in greens and reds. Both songs are taken from Braquage De Pouvoir (the latter featuring the great Winston McAnuff on the album version), and its messages are greeted with raised fists… justice and freedom! And, while we're at it, let's hail sound engineers Julien Bahuau, François-Xavier "FX" Vilaverde and Ilan Sberro, too, because without them, the above mentioned sonic experience wouldn't be as magic as it is.

When the next song Le Monde Est Chaud ('The World Is Hot') unfolds, Tiken Jah Fakoly takes the time to talk to the audience again. He's making eye contact with as many people as possible in an effort to make himself understood, searching to reach everyone present. And, alas, he does. "We have to do something, every one of us, for our planet, for the next generation. Sing for our planet!" While the crowd obliges, he insists "Louder!", and soon the whole place is resonating with the lament about climate change and political inaction. About time really EVERY ONE changes his or her behavior to act more climate friendly! With this important message brought across, Tiken leaves the stage to loud applause, and the band takes over. They dance in a row, smiling at us, and only Andra on ngoni and talking drum and Ludo on drums remain. To this minimalist rhythm section, Tiken comes back, now without the long gown, jumping and dancing to their sounds. One by one, the other band members take their places again, playing in quick succession Quand L'Afrique Va Se Reveiller, Le Balayeur, Quitte Le Pouvoir, L'Africain and Y'en A Marre.

Before the next track starts, Tiken has another truth to deliver, a truth that many people here might not think about that often: "Berlin, you know something… when you want to got to Africa, you can do it, you can even stay there if you want. But when the African children want to come here, it's hard for them!" Of course, Ouvrez Les Frontieres ('Open The Borders') is up now, again accompanied by fervent sing-alongs and hands in the air. During the last notes of Françafrique, the singer calls out "Can you clap your hands for the musicians! And for the technicians, please!" and leaves stage again to roaring applause. The musicians line up at the front of the stage, collecting their share of acclaim, and then follow Tiken. At once, the chanting is back, with one half of the place shouting "Tiken Jah!", answered by the other half: "Fakoly!". That's what appreciation looks and sounds like!

And indeed, after five minutes or so, the artists all come back to deliver Où Est-ce Que Tu Vas? ('Where Are You Going') and, finally, the title track of the new album, Braquage De Pouvoir ('Power Grab'). With this, the show is over. Again, roaring applause answers this man, this band, and all faces turned to the stage are smiling. The keyboarder helps a young boy on stage, clapping his hands in sync with the crowd, and then all 10 musicians and the boy take a bow.

Two hours of words, sound and power lie behind us now, two hours of the great Tiken Jah Fakoly. This is a man at the height of his career, the result of decades of growth and development, and he knows it. His commanding presence, his powerful vocals and his undeterred devotion to speak out against injustice and corruption, for unity and humanity, make him an important voice in the struggle for African liberation. Thank you, Team Tiken, for your constant work towards a better future, and for this amazing night!

While some people turn to leave, many stay for the aftershow-party heralded by Panza (of Berlin's Supersonic Sound) with Alpha Blondy's timeless Jerusalem. Circle closed!