In the words of Bob Marley, reggae is a means to convey a message of redemption to the peoples of the world. Of course, Zêdess’s message is more cheerful than Marley’s - his experience is different, he is a son of Africa, not an uprooted slave - but as with Bob Marley, his lyrics are undeniably his strong point. The Wailers made us sigh, but Zêdess has us laughing. Laughing at our intrusive mobiles (“now, in the mosque, they say Hallo, not Allah”), laughing at the faces of Parisians in the Métro, laughing at the sheer nerve of mosquitoes (“I’ve got a ziin on my bangala!”) and laughing with the elderly (“an old man sitting down sees farther than a young man standing up”).
There is an occasional flash of anger when Zêdess mentions Bush, Sarkozy, abused children or AIDS victims deserted by their friends, but as the lines continue to flow, optimism almost involuntarily floods back: a wonderful optimism that gives the lie to every catastrophe cliché levelled against Africa. Even at the gravest moments, Zêdess still brings a grin to our faces (“When the beard’s on fire, the chin shouldn’t laugh!”) and that may be the secret of redemption: realising that people are masters of their own fate and keeping “the sun on your face”. Just like in the village!
Zongo Seydou, aka Zêdess, recorded his first song in 1990 for the second album of the Orchestra of the University of Ouagadougou (OUO). However, it was in 1992 that he really began to make his mark, with a first cassette entitled Y’A Plus De Boulot (There’s No More Work). On it, Zêdess spoke of the hardships faced by the youth of Burkina Faso. His words rang true. At the time, Burkina Faso was beginning to open up, radio stations were spreading across the FM band, and satirical publications were appearing on the news stands. Zêdess seized his chance…
In 1995, he was back again with Embouteillage (Traffic Jam), recorded in Abidjan. This cassette took a humorous look at life in Ouagadougou and criticised the vices of modern African societies. In 1996, now the most popular singer in Burkina Faso, he went on a sell-out tour of all its cities. Zêdess embodied a new hope for the country’s youth. The great international radio stations broadcasting to the continent started to play his songs, and his popularity spread beyond the borders of Burkina Faso.
Zêdess’s music combines the international language of reggae with Burkina-Faso folklore and its traditional warba and wiré beats. The combination makes his music accessible to the broadest possible audience: young people, reggae fans and older listeners. For Zêdess, language is also very important. He has chosen French to get through to a wider public. His lyrics are the main reason for his success. People recognise their own everyday existence in his songs: problems making ends meet until payday, arguments with petty civil servants, complicated relationships… As he tells his compatriots’ story, Zêdess satirises and moralises in turn, because he believes his role as a singer - a modern griot - is to patiently change the society he lives in.
In 1997, Zêdess released his third cassette, Où Allons-Nous? (Where Are We Going?), still in the same anti-establishment vein. The tracks Directeur Voleur (Thieving Manager) and Abus d’Autorité (Abuse of Authority) denounce corruption and the aftermath of colonisation, which have left Africa with regimes that are not fully democratic. Mon Voisin Est Un Con (My Neighbour’s a Fool) examines a broader (not to say universal) social theme! The following year, the Lusafrica label offered to bring out Zêdess’s best songs on an album of remixes. One of the tracks on the CD was produced at the request of Handicap International, which wanted to involve artists in its campaign against antipersonnel mines.
After a European summer tour in 1999, Zêdess released his second “international” album, Accroche-Toi (Hang On), in September 2000. On this record, Zêdess continues to paint a lucid, sometimes bitter (but still very affectionate and humorous) picture of his contemporaries, wherever they are from. Just listening to his cheerful send-up of French society, La France Comme Une Mobylette (France like a Moped), is enough to persuade anyone that his provocative reputation is well-deserved.
In 2003, Zêdess contributed the song Cadeau Empoisonné (Poisoned Chalice) to the album Drop The Debt, joining artists such as Cesaria Evora, Tiken Jah Fakoly and Lokua Kanza. The Drop the Debt campaign’s aim is to secure the cancellation of Third-World debt.
Dividing his time between Burkina Faso and Brussels where he lives, Zêdess has explained many times that he often goes back home to learn the lessons of life among his people, surrounded by those who manage to keep on smiling on less than a euro a day. In fact, Zêdess organised the release of his new album, Sagesse Africaine (African wisdom), in Ouagadougou in 2005. It is a blend of fun, laughter and thoughtfulness. True to form, he raises issues important to us all now at the start of the third millennium. The tracks speak for themselves: Licenciement (Sacking) Moi (Me), Bush!, Solidarité (Solidarity) or Enfance Volée (Stolen Childhood). For Zêdess, music is a fifth estate, able to play a role in enhancing awareness and combating ignorance, that greatest weapon of mass destruction. These tracks are interspersed with lighter subjects that he examines with his trademark humour: Prisonnier Du Portable (Prisoner of the Mobile), Souriez Parisiens (Smile, Parisians), Le Surfactureur (The Overcharger), etc. To make the album (which he produced 100% himself in Belgium), the artist called on some top names, who were more than happy to lend a hand: Mali’s Mama Kouyaté, Ivory Coast’s Meiway, France’s Massilia Sound System, Belgium’s Starflam and Algeria’s Farida, as well as the star of Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, Madina.
Yet the album was not released in Europe. As Zêdess struggled to distribute it, selling it himself on the Internet and after his concerts, he was shocked by what French minister and presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy had to say about choosing immigrants, and the trip he then made to Africa to explain his speech. In just a few days, Zêdess wrote the words of Un Hongrois chez les Gaulois (A Hungarian in Gaul), recorded it, then borrowed money from loyal friends to go and film a video in Ouagadougou. In Africa, where both ordinary folk and society’s elite saw the French Minister of the Interior’s statement as an insult, the song spread from station to station across the airwaves. Since its release in December 2006, the video has swept over the Internet like wildfire, drumming up a level of interest that is rare for an African artist. Shortly before Christmas, Zêdess got back in touch with Lusafrica to arrange the release of Sagesse Africaine, with the added controversial track Un Hongrois chez les Gaulois. Then he set off again to Ouagadougou, where he organises a music festival in January every year. Flooded with text messages and e-mails, he found himself answering questions from the French, Belgian, African, Swiss and Italian media, encouragements from ordinary citizens and offers from different organisations, while keeping an unwavering eye on the preparations for his festival.
If Africa is to solve its problems, it must take its future in hand and not let others decide in its place. Zêdess for one has a firm grip on his own destiny.
« Où allons-nous ?» CD Blanc d’Ebene / Lusafrica 262732
« Accroche Toi» CD Lusafrica 362282
« Sagesse Africaine » CD Yennenga Productions / Lusafrica 462852