1.15.2013

Afternoon Afrobeat (#50): 'Ben' by SMOD

Image via SMOD Facebook
I thought this song to be quite fitting since many of my recent posts have focused on the crisis in Mali, and especially since France has now begun their offensive in the north. I frequently talk on here about one of my favorite African musicians, Amadou et Mariam. It is no surprise that such talented individuals as them have produced and equally talented yet stylistically different musically-inclined son, Sam. Sam is the ‘S’ in the hip-hop group, SMOD. Other members include Ousco, Donsky, and Mouzy – although Mouzy ended up leaving the band and moving to France, the other members decided to keep their name because they believe Mouzy is still very much a part of their music.

The group gathered a following by rapping in the streets of Bamako, the capital of Mali. In 1999 the group became official and adopted the name SMOD. By 2002, after Mouzy left, they released their first cassette: 'Dunia Kuntala' (Path of Life).

Over the years their popularity grew and they began touring with other prominent African groups like Magic System. One of their earlier songs, ‘Politic Amagni’ (‘Politics Are No Good’), even appeared on one of Amadou et Mariam's albums - and it is personally one of my favorite songs on that album because of its message. 

After while, Sam decided to learn the guitar, which ended up significantly changing SMOD’s sound. Now instead of traditional hip-hop and rap, the group has created their own musical genre which they call “Afro-Rap” – not entirely American, French, nor Malian, but rather a mélange of “afro-centric rhythms” that create something both “fresh and African”.

I think Ousco, one of the band members, explains their music far better than I could, so I will leave you with an extensive quote from their official Facebook page:

“Africa needs to speak out right now…Africa must stop crying.” His words are a neat little summary of what African rap is all about: No mincing words or metaphors. No ancient musical traditions that cosy up to power. No decadent ghetto fabulous fantasies. None of that. Just plain words about the simple truth that everyone can see out of his or her window...
In many ways, SMOD, along with many other Malian rappers, embody a new spirit, a new freedom of expression, unchained by old social constraints or the need to kow tow to the rich and powerful. 
“Hip-hop is rebel music,” Ousco affirms. “It came along because things weren’t working right. Back in the day, the griot sang the praises of the King, except that the king wasn’t thinking of his people any more. Many people were marginalized and rejected and it was those people who became rappers. They said to the king, “Your power may be fine and all that, but there are people dying of hunger. And we who are from the ghetto, we want something better.”
The song below, which they released in early December, is titled ‘Ben’ (Peace), and according to them it is dedicated to peace and unity in Mali.




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