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Chilli and croissants with MC and rap artist Gaël Faye

media Gaël Faye Piwahye

Franco-Rwandais MC and rap artist Gaël Faye was born and bred in the Burundi capital, Bujumburu, and moved to Paris aged 13. He talks about this double culture and difficult transition in a remarkable debut album Pili Pili sur un croissant au beurre.

Faye cut his teeth with the band Milk, Coffee and Sugar and says he was naturally drawn to the openness of hip-hop culture.

"Hip-hop takes in the environment," he explains. "So if you live in a big city you can talk about your big city but if you come from a small country like Burundi you can speak about that. This album is just an example of what we can do with rap if you just break all the barriers."

The album, recorded between Paris and Bujumbura, draws heavily on Faye’s early years when he struggled to adapt to life in a major European capital.

"I left Burundi after two years of war and I used to live in Bujumbura, my father was a crocodile hunter," he recalls. "I arrived in France and my mother was living in a small flat in the suburbs of Paris. Life was so different, so at beginning it was very difficult for me."

In the song Je Pars (I’m Leaving) Faye dreams of a better place, free of racism.

"It’s a place in my head, … my idea of paradise, my Zion," he laughs.

Other songs like Qwerty are ironic takes on being in the wrong place. Faye spent two years working in finance in London but soon realised wearing a suit and tie and sitting in front of computer was not for him.

"For me it’s problem of our generation, sometimes we don’t choose what we really want to do," he says. "It’s just the story of someone who wants to take life in his own hands."

Faye did just that and rap has proved both a satisfying and successful means of expression for him.

The album features a number of illustrious guest stars - Tumi Molekane from South African hip-hop band Tumi and the Volume and Angolan star Bonga, to name but two.

He says rap is open to anyone.

"Even if you don’t know the language of music, you can do rap so for me it’s music for the poor. But before rap I was very interested in writing and rap is just a tool for me."

But not everyone has Faye’s talent, or sensitivity. While some illustrious rap stars are renowned for their misogynous lyrics, Faye puts his wife on a pedestal in the song Ma Femme, praising her intelligence as much as her beauty, with the help of an eight-piece brass band.

Determined to share some of his success with his native Africa, Faye returns to Bujumbura and Kigali in June for a series of concerts and workshops with young people.

See Gaël Faye’s website for upcoming concert dates here in France.

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