Soul Bang's: RFI discovery prize winner
World Music Matters features Guinean R'n'B singer Soul Bang's, winner of the RFI 2016 Discovery Prize. He talks to RFI about the 'cosmobeat' sound on his recently released second album Cosmopolite.
Souleymane Bangoura, alias Soul Bang’s, is known 'the boss of Guinean R'n'B' back in Conakry. Now France understands why. At a recent concert at La Place in Paris, as winner of the RFI Discovery award, he showed all the emotion and originality that had earned him the prize in the first place: blending traditional mandinka rhythms like Maneh and Enkadi with a young, urban R’n’B sound.
Like Tiken Jah Fakoly or Amadou and Mariam before him, he knows the award can give African musicians a welcome boost.
"It was an honour for me to get that prize. All Africans dream of getting it. It makes you feel proud, and it gives you strength," he told RFI. "Several years of hard work and the support of people around me have started to pay off."
Cosmobeat: a musical buffet
Soul Bang’s began rapping on the streets of Conakry when he was just 11 in a small hiphop collective called Micro Méga. Four years later in 2007, he went solo and dreamed of doing R'n’B in the style of American stars like Chris Brown. But when he began recording his debut album Dimédi, his sound engineer Junior de Fouza told him he’d never be able to beat Americans at their own game and pushed him to record in local languages like soussou, malinké and poular. He's now grateful for that advice.
"I was a young Guinean living in the US, but a Guinean nonetheless," he says. "And I desperately wanted to sing in English, like an American. But once I got into the studio, the sound engineer forced me to sing in my own local language. And in the end nearly all of that first album Dimédi was sung in local languages. Now, I can honestly say I don’t regret it, because it led me to develop a kind of “Guinean Afro R'n’B'. That man helped me find my musical direction on that first album, and I understood that if I was to carry on making music, I had to find my own path. Today I’ve found it with this "Afro R'n’B social love”. I’ve called it Cosmobeat. It’s a kind of musical buffet."
Soul Bang’s debut album Dimédi (meaning child in soussou) did well in Guinea, earning him the name Souleymane Le Soulman. And like any self-respecting soul man or woman, he sings a lot about love.
"When people talk about R'n’B they think about love, sex, luxury, but especially in Guinea, that’s not what our daily life is about. So you’ve got to link music to our reality. I sing about love, I sort out problems connected to love but I also provide solutions, that’s why I call it ‘social love’.
Soul Bang’s had already lent his voice to raising awareness of the ebola virus, performing in the Ebola Bye Bye Show in December 2015. A year earlier he featured in the Break the Silence project, a call for the safe return of the Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria.
"I sing about social issues as well," he says, "and how to behave in society. For example I tell people 'don't dump your rubbish on the streets’ or 'try and understand that everyone is part of Guinean society'. Everybody should behave as if Guinea is your home, where you sleep. So I say 'don’t set it on fire, don’t spill blood."
Soul Bang’s lastest album Cosmopolite was released in February. Once again he sings in local languages like soussou, malinké and fulani, mixing rap with R'n’B and traditional instruments like the kora, balafon and talking drum. Some of the music videos were shot on the streets of Conakry. There are no SAVs cruising the unpaved streets, Soul Bang’s isn’t loaded with gold chains. Children are dancing, women are cooking in the streets.
"There are beautiful things in Guinea," he says. "But still, when you look at the population as a whole, not even 10% live in luxury. Most people live in what are more or less ghettos and I came from there too. So it’s important for me to show that in my videos. In the music industry, we tend to sell people a dream, you’re flashy and everyone will like you. But you’ve got to put yourself in real people’s shoes."
One of his biggest hits from the new album is Faré Bombo M'Bai (click here to watch). It shows kids and adults coming together and celebrating a fashionable Guinean urban dance known as Faré gnakhi‘. Accused of being the expression of a debauched society, Soul Bang's offers a softer, arguably more authentic version of the dance.
"Some people started taking off their clothes as they danced. That created a controversy, even within Guinean culture and in religious circles," he explains. "They said the dance was cursed. So I didn’t want to use a Faré gnakhi‘ concept as such. We’ve had to 'clean people’s ears' a bit and help them understand that the dance itself isn’t bad, this music isn’t bad, it’s rather original, but it just needed to be taken in a new direction."
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RFI Discovery Prize
RFI Discovery Prize - organised in partnership with the Institut français, l’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, Sacem, Deezer and Ubiznews - is 10,000 euros, a tour in Africa and concert in Paris.
The competition is open to musicians from Francophone and Lusophone Africa, the Indian Ocean and Caribbean. You need to have your own website or social media site with at least four published songs online. Deadline is 30 June 2017. Click here to download the application form.