Friday night found Lasell gymnasium alive with the groove of Burkina Electric, an African band offering a unique twist on traditional rhythms. The group displayed a fusion of musical styles – time-honored African rhythms combined with cutting-edge electronica. The lyrics, sung in three African languages, largely pertained to social justice and humanitarianism, exploring issues such as water scarcity, money and disease.
“Mostly, we’re talking about what’s going on in society,” lead singer Mai Lingani said. “We talk about farmers because without them, there is no food. We also talk about love. We need love to solve all the problems in this world.” The song lyrics also emphasized cultural unity. Indeed, the six band members hail from all corners of the globe, from Austria to Germany to West Africa, and the group draws on the different musical knowledge of each member to shape its global style.
The group’s distinctive synthesis has been well-received by audiences in Africa, Europe and the United States. “We wanted to do something strange, something people never heard about,” Lingani said. “We are surprised in a good way that people like what we do.”
Burkina Electric was sponsored by Minority Coalition (MinCo) as part of Burkina Day, a series of workshops and discussions concerning social justice in Africa. The events focused specifically on issues in Burkina Faso, a small West African country nestled between Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Niger and Mali. “It’s this country that nobody’s ever heard of, although it’s surrounded by nations everybody knows because they’ve been exploited by European powers. But it’s one of Africa’s poorest and most underdeveloped countries,” MinCo treasurer Carrie Tribble said.
Because three of Burkina Electric’s members are natives of Burkina Faso, the nation’s concerns are a central focus of the group. According to statistics from the Barka Foundation, an organization that held workshops for Burkina Day, 62 percent of the nation’s population lives on less than $1 per day. The average life expectancy is 49 and the nation has the highest illiteracy rate in the world. “Burkina Faso is a very dry country, and we don’t have enough water,” Lingani said. “There is corruption in the government, and like in most African countries, there is no democracy.” Indeed, both water scarcity and freedom are recurring themes in the group’s repertoire.
According to Tribble, Burkina Day was part of MinCo’s expanded initiative to establish an all-campus presence. “MinCo has been wanting to be a group of its own. We need to think about ways in which all our groups can come together,” Tribble said. “At the concert, Mai talked about how we’re all lone people, how we’re all from Burkina Faso. The band seeks unification among different groups, and that’s what MinCo’s looking to do.”
In partnership with the concert, MinCo offered workshops from the Barka Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to improve quality of life in Burkina Faso though technological innovation, women’s empowerment and intercultural dialogue. The organization focuses on cultural preservation and recognizes the prominent role that music plays in the lives of Burkina Faso’s citizens. Tribble interned with the Barka Foundation last summer, and it was through the foundation that Tribble learned of Burkina Electric.
The Barka Foundation was established by a fellow Eph, Asu Ahahata ’88, and his wife. In addition to working in Burkina Faso, the organization attempts to educate Americans about issues in Burkina Faso and raise money. In fact, the foundation recently launched a project in Berkshire schools to educate students about Africa and launched the “Walks for Water” fundraiser. Water sanitation is a central focus of the organization, given that less than half the nation’s population have access to clean water. Lingani praised the organization for this initiative: “This is really important that we can get together to make this happen, to help the people of Burkina Faso have clean water.”
Overall, Tribble was satisfied both with the concert and with Burkina Day. “Everyone looked like they were having a great time. It was different from anything else I’d ever been to at Williams,” Tribble said.
Although the lyrics were sung in a foreign language, Burkina Electric’s upbeat rhythms conveyed a universally uplifting message. The group performed with consistent energy and remarkable stamina, incorporating constant dance and movement into each song. The interactive musical numbers were particularly successful in achieving their intended purpose: bringing the student body together to engage in a celebration of cultural unity.