Assa Cica. The Philosopher.

If you have been swept up in the Tout Puissant Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Cotonou wave that broke a few years back, you will, most likely, be familiar with Assa Cica.  He recorded a terrific lp with the Poly Rythmo and a released a few lovely solo albums--all of which have been thoughtfully shared by Orogod here.

Born Agadja K. Michel, Assa Cica is cherished by Beninois for his philosophical and poetic lyrics, for songs that address the mystical and emotional challenges of life in Benin.  According to various online comments, Assa Cica seems to have fallen on hard times in recent years.  Several articles (the latest from 2016) lament that such a great artist can be seen panhandling in the streets of Cotonou.  I hope Assa Cica's difficulties were only passing and that his situation has improved, that he has not become yet another African artist who sacrificed his future for his passion and our musical satisfaction.


I also wonder, as I write this post, if blogs, like this one, contribute to the dire circumstances in which so many African artists find themselves.  Is this blog, part of the online ecosystem of digital file sharing, complicit in the demise of the exchange between artist and audience, the sale of the musical object, that supported the economic model that made it possible to sustain artistic careers, however difficult?

In the last five years I have been to Dakar, Bamako, Abidjan, Kinshasa, Yaoundé, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Tunis, and Casablanca, and everywhere, the situation is the same; the local music industry has disappeared.  The stores that, 10-15 years ago, sold casssettes and CDs, have been replaced by stores selling disposable electronic gadgets or imitation handbags.  An example, in 2003, I returned to Dakar, for the first time in several years.  My first stop was the Sandaga market cassette stall, run by two brothers, that I had been going to since 1993.  I purchased 150 cassettes, a selection of Wolof traditional music, Serer neo-roots music, contemporary mbalax, religious songs, and some rap cassettes.  When I returned to Sandaga ten years later, the brothers were still there, but they now sold cellphone accessories.

Or does this blog fight, albeit meekly, against the spiritual injustice-compounding the economic suffering-that victimizes so many African artists; l'oubli.  Having invested their vital creative forces in their musical visions, and too often dependent on unscrupulous producers, African artists suffer the final idignity of being forgotten, of their artistic efforts vanishing without recognition.  I think of the guitar player Djo Morena, part of the Orchestre Kiam for the group's entire ten-year run, whose riffs had a generation dancing, who, when we met in 2011, had fallen into obscurity.  Or of the Kinshasa guitar player who wept bitter tears when I showed up at his house asking for an interview.  'I have been playing for thirty years', he told me, 'and you are the first journalist to express interest in my accomplishments.'

This is an unusual post.  I am not in the habit of publishing my feeble philosophical wobbles.  I hope that Assa Cica would be encouraged that people, beyond the perimeter of his daily life, continue to treasure his musical gifts.  I don't think this is a satisfying substitute for meaningful compensation and a dignified livelihood but I hope, given the current dominant eco-system, that sharing these recordings, that have drifted into obscurity, contributes to imagining a new model that will eventually (utopically?) foster musical regeneration and creativity.

This is also an unusual recording.  Assa Cica sings to the accompaniment of a drum machine and a couple of keyboards.  This is not the aesthetic universe I am generally susceptible to, but this cassette is a delight.  It is all melody and rippling beeps.  It has the same effect on me as the recordings of Laraaji.  Once I start listening, I let it repeat for hours.  I don't know when this cassette was released, it isn't listed in any of the online discographies.  I suspect the late 1980s.

Download Assa Cica - Aklounon EE

Drift away with Assa Cica.  Enjoy.

  

Comments

  1. thanks Matthew! it is a dilemma (and as such means that whatever course we take there is a downside) - the downside of not sharing this music digitally is that it ceases to exist for most of the planet, lost in obscurity. The downside of sharing it is that it fails to address the exploitation of the original creators (so many of the artists received very little/nothing for their original work - the number of times I have played an old 45 at an African gig to be approached by a musician to tell me they'd never been paid for playing on that one) . Most of the re-releases by Fonior/Sonodisc/various Parisian entrepreneurs did little or nothing to redress that. So we're sitting at the back end of a long line of exploitation. On balance, I think the music needs to be shared in these blogs to create a new audience - and then we need to consider a way to recompense the artists, given their own royalty systems are often in complete disarray even if they have some legal entitlements. Perhaps one way is to establish a fund for ailing musicians (how many times have we heard of musicians in dire straits and unable to pay medical fees etc?) or to support new musicians . And ask every downloader to contribute by subscribing to each blogspot as a member? Just an idea - I'm not a techno and we would need to think about how to distribute any money.

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    1. Yes, I was trying to think of a secure way to donate and a way that would accept very small donations as well. I'm just an occasional listener. Don't even own headset, ear buds or what ever. I like filling the room, apartment, car with music from fav CDs.

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  2. On balance blogs like ours do a service. Take for instance the Somali cassette by the group Dur Dur (that I mistakenly attributed to Iftin) that I posted 11 years ago on Likembe. That led to Samy Ben Redjab of Analog Africa going to Mogadishu, tracking down more tapes and ultimately releasing a deluxe 3-lp (2 cd) compilation, with more on the way. Bonus - Dur Dur are now back together and touring!

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  3. Interesting and rare stuff, but the introduction is truly valuable, thanks for sharing.

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  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hb7zwi1Q8TI&feature=share

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