French-born Malian hip-hop artist Mokobé is set to take the world by storm. And while his name may be as yet unfamiliar to music lovers stateside, his decade-plus long career is proof positive that this prolific artist has already put down firm roots on the global stage. Beginning at the start of the millennium with the French hip-hop group 113 along with fellow artists Rim’K and AP, Mokobé released his solo debut, Mon Afrique, in 2007 to critical acclaim. The album featured guest appearances by some of the African continent’s most prominent musicians–Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita, Amadou and Miriam, among others–and proceeds from the album’s sales were dedicated to the purchase of mosquito nets to help fight malaria in Mali and Senegal. On the heels of Mon Afrique’s enthusiastic reception, Mokobé was the first hip-hop artist to be named as Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mali, an extremely high honor bestowed upon him my Malian president Amadou Tourmani Touré.
Not unlike his American hip-hop contemporaries who’ve parlayed their fame and ubiquity into various business ventures, Mokobé launched his exclusive clothing line in 2009 and just recently introduced his own fragrance, TIME by Mokobé . Continuing his mission to incorporate socially conscious lyrics with irresistible rhythms and to raise awareness of critical issues while simultaneously giving music lovers a reason to move their feet, he released his follow-up album Africa Forever in 2011. The lead single “Oulala” is a bonafide favorite in clubs in France and beyond, and his latest offering “Diguirindi” is making waves as one of the hottest international hits of the summer.
When SoulTrain.com learned that Mokobé had received a nod for the 2012 BET Awards’ Best International Act (Africa) nomination, we jumped at the opportunity to talk to him about his unique musical perspective, his growing presence on the world stage, and what inspires him to create music that knows no borders.
Editor’s note: This interview was conducted in and translated from French by the writer. Thank you to Cécile Hambye at Sony Music Entertainment France for assisting!
SoulTrain.com: Your sound is an undeniable blend of American hip-hop with elements that are exquisitely African. Is it important to you that your music is multicultural?
Mokobé: Yes. It was very important to blend African music and hip-hop on my two solo albums. African music is the basis of all–of humanity, civilization, and the entire African continent. African sounds are extremely rich and interesting, and when mixed with hip-hop they create something extraordinary!
SoulTrain.com: Congratulations on your BET Award nomination! That’s a great accomplishment. Your music is, for the most part, in French. How do you connect with non-French-speaking fans, particularly those in the United States?
Mokobé: I came in second in the category at the BET Awards (Best Artist, African). It seems that one single vote kept me from winning, and the primary reason was because of language. So I decided my next album will be more open, [speaking] more English because I want my music to touch the American public. On the other hand, music is universal. Here in France, we listen to a lot of music where we may not understand the words, but what matters most is the music and flow, and that becomes the language.
I am very happy that my music has been recognized and appreciated in the US. I’ve made some great contacts here for my next album!
SoulTrain.com: According to your biography, you are of Malian, Mauritanian, and Senegalese lineage. Tell us how these cultures impact your music.
Mokobé: The impact of these cultures on my music is a return to the source. It was a dream come true to collaborate with the biggest artists of the African continent on my first two albums–notably Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita, Amadou and Miriam, and Seun Kuti. All of the African instruments inspire me (the balafon, the kora, etc.). And the West African values that were passed down from my parents inspire me as well: sharing, respect, hospitality, and courage.
SoulTrain.com: You use a saying, <<les jaloux vont maigrir>> (the jealous will perish), on your t-shirts and other merchandise. What does that mean?
Mokobé: It’s an ancient saying remixed in my style. When you’re successful, others become envious, and they are jealous of you. It vexes them when you succeed more than they do, and they’re so preoccupied with your success that they suffer because they are not well.
SoulTrain.com: Who are your musical and cultural influences?
Mokobé: Hip-hop above all–Public Enemy, EPMD, LL Cool J, Grand Master Flash, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B and Rakim. But I am also influenced by funk, soul, and artists like George Clinton, Roger Troutman, Maceo Parker, and Michael Jackson, who is the greatest artist of all time; and reggae artists like Bob Marley, Buju Banton, and Shabba Ranks.
SoulTrain.com: Are there American artists you’d like to work with?
Mokobé: Of course! Tyrese, Ludacris, Meek Mill, and others.
SoulTrain.com: Are you familiar with Soul Train? If so, what are your memories of the show?
Mokobé: I know about Soul Train, but unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to watch it in France so I don’t have any memories linked directly to the show.
SoulTrain.com: Will you be touring the United States?
Mokobé: Yes, beginning in October I’ll be in Washington, D.C., New York, Atlanta, and Dallas, and in Ohio and on the west coast as well.
SoulTrain.com: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the SoulTrain.com audience?
Mokobé: Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about my music on SoulTrain.com! I imagine we have quite a bit in common–your team, the SoulTrain.com fans, and me: The love of music and of the African continent. Africa is the seat of humanity, she represents the “earth mother”, and it is important to return to the source and know its history and its past. I hope to meet the SoulTrain.com audience soon!
For more about Mokobé, visit www.mokobe.com. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter @Mokobe113, and download his music on iTunes.
Rhonda Nicole is an independent singer/songwriter from Dallas, TX, based in the Bay Area. Download her EP “Nuda Veritas” on CDBaby and iTunes, and follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at @wildhoneyrock.