Fire from Burkina Faso
by Melissa Kimiadi
Mano, a man of quiet demeanor, has an intense fire inside of him to change the world. He came all the way from Burkina Faso, Africa in 2005 to stoke his engine, and his song “Harlem” blazes.
The young man is one of a number of immigrants who have come to urban America to prepare themselves for battle back home. Garibaldi’s training ground for liberating Italy was Staten Island. Ho Chi Minh marched with Marcus Garvey in Harlem and later in a bakery in Boston before taking on the French in Vietnam and defeating them and the Americans too. Mano works in a restaurant on 125th Street.
He was born Herman Baowendsom Kabore to devout Roman Catholic parents. At age twelve a call from God came down upon him and “I followed the voice.” He wasn’t really sure what he was going to do. With three friends in high school he tried political rap.
Influenced by Tupac and Bob Marley, they launched “2 Kas,” a pioneer rap group in the country. Mano muses that “We were pioneers of hip-hop in Burkina Faso,” a country in west Africa. With a mélange of rap and reggae they wanted “to inspire a new generation” to take on corruption, injustice, and gender inequality. They represent Africa's young generation trying to find a way beyond the divisions that usually rent their countries although in Burkina Faso the religious groups themselves don't have strong divisions between them. The group included Catholics and Muslims singing together.
Mano entered a Catholic seminary in order to figure out whether he should become a priest or not. “I didn’t go to seminary to become a priest, I came to find out if that’s what I wanted to become.” He realized that his answer was a resounding no. He went to college to complete a master’s in American literature and civilization. In his studies he was inspired by the Black American fight for freedom. He saw parallels between his life in Burkina Faso and their struggle. “I really wanted to see what the Black community’s life is like and their fight for freedom,” he explains.
As we talked in Jacob’s Restaurant over coffee and soda, he looks around and recalls that he saw Harlem as the one of the central beacons of the struggle and wanted to come here. “Harlem is the headquarters of the Black struggle,” Mano says. Once he arrived, he discovered that the struggle still was intense. “A lot of people think the struggle is over, but it’s still going on. There are brothers and sisters selling drugs just to survive, they have no choice,” he observes. A fire was lit within him to help in the struggle. Within a year and half of arrival in Harlem he wrote the song “Harlem.”
Mano is a thoughtful intellectual who speaks English, French, and the indigenous African languages of Moore (Mossi) and Bambara. He is seizing the mike once again to weave a penetrating, disturbing but loving song honoring his home in Harlem. He sees Harlem as a lion’s den in which he and others try to survive. Like Daniel of the Bible, he feels able face the lions. “The environment keeps reminding me that I’m Daniel in the lion’s den, and I have to keep my eyes open.” His childhood faith has been strengthened by the challenge.
“I feel safe cause I walk with Jesus, I hold his hand to the end. He’s my God and shield in this battlefield.” He reads the Bible and prays daily. “I like God’s words. I feel a lot of energy when I read it.” He attends a friend’s Bible study from time to time, but doesn’t belong to a church.
He is wary of church, perhaps a reflection of his experience with how corruption and power distorts even well-meaning institutions in his home country. “I believe we’re all called to be instrumental to God and Christ’s message is unique, but I feel that religion is man-made and political.”
In Harlem the young hip hop artist has discovered that Blacks are not united. In fact many native African Americans distrust Africans and look down on Africa for its continued troubles of corruption, poverty and war. Mano also feels troubled about African conditions but wants Harlem African Americans to keep a light of hope for their ancestors’ country. “When I look at the news and they display the negative aspects of Africa, I feel hurt,” Mano admits. “Blacks need to realize who they are, and I struggle to keep that light on.” Presently, in his recording studio in the Bronx, he is working on an album, “Renaissance.” His song “Harlem” will also be used in the documentary film The Streets of Harlem which is under preparation.
The musician is not forsaking Africa in his preparations for battle. Besides his Bible study, he is also completing graduate school in international relations while he works as a cashier in a restaurant on 125th Street. When he finishes, he plans on going back to Burkina Faso. He says this will be step two in his missionary work: to help uplift his country. And then he wants to help all of the continent. “Africa needs people to help them to form unity. Sometimes you need to get the means and see where you can contribute.” He wants to light a fire of renewal in Harlem, Burkina Faso, and then Africa. Beyond that? Well, stay tuned to the airwaves.
Video with voice, lyrics and guitar by MANO
Distributed by A Journey through NYC religions
The Streets of Harlem
Director/DP: Slane Ramon
Editor: Scott Gaddy
Music Producer & Mixer: Scott 'Kasper' Gaddy
Bass: Ant Live