Over the past three decades the Ivory Coast has consistently yielded some of the best African reggae. The pity is that Ivory Coast artists – and African artists at large – seldom have access to European and US distribution channels. As a consequence the international audience has only limited access to these productions or at best only years after they have been enjoyed in their originating countries.

Take my latest favourite, Beta Simon and his album Kraity Payan Guez. Heir of a long African storytelling tradition, Beta Simon is a well known reggae singer on the African continent.  His third opus, first released in Western Africa in 2005, has only been released internationally late 2007.

The producer of the album is Tiken Jah Fakoli, another top roots reggae singer from Ivory Coast. Fakoli, fearing for his safety after speaking out against Gbagbo dictatorship, has found refuge in Mali where he has set-up his studio and music label in Bamako, Mali’s capital.  This is where Kraity Payan Guez was recorded, using Fakoli’s facilities and musicians.

Simon sings in Bete, his mother tongue, but also in various dialects such as More, Senoufo, Dioula and Wolof which allows him to be understood across most of Western Africa. In an effort to build a sort of African esperanto, he has also developed his own language, the Baissade, by revisiting old ways of speaking Bete. The Baissade vocals tones, the emphasis on horns and the upbeat drums combine in a luminous and refreshing result.

The lyrics draw on African proverbs and wisdom like on Ou Haye Naya, which talks about the respect children owe to their parents, the anthem Malian Way (you HAVE TO listen to this one), a parable on noble ambitions or Zehao Zea a tale about natural order. Rasta Know is the only explicit reference to Jamaica and stresses the peace-making role of Rasta.

If you have been uplifted by the beats, melodies and lyrics of Alpha Blondy and Tiken Jah Fakoly, run to your prefered online CD store and treat yourself with the latest Beta Simon album. You can listen to some extracts and discover more about Beta Simon on his MySpace page.

Antoine