A rapper and a reggae artist, two leading Burkina Faso musicians belt out similar lyrics to different beats: "Blaise, go!" — their favorite refrain is a dig at the long-standing president.
Smockey, with an Afro ‘do’, and dreadlocked Samsklejah are pushing change in Burkina Faso, where protests this year led many to believe President Blaise Compaore may become the first sub-Saharan victim of the revolts that started further north.
"Whether you like it or not, whether you like him or not, Blaise will end up by clearing off," says Samsklejah, whose lyrics are a hit among the youth of the west African nation — drawing scores to concerts in Ouagadougou.
"Blaise Compaore has to go because he has been around too long," adds Smockey, Burkina Faso’s most popular hip hop artist and winner of the 2008 Kora award for rap — Africa’s most prestigious music prize.
"It is the least we demand … a democratic state, that’s the first change," he adds.
The two, who don’t perform together but are firm offstage friends, give regular concerts in West Africa and Europe. Both entered the music stage in the previous decade with often political messages, and started taking aim at the president about three years ago.
Compaore took power in a coup in 1987 in which charismatic president Thomas Sankara was killed. The protests that broke out in February were the toughest challenge to his leadership since then.
He has been re-elected four times, winning 80 percent of the votes in the last ballot in November when the opposition alleged irregularities.
Months of demonstrations that followed, including a series of army mutinies that even spread to the presidential guard, may have been reined in but things remain tense in Burkina Faso, and Smockey and Samsklejah believe a revolution is still coming.
"This president has to leave, he is going to leave and he will leave," go the lyrics to Samskleja’s most controversial song, about Compaore.
One of Smockey’s best known songs asks: "Who benefits from the crime?" referring to Sankara’s death.
Demonstrations earlier this year started with students and spread to the military and other groups — including magistrates and shopkeepers — with the focus on high food prices, unemployment, rising costs and looting by troops.
Compaore restored order by replacing his military chiefs and prime minister, paying out bonuses to soldiers and having dozens arrested.
But the anger, concern and controversy is still there, and the proposition of a constitutional amendment to allow him to stand again in 2015 has forged an opposition of politicians, civil society and the church — with Smockey and Samsklejah firmly on their side.
‘It is going to explode’
But Burkina Faso is not Senegal, and this musical contribution to the opposition stand has not quite had the same groundswell of success as the other country’s rapper-led "Y en a marre" (Fed Up) movement.
The Senegal movement has become a symbol of protests against 85-year-old President Abdoulaye Wade’s regime, a significant force against his plans to run for a third term.
It was a rallying point for the street pressure that in June saw him abandon changes to the constitution that were seen as paving the way for his son Karim Wade to take over as president one day.
In Burkina Faso, the impassioned pleas of this music duo have puzzled many, even some fans, who are uncomfortable about mixing protest and pop.
"People don’t understand how Smockey and Samsklejah can mix music and political engagement," journalist Alassane Kere says.
"They should not be taking a position in one camp or the other in the debate over the ruling power."
It is an opinion the artists don’t share. "We have been talking for a long time in our songs about the state of the country, we had predicted this crisis," says Smockey, whose real name is Serge Bambara.
Their lyrics have been relentless in their criticism of corruption, unemployment and overcrowding in schools in the agricultural country, which is heavily dependent on international aid.
And they have drawn counterattacks: the rapper and reggae man have both have been subjected to threats and pressure, and even been blocked professionally.
Samsklejah — whose real name is Karim Sama — lost his job as host of a private radio program the day after he appeared alongside opposition leaders at an April meeting to demand "Blaise go!". His car was torched while he was on air in 2008.
Smockey says he gets calls from soldiers from the presidential guard accusing him of insulting the president.
But neither will back down, and certainly not until Compaore steps away from elections in 2015.
"This is not over, it is going to explode again," Smockey says.
"The real revolution has not yet happened," adds his dreadlocked friend. This year’s four months of unrest were "the signs, the premise, perhaps the first trumpet" of the larger battle, he says.
A Burkina Faso reggae musician Samsklejah in Ouagadougou. (AFP Photo/Ahmed Ouoba)