Jacob Salem & Somkieta


From « King’s servant » to the « King of Mossi Rock », the story of Jacob Salem has become something of a legend. This guitar player and singer from Burkina Faso has mixed the festive and traditional warba rhythm with the spirit and sound of the blues-rock. Written with the Anglo-Swiss guitar player André « Somkieta » Courbat, the album Nanluli celebrates the fertile coming together of two genres of music which share the same roots and the same dream of freedom.


Jacob Salem belongs to a servants’ family of the Mogho Naaba, the king of the Mossi people, the main ethnic group in Burkina Faso. As a kid, Jacob is fascinated by the music which gives its tempo to the events of everyday life at the royal court. He meets a kunde player, who teaches him the basics of his three strings lute, the subtleties of the rich Mossi tradition, which is a mixture of sacred music, entertainment music and narrative songs. Sometimes, when the Mogho Naaba is away, Jacob sneaks into the royal vinyl collection and discovers the magic of James Brown, Manu Dibango, the Beatles or Tina Turner.


At the age of 18, Jacob meets a preacher who teaches him how to play guitar. This encounter will completely change his life. Without any doubt, he found his instrument. He convinces his mother, who gets into debt for him, to buy him a guitar. From then on, whenever Jacob is free from his duties, he hides to practice, because a member of the court is not allowed to play a non traditional instrument. Unfortunately, when his secret is discovered, Jacob is severely punished. Eventually, the Mogho Naaba, understanding his determination, lets him go to satisfy his passion.


Jacob Salem becomes a street musician. His life is tough, he makes little money playing in bars and clubs, but his guitar playing and his singing are rapidly spotted on the Burkinabe scene. He creates his own songs and invents the Mossi rock. This fusion of blues and ternary warba rhythm is especially smooth since these two genres are based on the same pentatonic scale. The Mossi rock is born.


In 2013, starting a motorbike journey across Burkina Faso, André Courbat arrives in Ouagadougou. This Anglo-Swiss guitar hero played for many years with the Swiss rocker, Bernie Constantin, and is the leader of many well-known bands on the Swiss music scene. André is a tireless adventurer and is always eager to exchange ideas with the musicians of the countries he visits. He gets in touch with Jacob who was recommended to him by a friend. Less than an hour later, the Mossi and the Swiss rocker get into a jam. The musical understanding is immediate. André is totally convinced by the quality of the melodies and by the voice of the Burkinabe. Jacob is carried away by the playing of his new friend and names him « Somkieta » (the Good).


Back in Europe, Somkieta brings all his energy into the project. He arranges Jacob’s songs and succesfully leads a crowdfunding. The CD takes shape across the borders. The voices, the guitars, the backing vocals and the percussions are recorded in Burkina Faso. In Switzerland, Somkieta records the bass and the drums of his two old friends, Thierry Nydegger and Chris Richard. The mix is naturally handed over to Ashley Norton, the friend who introduced André to Jacob and the mastering is done at the legendary Abbey Road Studio in London.


Jacob Salem & Somkieta’s powerful compositions come from the rare and rich flavour which belongs to the Mossi tradition and from the electric intensity of a blues-rock which gets back to its roots here.


Once their CD was completed, they decided to present it to the Mogho Naaba. The musicians were received at an official ceremony during which the King insisted on the importance of transmitting as well as mixing traditional culture. Seduced by this new Mossi music, the Mogho Naaba invited Jacob, Somkieta and the band to play for two of his birthdays. They had the privilege of seeing the King get up from his throne and dance.


Approved by the King, Jacob Salem has become a star in his country. The Mossi Rock can now spread around the world.





©Madmac 2015