For musicians from the West African nation of Burkina Faso, a nomination for a Grammy Award should have been the crowning achievement of a musical career.
Instead, musicians based in Bobo-Dioulasso, whose work is featured on the three-disk compilation “Bobo Yeye,” didn’t even know they had been nominated or that the album even existed.
“As a musician, I am totally disappointed to learn that we have spent time moaning, suffering and that someone else can just make a compilation of our music and that it is going for an award,” musician Stanislas Soré told VOA French to Africa Service on Friday.
Soré is a member of the Volta Jazz group, whose songs are part of the album titled “Bobo Yeye, Belle époque in Upper Volta,” which is nominated for two Grammy Awards.
It is a compilation of recordings in the 1970s in Bobo, the second-largest city of Burkina Faso, then known as Upper Volta.
The news of the Grammy nomination surprised the musicians, who wondered how their music was put on CDs and distributed worldwide without their knowledge or consent. It turns out French music producer Florent Mazzoleni made the compilation produced by The Numero Group, a Chicago-based production company.
“These are artists that I have always admired and I wrote about 20 books on African music, including a book in 2015 called ‘Burkina Faso Modern Music Voltaic,’” Mazzoleni said in a phone interview.
Mazzoleni said he wanted “to pay tribute to all those people in the shadows, who made the culture of Bobo-Dioulasso.”
At the time, he said, Upper Volta was a poor country with limited ability for people to communicate with the outside world or record music. “People recorded with what they could get and yet they managed to create one of the fascinating modern music of the continent,” Mazzoleni said.
Disagreement over book, compilation
But the artists themselves are not happy, saying he has been unfair to them. They pointed out that when they met him, he talked only about a book project.
“All I know, there was this white guy who came here; he tried to get information on what life was like in the orchestras of the old days. We understood he was going to make a book of the history of our music. But when it comes to producing a compilation or stuff like that, we’ve never talked about that, never, never, ever,” Soré, of Volta Jazz, said.
His account was backed up by Nouhoun Traoré Banakourou, saxophonist and guitarist of the group Echo Del Africa, who acknowledged that he worked with Mazzoleni on a book project, but not a compilation.
“What he is doing now is not what he offered me. When he came for the book, my son asked him for a gift for me. He gave me 200,000 CFA francs (around $380) that day,” Nouhoun Traoré recalls.
“He took a recording of our boss, Tanou Bassoumalo, an old recording, and told me he would see if he can recover the tracks and fix them. He left and never came back. Nor did he call me, or say anything else,” Traoré said.
The French producer denies these allegations. He claims to have followed all the necessary steps. “I have all the permissions, all the contracts,” he told VOA.
“I met the founders of the group, the people who had the contracts at the time, what more do you want me to tell you? Obviously, I cannot meet everyone. Obviously, when you have a project like this that comes to fruition, people talk about it and the fact that it is nominated for the Grammy Awards, it attracts the interest of some people,” Mazzoleni said.
Whatever the outcome at the award ceremony on Sunday in Madison Square Garden, Burkinabe musicians and citizens see it as an honour for their music and culture, which is getting world exposure, despite the controversy.