On August 17, 2013, musician Simon Doré tried to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. Halfway across, the inflatable boat began to fill with water. There weren’t enough life vests for everyone, and within a few hours, Doré, along with another refugee, drowned. Today a part of Doré continues to live on in Tangier in the form of one of the tightest Afropop bands in Morocco: Diaspora.
Co-founded in 2012 by Doré and fellow musician and Guinean Sékou Touré, Diaspora started out performing on the street and has since played at Moroccan music festivals and for visiting dignitaries and ambassadors — all with a swirl of reggae, rap, electronics, Guinean rumba, coupé-décalé and other traditional African rhythms. “Diaspora is a rare instance of a name so accurately representing the artists and music they create,” says hip-hop artist and producer Puma Simone. “They are a seamless mixture of genres, languages and dialects.”
In any song you’re liable to hear English mixed with Bambara, French with Sousou, Spanish and Wolof. Darija with a bit of Lingala.
Diaspora is itself made up of diasporas. The band’s current and former members hail from Guinea, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Spain. The musicians come bearing instruments that range from synths and guitars to the djembe, dundunba, bolon and gongoma — names with a musicality all their own. Almost all of these traditional instruments Touré made himself, including his signature goat-haired bolon — a Guinean harp that resembles the head of a shaggy rhino.
In any song you’re liable to hear English mixed with Bambara; French with Sousou, Spanish and Wolof; Darija with a bit of Lingala. But you don’t need to be a linguistic savant to “get” Diaspora. The music is downright physical. I once watched a dance party start after some of their tracks were pumped through the speakers at a local Spanish restaurant. And during an early interview in the band’s one-bulb apartment, I found myself freestyling with their rasta-rapper Aboubakar Diabaté to their track “Babylon” — and I don’t rap. Seriously never.
Watching the band’s suite of videos, you’d think life for a refugee musician in Morocco is all pool parties and hashish smoke. But just like other sub-Saharan refugees, Diaspora’s members have been subject to discrimination, had trouble finding work and been arrested simply for not having their passports on them.
Like Doré, the other members of Diaspora hope to eventually make it to Europe. But unlike Doré they want to do it the legal way: with a contract, a manager and a series of music festivals waiting for them when they arrive. According to Guinean-born djembe drummer Aly Tatchol Camara, Diaspora’s timely message of international solidarity is sure to have an audience waiting. “This kinda stuff I love to listen to. Especially with what’s going on right now around the world … You listen to this and it’ll help to heal you.”
Diaspora’s newest song is called “Jeneba.” Before playing it for me, Touré explains it’s an homage to his grandmother, Jeneba, whose funeral he wasn’t able to see. It’s also for their fallen brother, Doré, and the many thousands who’ve died trying to cross to Europe. There is no synth track. No auto-tune. In fact, it has none of the high-tech, high-energy swagger of their music videos. Rather it sounds like something much older and much sadder.
“I love you, Mama,” Touré sings. “I miss you, Mama.”
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