Thursday, 8 October 2015

Day 8: Kaya and Seggae music

Seggae is a musical style that mixes Sega (traditional Mauritian music) and Reggae. It was invented by Kaya, an extremely popular singer in Mauritius and whose death in 1999 led to violent riots in the country.

Joseph Reginald Topize, also known as "Kaya" was born 10th of August 1960. 

As a teenager, he discovers a passion for music and plays guitar. He also grow his hair and has dreadlocks. In the seventies, he is part of a band which plays Bob Marley's covers, but "Rasta" people suffer many prejudices in Mauritius, and sometimes venues don't want to accept him because of the way he acts and look.

In spite of these difficulties, he starts playing at several concerts, and during a charity gig in Baie du Tombeau, the audience loves his Bob Marley's "Kaya" cover so much that he decides to change his name and be called "Kaya".

In the eighties, he creates his own group, Racine Tatane (named after the famous Malagasy prince Ratsitatane, beheaded in Mauritius) and invents "Seggae" music, a mix of Reggae and Sega. The band starts by playing free concerts with other artists, but the Mauritian public is not ready to accept this style of music yet, and Rasta people are still quite unpopular in the country.

Racine Tatane's manager decides to promote the group in the nearby Reunion island, and the success is massive. The Mauritian public, inexorably jealous, begins to wonder who is this group that attracts the crowds in Reunion Island. The band releases its first album: "Seggae Nu Lamiszik". As a result, Kaya and Racine Tatane are invited to a concert in honour of Nelson Mandela and it's a big success. They will subsequently play several sold out gigs: 20,000 spectators in front of the parliament and even 44,000 at the National Stadium.

The first album sells like hotcakes, and Seggae music is becoming extremely popular. Kaya and Racine Tatane will then release several albums: "La  Pé Universel""Seggae Man", "Racine pé brillé", "Zistwar révoltant", "Chante Marley".

In his lyrics, Kaya denounces political powers, lies, and injustice. Although he becomes almost a national hero, it doesn't really change the discrimination Rastas are facing (and in fact the Creole community as a whole), especially from the government and the Hindu community. In many of his songs, Kaya pleads for legalization of Gandia (cannabis), and it doesn't really please them.

In Mauritius, cannabis use is severely repressed and prison sentences are frequent. Yet, some politicians from the "Republican movement" are in favour of decriminalization. On 16th of February 1999, this political party organizes a concert with several artists, including Kaya.

Some spectators are seen smoking gandia and Kaya himself  smokes a joint on stage. The affair is a scandal and several people are arrested including Kaya. He admits to smoking gandia and is detained. The bail is set at 10,000 rupees. Kaya's family and friends manage to raise the money but because of a few mistakes made by his lawyers, it is decided that Kaya would not be released until the Monday.

Unfortunately, he's found dead in his cell on Sunday, 21st of February. The official version says he would have have been in drug withdrawal and smashed his head against the wall, but very few people in Mauritius believe this version. Kaya's wife then requires an expertise by a doctor from Reunion Island and his verdict is that Kaya would have been beaten.

The news spread quickly on the island, causing riots. The troubles begin in his native village of Roche Bois and then extend to the whole country. The demonstrators strongly dispute the official version of Kaya's death, but beyond that, they express a profound uneasiness felt by all the Creole community: the constant discrimination they experience.

Fabrice told me that when the riots  began, he was working in a hotel, and was forbidden to leave his workplace for 3 days because it was too dangerous.

Kaya was buried in Roche Bois and several thousand people were present at the funeral. 

I know that this article is certainly incomplete, but the goal was just to make you discover an artist that I got to know when I was in Mauritius. Fabrice and his brothers told me a lot about Kaya and the riots. Fabrice's family is Creole, and to hear people speak of what they felt when Kaya died, made me understand that he was truly a hero to the Creole community. They thought he could change the image that society and the government had of them.

Unfortunately he left too soon to change all that ...