Cradled within the interior of West Africa, Burkina Faso is a land rich in cultures, with Mande, Mossi, Fulani, Bobo, Lobi peoples topping a list of some 60 indigenous ethnic groups. The nation's capital, Ouagadougou, was once a 15th century Mossi kingdom, one of many West African empires that ruled this area in pre-colonial times.
The region's remoteness, poor soil quality, and relative scarcity of mineral wealth made it a low priority for the French and British colonizers who scrambled for control of West Africa at the end of the 19th century. When France took possession of the territory, then called Upper Volta, the colonists made minimal efforts to govern or develop, or even to challenge existing traditional political structures. They seemed to view the area principally as a source of labor. A series of severe droughts led the colony to bankruptcy, and in 1932, the French disbanded Upper Volta and divided it among neighboring colonies, principally Ivory Coast. But after World War II, the French assuaged Mossi leaders and punished Ivory Coast's increasingly anti-French leader Félix Houphet-Boigny by re-establishing the colony. But the land was so undeveloped that when independence came in 1960, the first president Maurice Yaméogo resisted the French departure.
Authoritarian rule and further drought marked the first two decades of independence. But in 1983, flight commander Thomas Sankara became prime minister and renamed the country Burkina Faso, literally "land of upright people." Just 33, Sankara set out a revolutionary course for the nation, resisting official corruption and directing the country's limited resources toward health and education. His anti imperialist rhetoric frightened international investors, but Sankara remained popular and committed. In 1987, forces within Sankara's own military assassinated him, and his former ally Blaise Compaoré took power. Compaoré created nominal multi-party democracy, but his party has held power ever since.
Although Burkina Faso is one of the poorest nations in the world, it has known peace that some of its neighbors can envy. And it has given much to the cultural life of West Africa, especially its annual film festival in Ouagadougou. Despite everything, Burkina Faso has produced some of the greatest film makers in Africa.
Music in Burkina Faso Burkina Faso is a treasure chest of traditional music. Its drumming traditions and balafon (wooden xylophone) musicto take two examplesare world renowned. Unfortunately, poverty has hobbled the nation's efforts at having an electric dance band tradition. During the `70s, groups like Dafra Stars with its star singer Tidiani Coulibaly echoed the fusion of local styles with Cuban music popular throughout West Africa. Dafra used to play popular balles de poussiéres (dust dances), but when their state-supplied equipment gave out, there was no way to replace it.
Singer Nick Domby operated a studio in Ouagadougou, but output was sparse. Another singer, Désiré Traoré, leader of Dési et les Sympathiques now operates the only other 24-track studio in the country. In cassette stalls, you can find George Ouédraogo's tradition-based afropop, Abdoulaye Cissé's Manding pop, and reggae from Jean-Claude Bamogo and Black So Man. A few Burkinabe pop musicians do operate abroad, notably Gabin Dabiré who produces folky choral-based music from his home in Italy.
Traditional music remains Burkina Faso's greatest export. Farafina, started by balafon virtuoso Mahama Konaté in 1978, has made sensational recordings and performed all over the world, particularly in the wake of its alliance with WOMAD in the early '90s. Concentrating on Mossi culture, the group Saaba began in 1982 under the direction of Koudbi Koala, the French educated son of a Mossi blacksmith who returned to his homeland to help develop its local cultures. Saaba performs regularly in Europe, and in 1996, Koala was a force behind the creation of a performance arts festival in Burkina's third-largest city, Koudougou. Courtesy Afropop Worldwide