Despite being forced into exile for his music and advocacy, Killa Ace continues to be a steadfast advocate for change in his home country. Through his music, he courageously addresses crucial social injustices, bringing attention to problems like corruption, unjust detainments, disappearances, politically motivated imprisonments, police brutality, and mismanagement of national resources. Additionally, he is the creative force behind Team Gomsa Bopa, a civil society organization that utilizes art to champion social transformation and encourage public involvement in vital socio-political dialogues.
How would you define the term “artistivist” and how does it resonate with your work?
To me, an artivist is a person who utilizes their art for the purpose of effecting social change. Art possesses the remarkable ability to influence and transform societies, given its profound impact on our lives. In my own journey, I harness the power of hip hop as a tool to advocate for social change and raise my voice against injustice and bad governance, among other issues. I firmly believe that art, in its most authentic form of expression, wields immense power. Through my rap, I actively engage in activism, earning the title of a “RapTivist.”
Can you share some examples of how your art and activism intersect? How do you use your artistic expression to address social or political issues?
My art draws significant inspiration from my environment. Activism, much like art, thrives in a societal context where the two mutually nourish each other. In my country, as well as in numerous African nations, we confront a multitude of issues and challenges stemming from factors such as inadequate governance, poverty, youth unemployment, and corruption, among others. The capacity to utilize hip-hop as a means to bring attention to these problems and articulate the concerns of the marginalized is of utmost importance. It serves as a potent tool capable of amplifying the voices of those who have long been silenced, ultimately wielding the power to foster substantial and meaningful change.
What specific social or political causes are you most passionate about, and how do you incorporate them into your artistic practice?
My passion has always been dedicated to creating a more favorable environment for my fellow citizens. The causes that have deeply resonated with me include advocating for freedom of expression, instigating institutional reforms, safeguarding human rights, combating corruption, demanding government accountability, and addressing the pressing issue of police brutality. Additionally, I am particularly drawn to the challenges faced by the youth in our society. Recently, we embarked on an impactful campaign titled “Dafa Doy,” which translates to “Enough is enough.” The primary objective of this campaign is to address the alarming 37 percent increase in electricity prices that has been imposed upon us.
What specific demands did you put forth?
We firmly believe that every individual should have access to affordable and reliable utilities. Our demands are aimed at both the National Water and Electricity Company (NAWEC) and the government. We need them to ensuring a stable supply of water and electricity to all customers connected to the NAWEC grid, Facilitate public engagement in meaningful discussions concerning the exorbitant price hikes, as mandated by section 34(2)b of the PURA Act 2001 and Reversing the tariffs for electricity, thereby reducing them by 37 percent, and similarly reducing water tariffs by 20 percent to a more reasonable level, reminiscent of the pre-increase rates.We will continue to raise awareness, mobilize support, and exert pressure for meaningful reforms to be implemented.
Do you believe art can bring about social change and create awareness among the public? Can you provide examples of instances where you have seen this impact firsthand?
Music wields a profound influence over the masses, making it one of the most powerful tools of communication. In my case, my music has served as a source of inspiration for countless individuals in various ways. It has instilled belief in themselves despite the discouraging environment we find ourselves in and has empowered them to raise their voices and actively participate in bringing about change. One of my notable songs, “Ku Boka C Geta,” which roughly translates to “all those with the cattle herd deserve milk” in Wolof, emerged during a time when speaking out against dictatorship incurred severe consequences such as arrest, torture, murder, forced disappearances, or being forced to flee the country.
Were there any consequences that you faced after releasing the song?
After the release of the song, I was compelled to flee to Senegal with my family in order to escape the imminent risk of arrest, as we had become targets of Jammeh’s security forces. I remained in exile from June 2015 until March 2017.
How was the experience like living in exile?
The experience of living in exile was both bitter and sweet. It was a challenging ordeal to leave my country, uncertain of what awaited us, especially considering I had my five-year-old daughter with me. We had to endure difficult living conditions before things began to improve. Leaving behind the rest of my family, business, and all the projects I had worked so hard on had a significant impact on me mentally. However, I am grateful that it marked the beginning of a new mission, and eventually, things started to improve.
What other challenges have you faced as an artistivist, and how do you navigate the potential conflicts between your artistic expression and activism?
I face numerous obstacles and missed opportunities. Endorsements, sponsorships, and other benefits are often withheld due to the private sector’s reliance on the government. The Gambia, an emerging democracy, still grapples with remnants of a dictatorial mindset. Mainstream programs avoid playing my songs, labeling me as an anti-government artist, and favoring other artists instead.
Despite the removal of a dictator, corruption, police brutality, and restrictions on citizens persist. I have personally experienced police brutality, being unlawfully arrested and charged, spending nights in jail, and enduring court proceedings. In response, I released the song “Go Gotta Go,” shedding light on the inhumane conditions of detention camps and the excessive police brutality I witnessed during my own detention.
Did this revelation make you a target of law enforcement?
The song exposed the corrupt and brutal actions of the Head of the Anti Crime Unit, revealing his history of perpetrating such acts since the Jammeh era. This made me a target of the unit. In 2019, riots and protests erupted following the death of a market vendor named Ousman Darboe after his release from their custody, resulting in the burning of Gorr Gi Mboob’s house.
I was falsely accused of leading the incident and, along with 37 other young individuals, arrested for arson. We were paraded, sent to the Mile 2 central prison, and held there for two weeks. Despite the challenges, I have remained committed to this noble path and have achieved impact.
Thanks to recommendations from The TRRC, Gorr Gi Mboob was dismissed, and I have observed a slight shift in the mindset of security officers. Where they once saw me as a threat, they now salute me and even express a desire to take pictures with me. Our organization actively collaborates as partners in our quest for genuine security sector reform, a goal we have long yearned for.
The long-awaited anti-corruption bill is presently under review by the National Assembly. However, a recent survey conducted by Afrobarometer in March revealed that a majority of Gambians perceive an increase in corruption within the country over the past year, along with a poor performance by the government in combating it. What is your opinion on this matter?
Unfortunately, there has been minimal change as promised. It is undeniable that corruption remains widespread, with the president surrounded by a group of self-serving and greedy individuals. Our lands and seas are being exploited and deals made that are not in our best interests. Funds and projects are being mismanaged. The youth face a lack of opportunities, limited space, and a lack of positive environments, while government officials seemingly become millionaires overnight. Many victims of the Jammeh regime still lack the necessary medical support and care they deserve. It is disheartening that despite promises, corruption continues to persist, and for some, it has become a means of survival.
You are currently in the process of establishing an official commission solely dedicated to tackling corruption. What are your thoughts?
Indeed, the establishment of an independent commission, free from government interference, would be highly beneficial. Public institutions require an impartial body that can effectively monitor and hold them accountable. Strong enforcement is crucial in combating corruption. However, it is disheartening to note that these commissions can only make recommendations based on their findings, while it is ultimately the responsibility of the government to take action on those recommendations.
What are your thoughts on this year’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report ranking The Gambia as Second Tier and what are the short-term and long-term solutions to address this issue?
The Gambia has failed to deliver substantial changes to address the dire circumstances faced by unemployed youth who lack opportunities and come from marginalized communities. It is imperative that we create an enabling environment where they feel secure and empowered at home, so they no longer have to endanger their lives in pursuit of a better future.
What advice would you give to aspiring artistivists who are passionate about using their creativity for social change?
To persevere in self-belief is essential for an artivist. The path of an artivist has never been easy, yet the lasting impact it brings is immeasurable. Focus on personal growth, expand your skills and connections, and maintain consistency in your work. Let your passion drive you forward, as the temporary hype may fade, but the value of your work remains enduring.
Are there any upcoming projects or initiatives you are working on that you would like to share with our readers?
I am deeply involved in the creation of my upcoming album, KillaManJaro, which has been carefully crafted to embody my pan-African vision and the insights gained during my travels as a rapper and activist across Africa. This album showcases the rich lyrical diversity of an African emcee aiming to make a significant impact on the continent. Following its release, I have a strong desire to embark on a KillaManJaro African tour, spanning all regions of Africa.