22.6.06

Festivale de Football Day 16: Ivory Coast


My boy Kolo Touré has come up with a few cheap fantasy football points this year: to me they've looked one of the hottest African teams in it, although they were in what was undoubtedly the group of death: Argentina and Holland? You have to be kidding me. However, for a team that play in bright orange they've got style, strength and loads of class.

It seems that as a nation, the Côte d'Ivoire have musical style, strength and class in bucketloads as well. The capital Abidjan is the hotbed of musical talent for the whole of West Africa, with most of the major recording studios. It leads the field, alongside Nigeria, in seriously funky Afrobeat, as well as traditional music and the more modern coupé-décalé and zouglou styles.

The forerunner of what's probably the most popular music in Abidjan these days is Didier Bilé, who pioneered what's now known as zouglou. Originally starting on the campus of the university of Abidjan, it's a dancey, slightly r'n'b-y but definitely West African style. There's plenty of traditional harmonies shining through, but the lyrics are in the street French prevalent in Abidjan. Now, my French is a touch better than my Italian, but don't get all expectant: I still don't know what they're banging on about. However, I'm reliably informed that its mostly social commentary, but put across with a humour and wit that's not normally found in it's Stateside hip hop counterpart - when a country's going wrong in the so-called 'developed world', we have a tendency to whinge about it rather than approach it with humour. So good on 'em.

Didier Bilé - Zizi (video)


Magic System are one of the biggest groups in the genre, especially in terms of crossing over to the French language market in France: they're as likely to employ as much reggae as anything else. And talk about dealing with issues: said album contains songs on abortion, paedophilia, ethnic division and juvenile delinquency. It's a really accomplished sound, even to a non-world-music-literate ear - diverse and eclectic, yet coherent and interesting to listen to. The band have become pretty much the biggest musical export from the country, reaching no.5 in the French singles chart, and being announced the top-selling African artists in French record stores.

Magic System - 1er Gaou
Magic System feat. Alpha Blondy - Tikilipo

Coupé Décalé is a newer still variant on the scene, and just like the history of zouglou can be traced alongside US rap, coupé-décalé is the gangsta equivalent, the get rich or die trying ethic of Fiddy Cent filtered through a rather sardonic look at their home turf. The genre's name, according to Frank Bessem, stems from coupé = get money (by whatever means), décalé = leave, flee to Abidjan). It seems to be one of those self-referential scenes, and a lot more bling than your standard African music.

That said, where US hip hop glorifies the violent side of getting the money as much as the glamorous, proponents of coupé-décalé have been known to just give out chunks of money in nightclubs. It seems to be a form of escapism rather than egotism, and doesn't seem quite as obnoxious.
Douk Saga is the biggest star of the field, undoubtedly. Not a little of this is due to his self-promotional tactics and claims to be the Daddy, if you like, of coupé-décalé, but where his American counterparts appear to be able to gain success through braggadocio and bling alone, Saga's music is an often fascinating mix, incorporating Congolese dance styles into zouglou and creating not just a music but a dance that's becoming increasingly popular.

Douk Saga - Sagacité

I find it difficult to relate to this sort of music though, really. Any hip hop that mentions money turns me off, so it's not really my cup of tea. I kind of like Magic System though, they're pretty fun, and at least these people are doing something to take their minds off the troubles of their home country, rather than just moan and whine.

Buy Ivorian music here
Buy Didier Bilé/Magic System/Douk Saga/Alpha Blondy

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CIA Factbook: Ivory Coast