May 29, 2011

Meiway is arguably the most popular musician in Cote d’Ivoire over the past twenty years or more. He is the originator of a style of music called zoblazo, which is a high-energy dance mix heavy on synths, but with echoes of tradtional rhythms from south-eastern Cote d’Ivoire. With his exceptionally tight band Zo Gang, Meiway’s live performances are a lesson in controlled collective effervescence.

Meiway is from the coastal area of Bassam, the lagoon region stretching east from Abidjan into western Ghana, and home to the Akan ethnic group, and specifically in Meiway’s case the Apollo or N’Zema sub-group (an identity he shares with Kwame Nkrumah)

The above clip is interesting to me in the way it visually references the traditional rhythms and style underpinning Meiway’s music, despite the highly synthesized sounds and modern, congolese-esque attitude. Meiway’s most recent album is entitled 9ème Commandement –900% zoblazo and was released in 2006.

Interestingly, there is a tradition in this region of dancing in a procession with handkerchiefs (les mouchoirs!) and umbrellas, often to a brass accompaniment. It’s referred to as fanfare in Cote d’Ivoire, but it looks suspiciously like processions you see in the streets of New Orleans today (if you click the link, start around 2mins for a bit of les mouchoirs)…

Baoule Musicians

May 27, 2011

I like this clip as an illustratation of how traditional stringed instruments in Africa relate to modern popular guitar styles. When this video started, I thought I was hearing a guitar, but in a sort of dread experience it became immediately clear that the guy on your right is playing the rhythm on two bowed harps.

Baoule refers to a minority ethnic group in central Cote d’Ivoire that looms large in Ivoirian politics. The nation’s first and longest serving president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny was Baoule, and in 1983 the nation’s administrative capitol was moved from Abidjan to his home village of Yamoussoukro. There you can still visit the world’s largest basilica, complete with stained glass depicting Boigny as one of the three biblical magi kneeling as he offers a gift to Jesus. There is also an infamous moat filled with massive crocodiles surrounding the president’s ex-residence.


May 24, 2011

Variétoscope is an annual dance competition sponsored and televised by La Premiere, the primary state-run Ivoirian television channel. The show was created in 1984 by Georges Tai Benson, and further popularized by Barthelemy Inabo and Serges Fatoh. Currently hosted by Amoussou Naomie, it is one of the longest running shows on Ivoirian television, having continued un-interrupted for 26 years, despite the political and military upheaval over the past decade.

For sheer spectacle, and for its ability to bring different ethnicities and regions together in a spirit of competition, there is nothing quite like Varietoscope. Every summer break, dance groups from towns and communities across the country put their best foot forward to bring home the crown. According to the official Varietoscope fan page, these groups are often sponsored by their local municipality, to the tune of $10,000 to $20,000 if they reach the final.

The audio and video are sub-optimal, but here’s a sample of what goes down (from 2008):

Interestingly, as the civil conflict in Cote d’Ivoire has worsened and broad ethnic divisions deepen into acts of violence, the music and dance styles on Varietoscope have shifted as well. Today, the performances are less obviously from a particular group within the country, as the more ethnically neutral sounds and steps of coupe decale have crept in. Much of the joy of the spectacle seems to have been sapped as well, as the level of competition has slackened due to decreased funding in the current climate, as well as a rule eliminating champions from further competition, and a voting system that is less and less transparent each year, among other problems.

Here’s hoping Varietoscope can rebound from its current malaise, and maybe give Cote d’Ivoire a little bounce in the process.

Bailly Spinto performs “Hiousbe”

May 23, 2011

Bailly Spinto has been making music in Cote d’Ivoire since the late 70s when he burst on the scene with a treacly hit ballad “Taxi Sougnon.” If I understood Bete, I’m sure I would appreciate this song more, but the synth overlays and crooning aren’t generally my cup of tea.

However, in the clip above you can see where Bailly Spinto is coming from a bit. I found it particularly interesting that he included 4 male traditional dancers with oxtail whisks to animate this big band, televised performance. He was adored early in his career for his crooning and for how his very modern compositions remained recognizeably Bete in rhythm and attitude.

In the mid-80s however, Spinto attempted to create a new, uptempo fusion genre he called Gbegbe Rock. This was deemed too much of a departure from his Bete and balladeering roots, and he was all but cast away from the Ivoirian music scene. Spinto has since made his peace with himself and the Ivoirian public, and recently celebrated 30 years in the music business with a series of shows and a new release.

[Many thanks to chester555 for the clip, and for all the clips on his YouTube channel.]

Origins of Coupe Decale

May 22, 2011

Coupe decale is currently the most popular musical style in Abidjan clubs and radio. It’s a fusion of DJ, toaster and rubbery dance moves, the same basic ingredients found in hip-hop. The rhythms however sound just as often congolese or antillean as anything american. In a sense it’s the Ivoirian nightclub’s take on a seben hyped to the extreme, and with the spotlight often burning brightest on the dancers.

As one interviewee explains, during open warfare when curfew in Abidjan was from 9pm to 7am, people would start heading to Rue Princesse around 6am to start the party, in broad daylight, all day every day until curfew. Coupe decale was, and remains the soundtrack to that sort of defiant hedonism in Cote d’Ivoire.

Cheap to make–computer software, keyboard, microphone, done–coupe decale is also the logical conclusion to what’s been happening in Ivoirian showbiz for 20 years or more, as pop music moves further and further away from live musicians, live voices and from exploring modern resonancese for folkloric traditions.

Super Timor TV Spot

May 21, 2011

Thought this was pretty funny and worth posting. Reggae was just coming into vogue in Abidjan about this time, with Alpha Blondy yet to be revealed to the world. But this ad for Super Timor bug spray used reggae, and was apparently very popular in its day. Many thanks to sehanne for the YouTube posting, and for the excellent collection of Ivoirian music videos on his/her YouTube channel. Sehanne offers this bit of insight into the Super Timor ad (my translation):

“An old tv spot that was very popular back in the day, and which gave its name to a style of men’s suit. Check out the cut of the suit on the guy who has the Timor in his hand.”

Ok, now check out the Super Timor Extended Remix

Or how about the Super Super Timor (Dubstep remix)

Or check out the oddly numerous Super Timor Parodies on YouTube.

All this for a 30 second TV ad from 30+ years ago?!

Who knew?

Front Yard Zouglou

May 20, 2011

Zouglou is one of the most popular Ivoirian music styles to emerge in the 90s. While it has been supplanted in Abidjan’s clubs and airwaves more recently by DJ-centered Coupe Decalle music, zouglou will always be a part of the Ivoirian musical landscape.

It was a style created by students at Abidjan’s universities, singing to a djembe/percussion accompaniment to animate parties and rallies for social change. The message is usually either humorous or political. To reach the largest audience in Abidjan, however, the djembe and percussion origins of zouglou became the sythesizer and drum machine, and the parties and rallies became cassettes and playback shows (lip-synced performances). This is the same basic trajectory of almost all Ivoirian music as it goes from the artist’s head to market.

The video below is the best example I could find on the web of where zouglou is coming from (many thanks to papsonmagic for the post). It’s focussed on the dancers (who are pretty excellent), but the musicians are what caught my ear/eye. This is 9 minutes of just getting down inna old-school, roots zouglou stylee. Enjoy.

Guehi Jean & Les Super Banty’s de l’Ouest, avec “Gnoza”

May 19, 2011

Merci a Mossokou pour ses posts (et son text ci-dessous) sur YouTube!

Guehi Jean & Les Super Banty’s de l’Ouest sang in Wè, a language from the west of the Côte d’Ivoire, equally present in Liberia and Guinée. This song is basically a group of proverbs strung together. Guéhi Jean sings : “If a panther catches something, man cannot take it away, thus the man that does good for others must be thanked. One must thank the man who has fire to chase the bugs away as well as the man who has water to save a house in flames”

Guehi Jean & Les Super Banty’s de l’Ouest chantent en langue wè (ethnie de l’ouest de la Côte d’Ivoire, également présente au Liberia et en Guinée). Ici Guéhi jean dans sa chanson dit que “Si une panthère capture quelque chose, l’homme ne peut pas lui prendre, aussi l’homme qui fait du bien à autrui doit être remercié . C’est pourquoi il faut remercier l’homme qui a le feu pour éloigner les insectes, ainsi que l’homme qui a de l’eau pour maîtriser la maison en flammes.”


May 18, 2011

Check out this video of pro-Gbagbo protesters blocking the route of several armored Force Licorne transports, cell phone cameras a-flyin’.

“This is the face of a murderer! This is the face of a murderer!”

This occured about 100 yards from where Zeiti’s Narcisse and Laurent once lived and composed (and played Ludo), the same area where Narcisse lives today:

For more sounds & images of Port-Bouet, check out this video playlist from WNët

Ernesto Djedje & The RTI Orchestra

May 17, 2011

The still undisputed king of Ivoirian pop music, feu Ernesto Djedje (1948–1983) performing “Ziglibitien” with the house band for Ivoirian state radio and television The RTI Orchestra was and remains today a salaried assemblage of the baddest musicians in town who for decades have been backing Africa’s biggest stars as they pass through Abidjan (including a stint under the direction of Manu Dibango).