(Douk Saga from his myspace page)
Big ups to Rachel Emmet for creating an English language Coupe Decale Wikipedia article. And putting out the challenge to the Anglo-phones to spread real knowledge about Coupe Decale. A trailer for an upcoming documentary on the subject was sent to Ghetto Bassquake.
I wanted to point to those and respond to Rachel‘s request with some ideas of my own.
Central to the conflict in that country is a sense of nationality and unity, and Ivorianity. I don’t know if you all remember but during the last World Cup when Ivory Coast was competing, people kept talking about how the team’s success was going to unite the North and the South of the country. I remember even getting angry at the Netherlands when they knocked the Ivory Coast out of the running, thinking how can these Europeans feel happy when so much is at stake for the Africans?
Perhaps I took it too personally. The Sierra Leone/Liberia/Ivory Coast/Guinea instability/civil war saga has been going on for over twenty years now, (even though it has roots in hundreds of years of history) and it was inspirational to see that Les Elephants could help change people’s minds about wanting to fight. Football/Soccer is so important for a country’s self esteem. It is a way to momentarily forget the pain of being on the losing end of history, but yet in defeat can remind one of all those scars. Perhaps the ups and downs on the football field are therapeutic and can help heal the wounds by reminding us that they’re there and to not neglect them. Read blogger Vickie Remoe’s account of the feelings the World Cup qualifying defeat of Sierra Leone by Nigeria provokes in her.
Matt at Benn Loxo hinted a connection to the war, the World Cup team, and Coupe Decale back then. I have also definitely seen a connection in videos of Didier Drogba with the Jet Set at a Parisian club. But, beyond the image of money and style that go along with that, what I think needs to be paid attention is the fact that this music is something that is considered Ivorian, and since that was central to the conflict, it’s role in the overall history can’t be ignored. When your in a room of people dancing to this music, especially in unison, it is so uplifting that I could never describe it in words. I can imagine that it adds to that sense of pride in nationhood and potentially helped serve in uniting Ivorians under a common identity.
The question “what is Ivorian?” in music, is something that goes back to the Soukous invasion of the 70’s in Abidjan. Back then, besides Paris, Abdijan was the center for the French-African recording industry. Many great Congolese Soukous bands were formed and recorded in the Ivory Coast. According article at Afropop.org, that I’ve referenced before, there was a fear that Abidjan, being such an international epicenter was loosing its sense of what it means to be Ivorian, whatever that meant. Zouglou, an influence and precursor to Coupe Decale was something that came out of this environment and was something that was homegrown and strictly Ivorian that locals could be proud of. When Coupe Decale came along, during the conflict years, it was something that even some of the “foreign” northerners contributed to and call their own. I believe that Ivorians know that this is their music. When I was in Dakar, people made sure I knew that it was.
I can’t say I’m an expert on the music. Every time I play with Marco at Little Baobab he schools me a little more on artists and lyrics and dance moves. It inspires me. I understand it without trying too hard. It echoes my own desires to participate, innovate, and succeed in the modern global community we are all forming. It is a conversation between worlds defined by wealth and lack there of. It is speaking a European language and not your ancestor’s tongue. It is the desire to create an identity in a place that sees you or your family as strange, even unwelcome. It is everything that U.S. hip hop was, and in some places still is. And just like hip hop, it is spreading globally.
It’s still bigger than hip hop though, and it’s still bigger than Coupe Decale. What we want and what we should be concerned about is Africa.