Friday, November 27, 2009


I figured that this week I'd do a post on a more contemporary genre of music. Hopefully, some of you have heard of Coupé-Décalé, a type of popular dance music that is associated with Côte D'Ivoire, but that was actually invented in Paris. While I will admit that Coupé-Décalé can get a little repetitive, and some of the production is a bit tacky, it would be foolish of me not to include something about it on this blog.

Coupé-Décalé, which emerged around 2002, has exploded in popularity over the past few years and can be found all over Francophone Africa as well as in France. The term Coupé-Décalé means something along the lines of "cheat and run away" or "cut and run" in Ivoirian slang. It can be very over the top and the culture associated with it seems to me to be very materialistic. For example, you often see videos of musicians flashing designer everything (right down to Versace underwear) and driving expensive cars. Many of the original Coupé-Décalé musicians returned to Abidjan and became known for doing things like handing out cash to people in the clubs where they performed. There was a certain emphasis on the idea that these musicians were cheating Europeans out of their cash by accumulating wealth in Europe and bringing it back to Côte D'Ivoire.

Here is the music video for the song "Sagacité" by Douk Saga, one of the creators of Coupé-Décalé. I think it gives you a good sense of the kind of materialism I was talking about.

Also, here is an example of the kind of dancing associated with Coupé-Décalé:

Finally, here are two songs that I have grown to love:

Kedjevara - Tchoucou Tchoucou

Dj Mix 1er & Eloh DJ - Bobaraba

***Edit: I recently got the opportunity to watch Sembene's "La Noire de..." and Mambety's "Touki-Bouki" over again and as I was doing so, I realized something. I have been very critical of Coupé-Décalé for its inherent materialism, but perhaps I have been a bit unfair and, in a way, hypocritical. As I mentioned above, there is this reoccurring theme within the world of Coupé-Décalé of making it big in Europe and then going back to Côte d'Ivoire and parading new-found wealth around. In the past, I have been tremendously dismissive of this, writing it off as a kind of tasteless show-boating. Yet, in watching these two films over again I realized this same exact theme exists in so much of the West African cinema that I deeply respect and cherish. In this context, I have never thought of the desire to escape to Europe, get rich and then return home to show off and spread that wealth as tasteless. Instead, I have considered that very theme to be an integral part of what makes these films such brilliant social commentaries. So maybe I should be more careful in my analysis and opinions of this aspect of the culture of Coupé-Décalé. On the other hand, the fact that this theme is used by directors such as Ousmane Sembene and Djibril Diop Mambety to drive a point home makes a huge difference.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Congo-Kenya Connection

I know that I said my next post would be on Biafran highlife, but it's taking me a little longer than I expected to put that entry together. Instead, this post will be about Congolese musicians in East Africa.

As I said in the previous post, the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) experienced prolonged periods of civil unrest throughout the 60s. The majority of the unrest that contributed to the appearance of Congolese musicians in East Africa was seen during the period in which Joseph Mobutu* was president. He came to power after the two former heads of state, Patrice Lumumba (prime minister) and Joseph Kasavubu (president) had a falling out and Kasavubu kicked Lumumba out of office. Mobutu, who was the head of the army at the time, was able to manufacture a mutiny within the army in large part due to the fact that he payed his soldiers privately because he was receiving financial support from the US and Belgium. Thus, he took advantage of the crisis of leadership and took over the country in a coup. Interesting fact: Lumumba was kidnapped and executed by Congolese and Belgian troops who had the support of the CIA.

Anyway, back to the music, I'm getting off-track. It was because of this unrest that East Africa (particularly, Kenya) was inundated with Congolese musicians. This golden age of Congolese music in East Africa lasted from the late 60s/early 70s to 1985 when the president of Kenya, Daniel Arap Moi, ordered foreign workers to leave the country (this included musicians).

Here are a few songs by Congolese bands who were based in East Africa (click on the track title to listen/download). Some of the musicians may be familiar (e.g. Franco, Baba Gaston), while others will be less so.

Baba Nationale (Baba Gaston) - Zala Reconnassant Fa Fan

Orchestre Festival du Zaire - Shauri Yako pts 1 & 2

Franco et le T.P. O.K. Jazz - President Leon Mba

*He later renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, meaning something along the lines of "The Great Unstoppable Warrior Who Goes From Victory to Victory"

-For more info on Congolese musicians in East Africa check out Muzikfan's piece "congo in kenya"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Welcome! Let's Begin!

Welcome to Poly-Rythmo d'Afrique. First things first, let me tell you a little about myself: My name is Steffan and I come from Brooklyn, New York.

This blog is a product of my obsession with African music of all kinds. I am by no means an expert, but collecting and learning about music from Africa has been a hobby of mine for a few years now. The idea behind this blog is to not only post music, but to give readers some historical and social context to the music as well.

OK. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's begin! I would like to use this first post to give you a sample of some of the kinds of sounds you can look forward to hearing on this blog.

Charlotte Dada - Don't Let Me Down
First up is Ghanaian singer Charlotte Dada with a great Beatles cover. I haven't been able to find much info on her, but I really love the song so I decided to post it. This is off a compilation album called "Money No Be Sand-1960's Afro-Lypso, Pidgin Highlife, Afro-Soul, Afro-Rock" (Original Music, 1995).

Onesmus Musyoki & Kalambya Boys - Katelesa
This song is an example of the kind of music made by the Akamba (Kamba music) of south-central Kenya in the 60s and 70s. Kamba music, which is still popular today, is often grouped under a Kenyan style of pop music known as "Benga." The Kamba forms of Benga are generally characterized by the presence of quick-paced, higher pitched rhythm guitar loops, as you can hear in this song. It is heavily influenced by a type of Afro-pop originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo called Soukous. I really like Kamba Benga and plan on dedicating a whole post to it somewhere down the road.

Orchestre Hi-Fives - Belina Mon Amour

This band formed in Lubumbashi, DRC under the name Bana Kibushi Batano. Then in 1965 they moved to Tanzania and changed their name to the Hi-Fives.

East Africa saw a huge influx of Congolese immigrants in the 60s and 70s as a result of civil unrest in the Congo. These immigrants brought their music with them and East African radio waves were quickly saturated with music made by Congolese musicians living in East Africa. Ever since then, East African pop has been heavily influenced by these Congolese sounds. I plan on doing an entry in the very near future on Congolese musicians in East Africa so I will not include any more info here (you'll just have to wait for my post).

Ashanti Afrika Jah - Onyame
This song acts as a more well-polished example of the legendary West African music genre called Highlife. You will be hearing plenty of Highlife of all kinds on this blog because of how good it is and because of how much of it there is. Highlife music was born in Ghana and developed out of the big band sound popular among European colonizers and the urban elite, as well as from palm-wine music. Palm-wine music is the term for the music that had its beginnings in the local palm-wine bars along Ghana's coast and was associated more with the country's lower class. True highlife, as we know it today, popped up in the mid to late-50s, but the golden age of highlife came in the years following independence (1957) and lasted through the mid-70s. Highlife has begun to influence a lot of American pop music (e.g. Vampire Weekend, High Places, etc).

Tinariwen - Matadjem Yinmixan
I love Tinariwen. This is off their newest album "Aman Iman: Water Is Life" (interesting side note-the title of this album comes from a Tuareg proverb: "Aman iman, akh issudar," meaning "water is life, milk is survival." Some of the members of Tinariwen are in another band called Terakaft and they just released their second album: "Akh Issudar"-clever, right?). Anyway, this is an example of the type of music made by the Tuaregs of Mali, Niger, Algeria, and small portions of Libya and Burkina Faso. The music is often called Desert Rock. I will have a full post on this very soon, but this type of music is often very political and talks of the marginalization of the Tuareg people by the governments of the countries in which they live.

Fool's Gold - The World Is All There Is
Finally, I wanted to include one example of how the West has adopted and integrated African music into their pop industry. Fool's Gold is an LA-based collective of up to 12 musicians. The band's lead singer, Luke Top, comes from Israel, so most of their songs are in Hebrew. Enjoy!

Well, that's it for now. If anyone actually reads this, I hope they get as much pleasure out of these songs as I do. Look out for my next post (my first real post) which will be on Biafran Highlife.