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Last Updated: Monday, 15 October 2007, 08:29 GMT 09:29 UK
Ivory Coast's reggae wars recede
By James Copnall
BBC News, Abidjan

Alpha Blondy (file image)
Alpha Blondy is frank about Ivory Coast's problems
Ivorians believe their main city Abidjan is one of the reggae capitals of the world.

The music genre, more commonly thought of as Caribbean, is extremely popular in Ivory Coast, as the number of reggae bars can confirm.

At bars like Parkers Place, Kingston and Jamaica City, reggae groups play covers of Jamaican legend Bob Marley but also of Ivorian artists like Alpha Blondy.

"Ivory Coast is one of the first countries in Africa known for its reggae," explains the singer Kajim.

"In other parts of the world, when the military take power, you hear other sorts of music on the radio."

"But here when the military took power they played reggae, because in our country reggae is known as the music of change, the music of combat!"

"Here our music is a weapon, and it is not the same thing in other countries."

Home-grown flavour

So how did reggae become the cutting edge in Abidjan, and indeed throughout the country?

Bob Marley brought it to the world, but it took Alpha Blondy to make it Ivorian - as the producer and music specialist Francois Konian explains.

Ivory Coast map

"In the 1980s Alpha Blondy turns up, who is a sort of Bob Marley, but ours!" he says.

"He sings our problems, but in a language we understand."

"He sings in French, in the language of the street, Nouchi, he sings in local languages like Dioula and Baoule, and he sings in English, which makes him even more authentic."

"And he sings things which are so very true - but which are said very rarely."

As soon as Alpha Blondy started to express himself in this way, others rushed to follow his path, and the reggae movement had got under way."

After Alpha Blondy's success - and he achieved popularity and record sales around the world - a number of Ivorians turned to reggae.

Reggae war

In the reggae bar Parker Place, there is an evident sense of harmony - "peace and love" the tribute singer croons, in English, and the multi-racial and very relaxed crowd shouts its approval.

But this spirit has not been shared by Ivorian reggae as a whole in recent times.

In fact, there has been a minor reggae war - a pale imitation of the civil conflict that has devastated Ivory Coast these last five years.

Ivorian reggae star Serges Kassy (from official website)
Serges Kassy sings in praise of Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo

One reggaeman, Serges Kassi, is a fervent supporter of President Laurent Gbagbo - in fact he is one of the leaders of his militant supporters, the Young Patriots, who in the past have been accused of being a militia.

Another musician, Tiken Jah Fakoly, who is perhaps Ivory Coast's biggest reggae star after Alpha Blondy, is firmly in the other camp.

He has created songs that criticize President Gbagbo heavily, calling him "badly elected" and a "thug President".

His songs have been broadly favourable to the New Forces rebels who control the north of the country.

Tiken Jah lives in exile in Mali, saying it would be too dangerous for him to return to Abidjan.

"You are thinking more about your career than your people - that is my reproach to Tiken Jah," says Kassi.

The division has not been good for Ivorian reggae, believes the reggae fanatic Des Parker, who is the owner of Parkers Place.

"I think they are both wrong, they are both totally wrong!"

"I do not consider them leaders of reggae in Ivory Coast, I think they should work for the people, and not for the President or the others."

Pipes of Peace

Perhaps mirroring the improvements in the political situation in Ivory Coast, Tiken Jah at least seems to have mellowed.

Ivorian reggae star Tiken Jah (from his official website)
Tiken Jah's anti-Gbagbo lyrics made it safer for him to live in Mali

He recently released a new album, L'Africain.

In it he sings a duet with a singer, Beta Simon, called Ma Cote d'Ivoire - my Ivory Coast.

The song expresses the hope that no-one will take up arms in Ivory Coast again.

Beta Simon was chosen, according to Tiken Jah, because he comes from President Gbagbo's ethnic group, to show that everyone in the country can be friends.

In the same spirit, Serges Kassi says he is trying to persuade Tiken Jah to return to Abidjan for a concert.

Perhaps the reggae war is coming to an end.



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