I mentioned to someone recently that with two teenagers headed off to college soon I just can't afford to plop down $17-20 for a CD anymore. Therefore, by necessity, this weblog is devoted mainly to older sounds. That means that I haven't heard African Scream Contest, Nigeria Special, or any of the great new reissues that everybody else in the African music blogosphere has been raving about.
In my younger, more carefree days it was a different story. Back in the mid-1980s, when I first discovered Sterns in London, I made several big orders, totaling well over two thousand dollars. A favorable exchange rate didn't hurt either. At one point the Pound Sterling went for $1.03! Even taking postage and import duties into account the cost of a European-pressed LP was roughly equal to what I would pay for an American one. Not, of course, that anything I could get in a U.S. record store could equal anything Sterns had on offer!
I generally didn't order specific recordings from the Sterns people (availability of particular titles was iffy anyway). Rather I would request x number of records, with the instructions that they were to select whatever was the latest and best from each particular country. It sure was a kick to go down to the post office, pay the import duty and then rush home to hear what they'd picked out for me!
In this way I was exposed to an awful lot of excellent sounds that I might not have considered otherwise. I certainly wouldn't have heard any of the music that was coming out of Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) those days. As I noted in a previous post, that country has been host to numerous musical styles over the years. The latest is Coupé Decalé, which hit the scene around 2002.
For many years the music of Côte d'Ivoire was overshadowed by the sounds coming out of its neighbors Ghana, Nigeria and especially Congo. Imported R&B from the US was also hugely popular, as it was everywhere in Africa. Local musicians like Amadee Pierre and Anoman Brough Felix made excellent music, but their popularity was confined mainly to their home country.
François Lougah (above) was one of the first Ivoirien musicians to have an international impact. He was born in 1942 in Lakota in the southern central region of Côte d'Ivoire, and had varied careers as a mason, football player and actor before hitting the music scene. His first hit was "Pekoussa" in 1973. Countless chart successes, a brief marriage to Tshala Muana and numerous tours throughout Africa and the world followed until his untimely death in 1997. Here's a hard-hitting track from Lougah's 1976 LP Au Zaïre (Sonafric SAF 50036):
François Lougah - Saka Popia
By the mid '80s, when I got hip to their music, Ivoiriens were in the throes of Ziglibithy fever following the death of the founder and foremost practitioner of the style, Ernesto Djédjé (left). Djédjé was born in 1947 in Tahiraguhé-Ziglo of a Senegalese father and a mother of the Beté ethnic group. He conceived of Ziglibithy as the first truly "Ivoirien" popular music style, a response to the imported sounds washing over Côte d'Ivoire in the 1970s. The unique "jerky" rhythms of Ziglibithy are derived from Beté folklore and the LP Zibote (Badmos BLP 5020), the first recording to showcase the style, caused a sensation when it was released in 1977. Four more successful LPs followed, but on June 9th, 1983, while preparing for his next album, Djédjé died suddenly of an untreated ulcer.
Here is the title track from Ernesto Djédjé's second album Ziglibithiens (Badmos BLP 5021, 1977). It is included on the CD Le Roi du Ziglibithy (Popular African Music PAM ADC 305, 2001), which is available from Sterns:
Ernesto Djédjé - Ziglibithiens
And here is a video of Djédjé doing "Konan Bedié":
Ernesto Djédjé's death was deeply felt all across the Ivoirien music scene, as witness this tribute from the liner notes of the album Ziglibithy-La Continuité (Shakara Music SHA 041, 1983) by Blissi Tebil (right):
Whew! Let's hear Mr. Tebil himself, in a track from that LP:
Is it necessary to repeat pain and fear? Is it necessary to relive the condemned cyclones and dirty dreams of June? He is dead, the king of Ziglibithy, and we cried all the tears of the heart and the body. That which is important was disarming for his pious and passionate disciples, and is less about crying for help or continuing to languish and always standing up tall, face turned toward the fire of the sun is the loud banner for the master whose shining image operates in them. It is about immortalizing the art of a king.
This record attests to the hope that we bring Blissi Tebil, one of the sons of Ernesto Djedje, the only one and certainly among the most filled with promise: let's hold him in our hand in order to illuminate his way that will be long, long, long. . . in order to revive in us, eternally the voice of a dead god.
Blissi Tebil - Hommage à E. Djedje
Nor was Blissi Tebil the only aspirant to the Ziglibithy throne. Lago Luckson Padaud (left), who was also born in Tahiraguhé-Ziglo, has broadened and developed the style through the years. Here he is in a tune from his '83 album Agnon-Nouke (Shakara Music SHA 0036):
Luckson Padaud - N'Gnoa Libie
Jean-Baptiste Zibodi's take on Ziglibithy is not only inventive, as illustrated by this selection from his 1983 LP Wazie Meo (Zib Production ZIB 001), but he is a prolific music executive whose JBZ Studio in Abidjan is a leading production facility in West Africa:
J.B. Zibodi - Gnia Maka
The 1980s saw the emergence onto the world stage of numerous other Ivoirien musicians who were not necessarily part of the Ziglibithy trend but forged their own styles utilizing local inspirations. Okoi Seka Athanase (left), a member of the Atché ethnic group from Affery in the southwestern part of Côte d'Ivoire, was one of them. Here is a tune from his LP Special Album '85 (OSA 2085):
Okoi Seka Athanase - Tcho Bakou
Jane Agnimel (right) hails from Dabou, west of Abidjan, and was a child star known for her songs "Joli Papillon," "La Femme," and "Le Richman et le Racoleuse" when she joined the Orchestra of Radiodiffusin Télévision Ivoirienne. Here she was discovered by Manu Dibango and joined him in performances across Africa. In 1980 she wrote the song "Oyomiya" for the Camerounian singer Bebe Manga. This song is taken from her 1984 LP Zoum/La Fête au Village (Safari Sound SAS 055):
Jane Agnimel - Zoum
Tina Dakoury was a notable musician about whom I've been unable to find any information, although I understand she died several years ago. Her 1984 album Inokeka-Nokeka (Eska Production SK 84001), from which "Fe, Fe, Fe" is taken, is outstanding for several things, including the sparkling guitar work of Souzzy Kasseya:
Tina Dakoury - Fe, Fe, Fe
Let's conclude this overview with another tune by Francois Lougah. In 1994 he released The Best 20 Titres (Gnangui Diffusion 010LSG94), a retrospective cassette featuring rerecorded medleys of his hits, including "Saka Popia," which we heard earlier. The best track, though is this one:
François Lougah - Dehyminiké
Many thanks to my daughter Aku for translations that I used in this post. Further information was derived from the liner notes of Le Roi du Ziglibithy, Ronnie Graham's Sterns Guide to African Music and West Africa magazine. I've been inspired by my research for this post and will probably post more music from Côte d'Ivoire in the future.