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Monday 21 August 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 13 - Côte d'Ivoire

On with our African Odyssey, and after a couple of weeks where it was a struggle to find five artists to represent their countries Côte d'Ivoire presents a different challenge. If all the music I have from there was laid end to end it would nearly cover the floor of the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, the largest church in the world, built to glorify Félix Houphouët-Boigny (and, to a lesser extent, God). 

I could easily have filled the post with nothing but Mandatory African Reggae without any drop off in quality. Indeed, MAR's own Alpha Blondy is probably the best known Ivorian artist globally. But I have left him out on the grounds that a sophisticated bunch like you will have his stuff already. Instead we are treating you all to Ismaël Isaac for the audio and Tiken Jah Fakoly for the video. "Joe Bleck" comes from Ismaël's 1996 album "Treich Feeling". Both are top notch dudes in their own right and both are still going strong.

Between 2015 and 2020 Mr Isaac was married to our next artist, the great Aicha Koné, making them briefly the power couple of the Ivorian music scene. Ms Koné has a familiar origin story. Her parents forbade her from pursuing a musical career so she ran away from home and enrolled at the National Institute of the Arts in Abidjan. She released her first album in 1981 and like her ex-husband is still active. Today's track is from her 2006 album "Farafina Miria". 

Not long after Ms Koné got started the Ivorian music scene lost one of its greats, Ernesto Djédjé. He died in 1983 aged only 35, officially from an untreated ulcer although there are claims of suspicious circumstances. Mr Djédjé pioneered a musical style he called ziglibithy, and as you will hear it is a decidedly funky thing.

"Zadie Bobo" can be found on an excellent compilation album called "Ivory Coast Soul" released by the Hot Casa label. For some reason it is not available on their Bandcamp page but you can pick up Volume 2 (which is almost as good). If you then skip over to Analog Africa's page you can find an EP of other recordings by Ernesto.

There are a number of styles of pop music that have developed in Côte d'Ivoire over the last thirty years that bear the influence of Ernesto and his fellow pioneers. Ziglibithy begat zouglou in the 1990s, then zouglou had its head turned by flashy DJs and begat coupé-décalé. 

The best known act from that scene are Magic System, who have had numerous top ten hits in France, but for the audio I have opted for "Souzana", the 2004 smash by Erickson Le Zoulou. Like Magic System, Mr Le Zoulou was one of the first wave of coupé-décalé stars; sadly, like Ernesto Djédjé, he left us way too soon, passing away in 2020 at just 41.

We round off the audio selection with someone I was lucky enough to see live back in 2011, Dobet Gnahoré. On that tour Ms Gnahoré was mainly promoting her 2009 album "Djekpa La You", from which this track comes, and also her 2010 collaboration with India.Arie which won her a Grammy - the first, and I think only, Ivorian artist to do so. Somewhere there is a photo of the two of us after the gig - I'll spare you that, but here is one I took on the night.

"Joe Bleck" - Ismaël Isaac

"Bembalisso" - Aïcha Koné

"Zadie Bobo" - Ernesto Djédjé 

"Souzana" - Erickson Le Zoulou

"Côte d'Ivoire" - Dobet Gnahoré


  1. Plenty to get your teeth into there

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  3. It's clearly a labour of love, Ernie, but thank you so much for pouring your heart and soul into this series. For someone who is woefully ignorant of the majority of the songs and artists featured, it's been a treat for the ears and a welcome education. I've enjoyed them all and I'm very much looking forward to each instalment. Cheers!

    1. Glad you are enjoying it. I am too. While there are countries like Côte d'Ivoire and DRC coming up next for which I already have a reasonable collection there are many more for which I don't. Having a reason to do some digging around has led me to discover all sorts of new delights.