Sun, May 11, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Ivorian conflict spawns new sounds

NEW WEAPONS While some in the Ivory Coast have responded to their situation with guns, others are channeling their passion and anger into their music

AFP , ABIDJAN

Armed rebels of the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast are seen during a meeting with townspeople in the western Ivorian city of Danane. The country's ``wild west'' has borne the brunt of the fighting and excesses in the civil war that started last September, but it has also seen the creation of innovative music.

PHOTO: AFP

The civil war that erupted in the west African state of Ivory Coast more than seven months ago has spawned a new genre of popular music that espouses patriotism and seeks a return to the country's golden past.

Once hailed as an economic model in troubled west Africa, the conflict has shaken Ivory Coast's credentials as a haven of stability, which singers are seeking to reverse ... through music.

"Congolese musicians who witnessed five years of armed conflict have not been so prolific," said Franck About from the local Hit Parade magazine, referring to the long war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"The slogan of the artistes is `The country or death' " he said, adding that 100 discs of the new music were already on the market.

The trend was started by Eliamon Sobo, a young Ivorian entrepreneur living in Italy, who was so shocked by television images of the war that he decided to do something about it.

Sobo took a flight to Paris and organized a band of Ivorian musicians into the "Elephant Singers" -- named after the country's national symbol.

It led to an album called Let's together support Ivory Coast.

The titles of the songs were similar. Ivory Coast, I love you, This should never happen again, and Land of joy.

Sobo had a simple answer for his efforts.

"Soldiers fight with weapons, singers fight with their music. An artiste is apolitical, he belongs to everybody. One has to sing to soothe hearts."

Not surprisingly, music companies in Abidjan followed suit.

Albums such as Free my country by the singer Waizey, We are tired, stop your guns by pop group Youssoumbar and Don't touch my country, assailants by former football star Saint-Joseph Gadji Celi, came in rapid succession.

But the biggest sales were notched up by singer Christy B who sold more than 100,000 copies of an album that espoused patriotism and love for the country.

Ironically, such songs are also wildly popular in rebel-held areas. Free my country is a smash hit at nightclubs in Bouake, the headquarters of the main rebel group since the Sept. 19 uprising.

The rebels have repeatedly said that their aim was to "liberate" Ivory Coast from the rule of President Laurent Gbagbo.

The music industry meanwhile is laughing its way to the bank.

"It's bizarre but our sales have improved since the start of the crisis," said Henry Katty, from the local Ivoire Top Music music label, but declined to give figures.

Sociologist Roger Manet said the musicians had "played a huge role in uniting and cementing" the nation.

Charles Zadi, from the marketing division of music company Canal Ivoire, said many youths were shocked by the war and the "only way they could participate in the [war] effort was to express themselves through music."

And to cap all of this, Ivorian diva Aisha Kone is organizing a "Star Night" on Saturday, which boasts a "constellation" of female artistes.

The theme for the evening? "Peace and reconciliation."

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