Column: Coupé Décalé makes dancing political

Coupé Décalé is a genre of popular music made primarily by people from the West African country of Côte d’Ivoire. It is popular throughout West Africa, especially in the country’s neighboring Francophone nations and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The genre’s name literally means “to cut and run away.” This name is often seen as a response to French colonists, who essentially came in to countries like Côte d’Ivoire, took their resources and ran away when they encountered problems. It also can be viewed as a critique of modern society, with the primary aim of going against the grain of what is seen as acceptable by “society.”

It began in 2002, when Ivorian DJs at the Atlantic, an African nightclub in Paris, started playing dance music. They also handed out wads of cash to the audience to gain a following. The primary group involved in these practices was Jet Set, a group of DJs who charmed the crowd with their outrageous acts.

One of the key members of Jet Set was Douk Saga, who released the first hit Coupé Décalé track “Sagacite” in 2002. This song basically set up the genre and described what it was about: having fun and dancing. However, the genre also serves political aims.

The year of the song’s conception was also the year that civil war broke out in the country. This led many people to look to the music as both a form of escapism and a means of expressing their political opinions.

Coupé-Décalé provides a political voice for the seemingly voiceless people of the Ivory Coast. It provides a medium for them to express their confusion and frustration with local, national and global politics in a less formal manner than starting demonstrations or other acts of rebellion. The genre allows them to make light of their own struggles and escape from the stresses of civil war.

It also helps them poke fun at global issues like fear of the Avian Bird Flu and the practices at Guantanamo Bay. Artists’ responses to these serious issues are to make a funny dance about them and create laughter rather than fear. This is best seen in DJ Lewis’ song “La Grippe Aviarire.” In this video, he pretends he is dying of the bird flu and everyone in the video laughs.

This coping mechanism does not suggest that these issues are unimportant. It just allows people to deal with them in different ways, with laughter as their medicine.
Coupé-Décalé serves as an important music force in the lives of many Africans, especially in the Ivory Coast. It is music to dance to, but it is also music with a soul and a specific political history.

If you want to get your dance on to some West African jams, here are my top-five suggestions:

1) “Sexy Dance” by Fally Ipupa

2) “Ce Magik” by Toofan

3) “Soumagaya” by DJ Arafat

4) “Abidjan Farot” by Espoir 2000

5) “Même Pas Fatigué” by Magic System

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