Coupe Decale


The music of divided Ivory Coast, pulsates north and south, and throughout West and Central Africa, descending from soukous, ndombolo and makossa. played by raga DJs, in open-aired maquis (outdoor bars with rickety plastic chairs next to fuming charred cauldrons run by female cooks of the night), briefly interrupting blaring songs, by giving griot-style shouts out to prominent members of the assembly, either those who paid for the place, or protect it, in the case of rebel areas, or trying to encourage more affluent patrons to buy another round.

Dancing is a never-ending composition of the latest moves that go with the latest words, expressions, sayings, feelings that mirror having your last CFA franc spent on a flag beer, without any prospects but hustling, prostituting, experiencing post-colony, end of bloated gone to pothole loans, population boom, school crisis, employment nadir . Every Ivorian maquis-goer is a craze artist, prideful in his awareness of the latest steps to momentary forgetfulness. Since the language of coupe decale permeates existence, this condition can be nearly constant.

The music and dancing is also a way to exist, to be strong, to be happy.

The musicians behind the music are robin-hood blingers, not unlike rebels themselves, seemingly fighting for a cause with their words, shamelessly un-moralistic, but trying to get a cut of some of that global money for themselves, in the name of poetic justice.

Cut (coupe) and slide away (decale) originally meant take a cut, say of a rich man’s credit card in Europe using an African beauty as bait, and then slide, by way of the luxury goods store.

The founder, Douk-Saga, recently died of AIDS, although no one admitted the cause of death. He was getting thinner and thinner in his decked out suits in his simplistic but jarringly effective videos, until he died.

Songs are extremely humorous, if transient, aware of shifting realities of the world outside, and within.

“You could be walking around one day, innocent, and then picked, and find yourself at Guantanamo,” is one set of lyrics that can resonate with an outside audience. The idea is to chain your hands in front of you while you gyrate.

Songs follow each other in a way of expression sharing, taking with them most of what was previously done. A new twist comes with a new find, such as the grippe aviaire, or Bird Flu dance, which looks like an epileptic seizure.

The massive out of China, Chinese presence gave rise to coupe decale chinois, gyrating with kung fu moves.

“Colgate” comes on and you brush your teeth. Il faut colgater, you must colgate, has become a verb.

My favorite lyrics are in this video, “On sait pas ou on va, mais on y va quand meme. Mais ca va aller. Dans la vie, il faut chercher, il faut travailler, il faut grouiller, il faut couper, il faut decoller, il faut decaler …”

"We don’t know where we are headed, but we are still going. It’s going to be all right. In life, you have to look, work, squirm, cut, take off and slide …”

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