This Rap News Webcast Is Keeping It Real By Using Ivorian Street Slang

Two Ivorian rappers, Nash and Smile, host Journal Gbayé in Nouchi, the street dialect of Abidjan.

Image courtesy of Journal Gbayé.

“Au port ya un vrai championnat: l’argent de dédoua même, ça met drap sur prizo de ton djoho!”

“In Abidjan, when you want to import your car, the bribes you pay to the custom officer are so high you could buy a new one instead!”

The Ivorian rapper, Nash, is decrying the daily corruption that’s part of life in Abidjan on her YouTube series. Unlike other shows, this newscast is presented entirely in rap verses. Welcome to the first episode of Journal Gbayé, a news show proving popular among Ivorian youth. With only 25 episodes, it has more than 3,000 subscribers on YouTube, who come for its mix of comedy and daily news delivered as an extended hip-hop track.

Nash delivers the news in Nouchi, a slangy Ivorian street dialect that has exploded in popularity in recent years and is finding converts from across the French-speaking world.

Its method of delivery is a lively creole of indigenous and European dialect that, while popular with young Ivorians, hasn't entered mainstream broadcasting yet. Despite its lack of official recognition, Nouchi has long been a way for working class Ivorians to express themselves. Lately, it’s spread across Ivorian pop culture, helping to bridge the gap between classes.

In 2013, Xuman, a Senegalese artist and social activist created a rapped TV segment on 2STV, a Senegalese TV channel, using both of Senegal’s official languages, Wolof and French.

By delivering the news as an extended rap-song in two languages, Xuman brought a unique point of view and humor to news broadcasting that helped young people relate more to the issues around them. Following its success, Xuman decided to export it to Ivory Coast and contacted Nash, one of the most popular Ivorian rappers known for her deft use of Nouchi in her rhymes.

“Xuman, wanted to bring a specific Ivorian touch to the news segment by using Nouchi,” Nash explains. “He thought about me, since I’m putting Nouchi on the forefront with my music.

Nash then brought rapper Smile on board as a co-host to rap in French so that people who don’t understand Nouchi would still get the gist of the stories. “We want everyone to understand the news segment,” Nash says.

Nouchi appeared in Abidjan, Ivory Coast at the end of the 70s. The word Nouchi comes from the Manding word nou (nostrils) and chi (hairs) or “nose hairs,” a nickname for street kids in Ivory Coast. It is a mix of French and other languages spoken in Ivory Coast such as Dioula, Baoulé and Guéré.

Nouchi is a melting pot of sayings and accents, borrowing words from foreign languages like Spanish or English. For example, the word s’enjailler or "having fun," comes from the "enjoy" in English. The language is constantly changing, with new words appearing every day. The Nouchi spoken by Magic System, a popular Ivorian hip-hop group, in 2000 is completely different from the Nouchi spoken today.

“Speaking it is part of my daily life,” Nash says. “I'm an Ivorian girl from the ghetto in Yopougon, a neighborhood in Abidjan where most people speak Nouchi. I had it rough growing up. My family had barely any money.”

Nouchi Glossary:

Y’a pas drap – It’s all right

Tu te fais yèrè – You’re getting duped

Gué dans gué – Give and take

Les zigehis – The thugs

Tchieu way! – Really!

Initially, Priss'K, one of the first female Ivorian rappers, inspired Nash to rap in French.

“When I started rapping I would send my mixtapes to producers," she says. "I was rapping in French at first and it became obvious that I wasn't a French rapper and I wouldn't pretend to rap like one, so why use the language?”

For Nash, Nouchi is much closer to her as a language than French.

“Many young people are not educated and don't understand French that well," she says. "But Nouchi is the language of people from the ghetto. They speak it, understand it, and I can convey my message directly to them.”


Image courtesy of Journal Gbayé.

“In Ivory Coast people tend to see female rappers as an anomaly,” Nash says. “I had to fight to get my music heard and reach an audience."

“In my songs, I tackle subjects that kids, young girls from disadvantaged areas can relate to. I sing about our daily lives, politics, but also about love, hope and peace. It’s important that they hear that they can get out of there, fight to improve their lives."

Over the last decade, Nouchi went from being the language of the misfits and rascals to gaining mainstream appeal. The success of Ivorian music in Europe, like Coupé-Décalé and Zouglou, and artists like Alpha Blondy or Tiken Jah Fakoly, put Nouchi in the spotlight.

The way Nouchi is used in Francophone countries has many parallels with Sheng, the ever evolving Swahili street dialect of Nairobi, Kenya. Nouchi has become trendy through popular culture, music and newspapers like Gbich, a satirical Ivorian newspaper. People from western Francophone countries, use it as well, sometimes without knowing the specific codes. It’s not rare nowadays to see young people especially in France, using Nouchi words they heard through Ivorian music, like toi meme tu sais for “you know it” and la go for "the girl."

While charges of cultural appropriation come easy, Nash is optimistic. “It’s a good thing to see non-Ivorians in Western countries use it, as long as they know the history of the language and use it correctly,” Nash says.

Will it overtake French in Ivory Coast? Some politicians have used it to try and boost their street cred. Academics, like Rémi Yao, have started researching the language. If anything, Nouchi is a way to reclaim the many languages spoken in Ivory Coast other than French, the official language, imposed by French colonizers centuries ago. Nouchi is popular among the youth not because it’s new, but because it is a way of reclaiming original cultures.

“Nouchi is a great example of how rich and diverse the Ivorian culture is,” Nash explains, who regularly travels to Switzerland to promote the language. "But it is important," she adds, "that Nouchi remains the language of the youth from the ghetto.”

Image courtesy of Journal Gbayé.

The future of Journal Gbayé is bright. The second season is on its way and they are going to add more comedians and rappers to the show, as well as a few guests. They’ve picked up some funding from Open Society or OSIWA, an international organization helping young Africans to fund their projects.

“We’ve also planned to shoot in front of a live audience on the streets," Nash says.

The RTI, Ivory Coast’s main TV channel, showed some interest in broadcasting the show, “but we haven’t heard from them,” Nash says. “Ideally, we want Journal Gbayé to be available online and on TV to reach people who don’t have access to the internet.”

Through rapped news segment, Francophone African countries have found a way to bring the news to people who may not have easy access. By using French and Nouchi, Journal Gbayé and its imitators, are celebrating cultures that have long been marginalized.

Will this phenomenon expand to more countries? “I hope so," Nash says.

A Mauritanian rapped news segment entitled Chi-Taari rappé launched this year .

Check out this recent episode of Journal Gbayé with bars for days:

Photo: courtesy of Natsai Audrey Chieza

100 Women: Natsai Audrey Chieza is Changing the World One Petri Dish at a Time

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textile manufacturing.

The bold jewel tones of OkayAfrica 100 Women honoree Natsai Audrey Chieza's silk scarves aren't the product of hazardous chemicals or silkscreen printing. Instead, they are the product of bacteria. Specifically coelicolor, a strain of bacteria found in soil that happens to excellently synthesize organic chemical compounds. Working in the trade for six years, the Zimbabwean materials designer quickly came to understand why the textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Knowing that the most harm occurs during the process of dyeing fabrics, she decided to take action.

Chieza has worked with leading brands such as Microsoft, Nissan, and Unilever to usher in a new approach to science and design. Through her creative R&D; studio Faber Futures, the design innovator uses the process of creating with bacteria to assist in moving mankind away from our fossil fuel dependency. As the biopigment expert put it [last year during her TED talk "Fashion has a pollution problem—can biology fix it?"], in the future we must make sure that we are not "mirroring the destructive legacies of the oil age."

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked spirited conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textiles. Here, Chieza expounds on her start, the pros and cons of creating something new and the urgency of change.

The following has been edited for length and clarity

Akinyi Ochieng for OkayAfrica: STEM and the arts are often conceptualized as separate worlds. However, in your career, you've managed to find the overlap. How did you, a materials designer, end up dabbling in biotechnology?

Natsai Audrey Chieza: I've always really wanted to work within the creative field. I used to work in architecture where I really enjoyed my education in a systems approach to designs and designing for multiple contexts. But I wanted to explore a different side of the design world, so I began exploring the skill and context of material flows, and how technology and futures fits within this framework of how we design.

For my own work and my practice, not having a scientific background made me try things based on what I understood about materials and what I understood about the interactions in which those materials existed in society. I'm interested in a political lens, an economic lens, and how textiles perform in reality. That's not necessarily the approach that a scientist would have taken. Now that's not to say that science isn't important—it's vital. But innovation can occur in that intersection.

Did you go into this thinking, "Oh, I'll figure it out. There must be a path to make this work"?

To be honest, when I started off, the field was not defined. I think I found something really interesting, which was about how biology was becoming a realm of design, and I just explored that as best as I knew how as a designer and non-scientist. It just so happened that around me there was a context that was imagined but enabled me six years later to say, "That's the industry where this work belongs" and stakeholders who give me a space to further my work in a creative and experimental. The path was never anything clear at all. I learned as I grew.

There's a phrase that is often repeated today: "You can't be what you can't see." But you have really created a niche for yourself. What are the benefits of entering an emerging space?

I think what's amazing is not having anyone or anything telling you that what you think is impossible. If you're carving a new territory then you must trust in your instinct and vision to effectively push where the work can be and where it exists. You're not asking permission to do anything. Of course the flip side of that is you have to bring people with you, and so part of you being able to do the work is convincing people that your vision has legitimacy and it's worth exploring, worth taking a risk to look outside of that box.

It's often quite challenging to figure out how to find the strength to push something that hasn't been done before. There's no precedent or rulebook to my work, but sometimes it's really nice to have a rulebook. [Laughs] However, I think it's made me a person who doesn't see challenges as obstacles that are in the way, but more as problems that can be solved. And I think that's the good thing.

Much of your work is about biopigments. What color excites you?

It's not really the colors that excite me. It's color as a cultural context that really fascinates me. I'm really interested in if a microbe is almost like this living factory that produces this pigment, and the technology can be shared and deployed with people as to how you work with it across the world, then what are the cultural interventions that can happen in South Africa versus in Argentina versus in the United Kingdom, based on this common microbe. I think that's always been what interests me the most, the context in which our materials exist. I think a really good example is indigo, and how from Japan to West Africa, indigo is just this really, really rich material, and the process and the craftsmanship that goes into it. I'm interested to see how the future ecology of making arises in response to biotechnologies across the world.

Where do you see yourself and your work evolving in the near or long term?

I'm sort of going through that growth moment where you've been working toward something and then you've arrived at that and you're like, "Right, what's next?" I think I'm fundamentally somebody that wants to use design as a discursive tool to understand how our technologies proliferate. My focus is really on the imagined life sciences and how they're going to become very much a part of all of our lived experiences, and particularly in the context of really urgent changes that are happening from a local level to a global level. From global warming and climate change to resource scarcity across regions, our response to what I think being able to design with living systems, can afford us in the future. So my work really is about understanding how to engage stakeholders across different sectors to grow a consensus around how we're going to leverage these sorts of technologies so that they can be technologies for good. That's really where this is going.

This article appears as part of OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2018—a project highlighting the impactful work done by African women across the globe. Throughout March, we will be publishing a series of profiles, videos, interviews and feature stories on these inspirational women.

Click here to see the entire list of 2018 honorees.

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