Music
Ariel Sheney.

10 Musicians From Côte d'Ivoire You Should Be Listening To

Get into the highly-infectious Ivorian sounds of DJ Arafat, Shado Chris, Bebi Philip, Kiff No Beat and more.

The year 1999 marked Ivory Coast's first military coup as well as the birth of the genre Coupé-Décalé. The genre was pushed forward by DJs in France and on the continent, namely Douk Saga, DJ Arafat, DJ Debordeau and DJ Mix. Coupé-Décalé's rise helped calm tensions and unite the politically-divided country. It's lyrics addressed relationships, money, and brought on the creation of distinct dance moves. It's songs were distributed throughout nation and beyond.

Coupé-Décalé still reigns supreme with it's percussion, West African samples, bass, and repetitive arrangements.

The mid-90s also saw the birth of Zouglou. The satirical music told stories about the social realities of the youth. The music delivered life advice and political messages. The most prominent musicians behind this trend were the group Magic System—their song "1er Gaou" is a notable classic. The genre used hints of french folklore, reggae, and even rock, and musicians often wrote in French and local languages. Today, it's found in music like J. Cole's "Can't Get Enough" in which he samples "Paulette" by Balla et ses Balladins, a Guinean folklore group whose sound is one of early Zouglou.


Ivory Coast's musicians are certainly urban-influenced but the two aforementioned genres can still be heard. Music still serves as distraction for political unrest, the youth still vocalize how they feel, and dance still remains critical. Modern day Ivory Coast is home to many recording studios and artists bypass record labels to freely release songs online as well as in bars and clubs.

See our list of 10 Ivorian Musicians You Should Listen To below.

DJ Arafat

Ange Didier Houon has gone by many names over the course of his 15 year career: DJ 3500 voltes, Yorobo, Influemento, Sao Tao le Dictateur, and finally DJ Arafat. Despite this, one thing remains true, he is one of Ivory Coast's most notable musicians. He has catapulted the country's Coupé-Décalé genre to great heights and even created the sub-genre, kpangor. His influence can be seen in his popularity on social media, views on youtube, number of features and his more recent mentoring of younger acts like Ariel Sheney and Kiff No Beat, to name a few.

Ariel Sheney

Ariel Sheney is a musician and producer. He is recognized as being the brains behind many a recent Arafat beat. His beats call to mind those of his predecessor and his voice has been known to seduce a crowd. Ariel's got a promising future ahead of him with songs like "Ca Coule" and "Yelelema."

DJ Kedjevara

Yao Parfait's artist name derives from Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara so it's clear he knows he's got big shoes to fill! He's been a force behind new age coupé décalé since 2012. His themes are typically humorous.

Force One

This duo, whose beats are inspired by dancehall and coupé décalé, aren't new to this, they're true to this. Their 2003 album Salamandre set the tone for the music they've been making to this day.

Shado Chris

This producer/singer has collaborated with a number of artists from the country. One of his most notable tracks is "C Nous Les Boss" with Serge Beynaud. In 2014, his song "Lahan" catapulted his solo career. Though he's reserved like his name, which is derived from "Shadow," suggests, his songs consistently top Ivorian charts. His popularity has also allowed him to gain a contract with the telephone company, Moov.

Debordo Leekunfa

This former DJ turned singer got his start in clubs, but it was his collaborations with DJ Arafat that would change the trajectory of his career. He had a hand in the creation of the dance, Kpangor, which would travel from Ivory Coast to Gabon, Burkina Faso, and Cameroon. The aforementioned would lay the foundation for his solo career.

Bebi Philip

Joining the music business was natural for Bebi Philip, who comes from a family of musicians. Because his dad was a Christian guitarist, his first production would be for a choir. He attended Lycée d'Enseignement Artistique, a music school. His work ethic and perseverance led to being called to arrange work for Kédjévara, Molare, Jimmy Sissoko, and DJ Lewis. His song "Bobaraba" is as recognizable as Magic System's "Premier Gaou." Today, he is a musical icon with so much more up his sleeves.

Serge Beynaud

Guy Serge Beynaud is a multi-talented singer, songwriter, arranger, and choreographer. He is considered one of Ivory Coast's most talented acts. In 2007, he used his own beats to launch a career as a singer. In 2012, he releases his first album, Seul Dieu, which rapidly sold out in a matter of weeks. In addition to this, the same year he filled the 5,000 seat venue Palais de la Culture in Abidjan. This sets the tone for tours in Europe, the United States, and all over the African continent. He's now got three chart-topping albums under his belt with a number of hits and fans across the world.

Molare

In 2003, this artist launched his own production company, Molare Prod. In 2008, he organized the first coupé-décalé festival in Abidjan, which would unite many of the genre's artists. The creator of the décalé chinois lives between Abidjan and Paris and has toured all over Europe, the U.S., Canada and many notable African cities: Bamako, Mopti, Kayes (Mali), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Brazzaville, Pointe Noire (Congo), Niamey (Niger) and Cotonou (Bénin) with Akon.

Kiff No Beat

We can't make a list without mentioning the most popular rap group in Ivory Coast. These rappers have established themselves as leaders in their country, but they have also created a place for themselves in France. Formed in 2009 and comprised of 5 eclectic members, the group developed Dirty Décalé, a cross between American music from the Dirty South and coupé-décalé. All of their music calls to mind this blend of styles.

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"La valse des mailles" by Noella Elloh

Photos: 'Weaving Generations' Confronts Environmental Destruction in Côte d'Ivoire

The photo series, by artist Noella Elloh, advocates for collective responsibility around the "environmental question" across the continent by highlighting the threat it poses to a village of fishermen in Abidjan.

Noella Elloh is an Ivorian photographer and contemporary visual artist whose work contemplates identity, culture, environment and the role each play's in the stories of people across the continent.

Her latest work "Weaving Generations" centers on members of the fishing village of Blokosso, located in the center of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire's largest city. According to the artist, its themes include familial ties, urbanization, and the hazardous effects of environmental degradation, an issue that directly impacts the fishermen's livelihoods. "Today, instead of fishes, the fishermen's nets thrown in the water come back up with waste," says Elloh. "The Ebrie fishermen find themselves with the mesh of their nets torn down by scrap metal. Domestic, chemical, and Industrial wastes are also found in their nets. The depth of the lagoon decreases due to sedimentation. Rising waters are gradually making pieces of the land disappear."

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OkayAfrica Presents: 'The Adinkra Oracle' December Reading with Simone Bresi-Ando

We're back with another Adinkra reading from Simone Bresi-Ando to help guide you through the end of the year—and the end of the decade.

It's the a new month and that means we're ready for a new Adinkra reading from Simone Bresi-Ando to help you navigate your December.

After cleansing the space, Simone will pull five Adinkra Ancestral Guidance Cards from a deck of 44 Adinkra symbols—these cards help to channel information, messages and direction from your ancestors using Adinkra symbols when read correctly. Remember, as Simone says, "these readings tell you what you need to know and not necessarily what you want to know—our ancestors are emotionally pure."

Simone gives a general reading of what December has in store to help you know what actions and thoughts are necessary to get the best out of the month. This is a special installment as it also guides you through the end of the year—and the end of the decade.

Watch below.

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5 Women Doing Amazing Things Behind the Scenes in South African Hip-Hop

Behind every successful South African rapper of the last decade is a woman helping to get ish done. Helen Herimbi spoke to a few of them.

South African hip-hop had a great run in the last decade. As we start a new era, it's important to highlight the women who have played a pivotal role in the growth of the genre.

​Thuli Keupilwe

Thuli Keupilwe is the founder of LAWK Communications, an artist booking and representation agency that now works closely with the likes of DJ Maphorisa and Kabza de Small.

But she's not all about the yanos. Thuli has worked with urban music brands like Dreamteam SA and Homecoming Events, but in 2016, she cast her booking agent net wider and started LAWK Communications where she worked with DJs Capital and Sliqe.

The following year, Thuli received a phone call that would force her to level up. "Boom," she exclaims. "February 2017. PJay from B3nchMarQ called me. I was the one that pushed A-Reece to get onto his first Maftown Heights around 2014 and we're all from Pretoria so I'd known them since forever."

B3nchMarQ and A-Reece were gearing up to leave Ambitiouz Entertainment and when she agreed to be their booking agent, Thuli hadn't anticipated how much it would stretch her. Partly because the artists weren't initially permitted to perform their own songs—problematic for an agent who is meant to book them for gigs.

"I didn't see that coming at all," she says. "I was going up against the big guys, people I looked up to. I realized I needed to get a lawyer." Eventually, the artists were legally permitted to gig. "I had one of my biggest years with Reece after that. I am still with him till today."

A-Reece had managed to amass an enviable fan base size mostly from his online and streaming presence. Thuli works closely with him and counts using A-Reece's "Rich" song in a sync deal with the gambling website BET.co.za as a milestone in their partnership. "It was a good check," she chuckles. "And he was being himself and that's the most important thing to me."

Kay Faith

Authenticity has been the drive behind Kay Faith's work. The Cape Town-based engineer, producer and budding vocalist began her career behind the boards during sessions for the likes of Yasiin Bey, Nasty C and E-Jay.

She put out her own EP, In Good Faith, in 2017, and in 2018, she became the first female producer in the world to be featured on Apple Music's New Artist Spotlight.

She has also given us hip-hop bangers like "Slam Dunk" by Da L.E.S and YoungstaCPT. The latter is a frequent collaborator of hers. So much so that when his album 3T won the Best Album category at this year's South African Hip Hop Awards, she felt it was a win for her too. Especially since projects she'd worked on had been nominated and lost before.

Read: Meet The Woman Engineering Your Favorite South African Hip-Hop Releases

"When we started [the song] 'YVR,' I had this emotional feeling that it would be something big for Cape Town," Kay excitedly says. "From recording to mixing to mastering and featuring as a vocalist on 'The Cape of Good Hope' and 'KAAPSTAD NAAIER,' I was behind all of 3T. I even co-produced the 'Pavement Special' intro and the 'Outro' with Chvna.

"We spent 11 months crafting and him trying to get it to be perfect so it was a surreal feeling when we won Album of the Year. I even sent out a tweet saying: 'Can we just take a moment to realize that the South African Hip Hop Album of the Year was entirely engineered by a woman?'"

Kay's upcoming album, Antithesis is slated for a 2020 release. "It's going to be the first album of its kind, I believe," she says. "And I'm really trying to play with that idea of being the antithesis of hip-hop. I am a woman, an Afrikaans kid, in hip-hop. When I walk in, people don't expect me to be an engineer or a hip-hop producer and when I roll out my accolades, then they're like, 'damn, Kay's got game.' That reaction is what this album is about."

Phindi Matroshe

For Phindi Matroshe, the outside reaction to her work is not the most important thing. Phindi is a publicist and talent manager who owns At Handle, a PR and social marketing solutions firm. She was there before Nadia Nakai became a Reebok or Courvoisier ambassador and before she had sold-out ranges with Sportscene's Redbat.

She was also there when Nadia bagged a Best Female pyramid at the 2019 South African Hip Hop Awards. And she was right beside her when she scooped awards at AFRIMA 2019 for Best Artist, Duo or Group in African Hip Hop as well as Best Female Artiste: Southern Africa.

"Winning awards was never the mission," Phindi confesses. "Honestly, we have never done things to try and get awards. Nadia truly loves what she does and it feels great when that is acknowledged and someone pats us on the back for work we've done. I really love and respect what I do and don't see it as a job."

Having handled publicity for the likes of JR, Tumi Masemola (of Gang of Instrumentals), Shane Eagle, Major League DJs and more, Phindi pivoted to managing Nadia. She says: "Seeing the things we talk about come to life or when we're in the boardrooms signing those deals, those are personal milestones for me."

​Ninel Musson

Ninel Musson has been brokering some of hip-hop's biggest deals for over a decade. She co-owns Vth Season, a boutique full-service entertainment marketing agency with Raphael Benza.

A former party promoter and publisher of the wonted.co.za website, Ninel helped start a record label wing of Vth Season where AKA was their first signee. Together, they turned AKA into a mainstream success that the artist could bank on when he started the now defunct BEAM Group independent record label with Prince Nyembe in 2016.

Recently, Ninel and Benza, together with the Sony Music team, presented AKA with diamond and platinum plaques for several songs at a surprise dinner. "The music we went on to create became some of the best-selling records of all time in South Africa," Ninel says matter-of-factly. "When we started with him, the major labels said SA hip-hop would never go this far. We said we believed it would and then we did."

​Sibu Mabena

Cassper Nyovest seems to make it a point to work with women. In addition to Cassper's sisters running his Family Tree store, several Fill Up dates have seen PR maven, Sheila Afari at the helm. And while it's clear that the Fill Up series was always the brainchild of Cassper and his longtime friend and business partner, T-Lee Moiloa, bringing it to fruition has also included the skills and power of women behind the scenes. Women like Sibu Mabena, a multi-hyphenate creative entrepreneur who owns the Duma Collective.

"The day I landed back home from the EMAs, I went straight to The Dome," she remembers. "I said: 'yo, T-Lee, give me a job. I want to work on this thing.' He was like: 'bra, there's nothing for you to do.'" Sibu stuck around at the Dome, watching the production come together when a lightbulb went on in her head.

Read: Sibu Mabena Works Behind The Scenes in South African Hip-Hop, And She's Kicking Ass

"I thought: 'Cassper has 11 outfit changes. Who is helping him with those?' So Gareth Hadden from Formative, who was building the stage, said they needed someone to help with those changes. I forced myself into the Dome, and the next year I pitched to T-Lee to run the stage at Orlando Stadium. The following year was Fill Up FNB Stadium and there, I got a bigger job to run the talent operations. That's how we started doing the Fill Up Intern Search."

In the next decade of Mzansi hip hop, Sibu has her heart set on parties with a purpose. "All the things I have learnt along the way have led me to contribute to AKA's Fees For All Mega Concert," she shares. "I'm not coming on as just a creative or event organiser or marketer. It's demanding all of me. We're all tapping into a more philanthropic and less commercial role than we usually have so the pressure is that much greater."

There are plenty more women who've got game. From Lerato Lefafa, who has been a part of the team that brought us the SAHHAs and Back to the City to Bianca Naidoo who is a big part of Riky Rick's triumphant trajectory to women like Spokenpriestess, Caron Williams, Azizzar The Pristine Queen, Loot Love and way more who have, in the last decade, used their media platforms to lift up Mzansi hip-hop. In the next decade, women will still be a huge part of hip hop. It'll be interesting to see where that contribution takes the movement next.

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Photo courtesy of CSA Global.

In Conversation with Congolese NBA Player Emmanuel Mudiay: 'I want more African players in the NBA.'

The Utah Jazz player talks about being African in the NBA, supporting basketball in the DRC and how 'everybody knows about Burna Boy'.

Inspired by his basketball-playing older brothers, by second grade, Emmanuel Mudiay already knew that he wanted to play in the American National Basketball Association. Then in 2001 his family, fleeing the war in Democratic Republic of Congo, sought asylum in the United States.

In America, Mudiay saw basketball as a way for him to improve his situation. After impressive high school and college careers, he moved to China to play pro ball. Picked 7th overall in the 2015 NBA draft, the now 23-year-old guard has made a name for himself this season coming off the bench for the Utah Jazz.

Mudiay attests to the sport having changed not only his life but that of his siblings. Basketball gave them all a chance at a good education and the opportunity to dream without conditions. Now he wants to see other talented African players make it too.

We caught up with him to talk about his experience as an African player in the NBA, his hopes for basketball on the African continent and who he and his teammates jam out to in their locker rooms.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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