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Fans pay tribute to DJ Arafat at the site of his motorcycle accident in Abidjan. Photo: ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

Hommage to DJ Arafat, the King of Coupé-Décalé

Celebrating the late Ivorian artist who helped birth francophone Africa's urban music scene.

News of DJ Arafat's death broke the morning of Monday, August 12th.

DJ Arafat was the ambassador of a music form popularized in Cote D'Ivoire but exported worldwide. Long before azonto, Nigerian music's command of air waves and the blanket term "afrobeats," he commanded Coupé-Décalé's fast percussion, vocals and dances. He gave birth to Francophone Africa's urban music scene.

A nation mourned. Europeans mourned. Africans worldwide mourned. Abidjan, his home, is said to have been cloudy all day.

Condolences poured out from far and wide: Ivorian Culture Minister, Maurice Kouakou Bandaman, President Alassane Ouattara, footballers Samuel Eto'o and Didier Drogba, musicians Burna Boy, Davido, Iyanya, MHD from a prison cell, Salatiel, Magic System's A'salfo, Serge Beynaud, DJ Mix Premier, his protégés Ariel Sheney and the group Kiff No Beat to name a few.

Fans cried and screamed in front of the hospital his body lay as well as his home. They chanted, "Il n'est pas mort" ("he isn't dead"). The King of Coupé-Décalé was gone.



Fans cry outside a hospital in Abidjan where DJ Arafat was taken after his accident. Photo: ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

A petition would launch to celebrate his life in Abidjan's biggest arena, Le Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny, nicknamed Le Félicia, a stadium holding 50,000 he never had the chance to fill while alive.

At just 33 years old, he left a void in the music industry and it is uncertain it will ever be filled. His career had spanned 16 years and he had produced 11 albums.

DJ Arafat, born Ange Didier Houon on January 26, 1986, was raised in Yopougon, a commune in Abidjan, the son of Tina Glamour, a controversial musician reproached for her risque dance moves and Houon Pierre, a prominent sound engineer. He was predestined to make music.

Dj Arafat - Hômmage A Jonathan youtu.be

He would get his start as a DJ in his hometown. His song "Hommage a Jonathan" about a friend whose untimely death was brought on by a motorcycle accident would ironically catapult his career. He would leave for France and so overstay his visit that he would be placed in detention as an undocumented migrant. After a French tour, he would decide to set up shop in Paris, despite not having the proper documentation to do so. He would start deejaying in french clubs and selling burned CDs and would eventually be apprehended by police and sent back to Abidjan.

Like many icons before him, he suffered for his art. He was an extremely talented individual lauded for his ability to produce, infuse rock into his sounds, drum, capture audiences with onomatopoeia-filled chants and create such technical dances as "Gbonglor," "C'est Moi," "Lebede," "Dosabado," "Kpangor," "Zoropoto," "Kpankaka," "Maplorly," and "Moto Moto." To dissect the complexity of these dances would take more time than we have here. It goes without saying, Ivory Coast's dance scene owes him all the accolades. Despite the aforementioned, his career was marred by controversies ranging from domestic abuse to social media disputes. Still, he pushed forward as prolific as he was when he first stepped onto the scene.

It's important to note the innovator's mastery of personal branding. He adopted a variety of names: Yorobo 5500 volts, l'Apache 8500 volts, Yorobo 10500 volts, Yorobo 12500 volts,Yorobo 100000 volts, commandant koné zabra, and commandant Koné Baracuda. The last name that stuck was le President de la Chine (The President of China) and his fan base was dubbed la Chine (China), a metaphor for the scale of his influence. He moved a young generation through his use of social media, news channels and engaging videos. He was unafraid to tell it like it is and reminded us of his greatness every chance he got.

His loss hit hard, for despite his flaws, he had transcended every division present in his country. He had triumphantly fallen and risen time and time again. As fans watched the video of his accident, they hoped he would rise again. That his life would end on a motorcycle seems too surreal. He had alluded to his death in this manner, in the past—surely this isn't something he wanted to manifest. His advocacy of Africa's urban music had remained consistent.

A memorial service is set for August 30th in Le Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny. More than 100,000 fans are awaited in the stadium in Abidjan.

Dj Arafat : le dieu du coupé décalé ! youtu.be

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Cover of Isha Sesay's 'Beneath the Tamarind Tree'

'Beneath the Tamarind Tree'—an Excerpt From Isha Sesay's Book About Remembering the Chibok Girls

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Continue on to read more, and revisit our interview with the reporter about why it's important for the world to remember the girls' stories, here.

***

"We should burn these girls!"

"No, let's take them with us!"

"Why not leave them here?"

The men were still arguing, dozens of them trading verbal blows while Saa and the other horrified girls looked on. None of the men seemed particularly troubled by the fact that the lives of almost three hundred schoolgirls hung in the balance. Amid all the yelling, the girls had been divided into groups. Each batch would burn in a different room in the school buildings that were aflame just a few feet away. Tensions were escalating when a slim man with outsize eyes suddenly appeared. Saa had never seen him before. Like many of the insurgents, he too looked young and was just as scruffy. But when he spoke, tempers seemed to cool for a moment.

"Ah! What are you trying to do?"

"We wanted to burn them!"

"Why not take them with us, since we have an empty vehicle?"

His suggestion triggered a fresh round of quarreling. The same positions were expressed, and the newcomer continued to calmly repeat his idea of taking the girls with them, till he finally got his way. The girls later discovered his name was Mallam Abba. He was a commander.

"Follow us!" the men shouted.

None of it made any sense to Saa. Why? To where? As the insurgents shuffled her out of the compound, she felt as if her whole life were on fire. All Saa could see was the ominous orange glow of flames consuming every one of her school buildings. With every step, the fears within her grew. She struggled to make sense of the competing thoughts throbbing in her head. This isn't supposed to be happening. The insurgents had asked about the boys and the brick-making machine; they'd systematically emptied the school store, carrying bag after bag of foodstuffs and loading all of it into the huge waiting truck. With everything now packed away, Saa had thought the insurgents would simply let the girls go home. After all, that's what had happened during their previous attacks on schools—they'd always let the schoolgirls go, after handing out a warning to abandon their education and strict instructions to get married. Saa had simply expected the same thing to happen once more, not this.

She scanned the crowd of faces surrounding her; the creased brows and startled expressions of the others made it clear that everyone was equally confused. Whatever the turmoil they were feeling, they kept it to themselves. No one said a word. Saa fell into a sort of orderly scrum with the men corralling and motioning her forward with their guns, each weapon held high and pointed straight at the girls.

Saa and Blessing moved in unison, along with the hundreds of others, snaking along in the dark through the open compound gate, past the small guard post usually occupied by Mr. Jida, which now sat empty. Yelling came from nearby Chibok town. Saa could smell burning, then heard the sound of gunshots and people running. It was bedlam.

Just beyond the compound walls sat a crowd of bushes. As she and the men moved out into the open, Saa felt their thorns spring forward, eager to pull at her clothing and scratch and pierce her body. Careful not to yell out in pain, she tried to keep her clothes beyond the reach of the grasping thicket with no time to pause and examine what might be broken skin.

Saa retreated into herself and turned to the faith that had anchored her entire life. Lord, am I going to die tonight, or will I survive? Desperate to live, unspoken prayers filled her mind and she pleaded, repeatedly, God save me.

She was still praying as they walked down the dirt path away from the flaming school. The shabby-looking men with their wild eyes gave no explanation or directions. They simply motioned with their heads and the sweep of their rifles, making it clear to keep moving. As the reality began to sink in, Saa felt her chest tightening. Her heart was going to beat its way out of her body. But she couldn't allow herself to cry or make any sound. Any kind of display would make her a target, and who knew what these men might do?

The insurgents walked alongside, behind, and in front of her; they were everywhere. Every time Saa looked around, their menacing forms filled her view. Initially, all the girls were steered away from the main road and onto a rambling path overgrown with bushes; the detour was likely made in an attempt to avoid detection.

Parents lining up for reunion with daughters (c) Adam Dobby


***

This excerpt was published with permission from the author. 'Beneath the Tamarind Tree' is available now.

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