Arafat feat DJ Debordo - Kpango

So there I was, searching for Ivorian music to play in the Pop World Cup and everything I found in those early days was either by DJ Arafat or sounded like DJ Arafat. I had three group games to play and needed to find at least two tracks which did not sound like DJ Arafat. I cast my net wider.

I thought I had found a breakthrough when I discovered the BBC’s DJ Edu had run a segment on his show called the Pop African Cup of Music, run in parallel to the footballing version. I was excited: I could do some cribbing. But then I discovered most of the Ivorian tracks he chose were by Arafat. And most of these Arafat tracks were the same tracks I kept stumbling across.

But one Arafat track selected, a duet with someone called Debordo, which was different. Kpangor was more joyous, softer, bouncier and more organic than any other Arafat track I had come across. It was also earlier, released in 2008 when Arafat has far less hair and sung at a higher-pitch. Debordo and Arafat trading vocals - actually singing vocals - was a Coupé-Décalé I found I enjoyed.

It was clear Coupé-Décalé had evolved considerably in it’s history. I found myself obsessing about how this swinging version became a hard-edged dancefloor filler. So leaving Debordo as a thread to be picked up later, I decided I had to go back through the history of Coupé-Décalé and find out what happened.

Vitale - Krekete

Coupé-Décalé had some very basic elements. Let Vitale be our guide.

Most Coupé-Décalé from the last few years begin with a false start which doesn’t give any indication of what is to come. In some cases this false start may take up the first 90 seconds of a four-minute track. Some artists go for the inspiring, gospelic vocal harmonies; others some extended village drumming. Vitale starts slow and bluesy in torch song mode. Whichever way they start most tracks instilled a false sense of security in the unwary listener.

At which point the bludgeoning begins.

Let’s unpick this aural assault by looking at the rhythm section. The Coupé-Décalé drum pattern is as every bit as ubiquitous as the drum n bass break beat, and like drum n bass there’s a certain flexibility to add or drop beats around the main pattern. Where it diverges from something like drum n bass is the bass which often disappears into the mix, at least by the evidence of my armchair listening. I do wonder how the bass sounds from a good speaker stack in a packed nightclub.

Above the rhythm track comes sampled adornment: maybe some guitar (either something typically West African or heavy rock riffing depending on the artist); maybe some synth noodling; even an accordion or organ may get thrown into the mix. Whatever they choose is looped and densely layered, added, subtracted and added in turn over the beat to give the song its textural momentum.

Finally we get the vocals, often dominated by guttural guys grunting scraps of lyrics, even when the main MC is a Vitale or Claire Bahi. Vitale, known as the African Beyoncé no less, relegates herself here to the only verse on the entire track otherwise dominated by shards of male vocals. Her spoken interludes are treated as another sample layered carefully on top of the mix.

This is the dominant sound of Coupé-Décalé over the last five years or so. It should be noted DJ Arafat, the major influence on this sound, is first and foremost a nightclub DJ. Coupé-Décalé is dance music, and a popular one at that. I cannot not even begin to imagine how the crowd of dancers react to this runaway train of a musical genre, except to think it must be exhilarating in the moment; mind, body shaken to the core.

DJ Arafat - Ketebo

I started my quest into the music of Cote d’Ivoire with its most popular music genre: Coupé-Décalé. My initial experiences were akin to being bludgeoned over the head.

I found unrelenting beats smothered in cut-ups of traditional instruments, synth lines and vocal grunts. The vocals hardly seemed lyrical, reduced to guttural utterances crashing through the mix. These tracks were dance floor bangers with the emphasis on the bang. If the Go! Team had decided to turn their hands to drum n bass I might have gotten something as saturated and driving as this.

DJ Arafat is Coupé-Décalé’s best known bludgeoner. His music over the last five years has been muscular, masculine, dominating and he hasn’t been the only one. A quick check of related videos suggests his sound defined the genre between 2009 and 2013. Just listen to artists such as Claire Bahi or DJ Leo with their own dense, overloaded thumpers.

I have to admit it took me ages to get my head around Coupé-Décalé, I couldn’t think of any other country whose most popular pop music was this extreme. I tried my hardest to choose something else for the Pop World Cup but such was Coupé-Décalé’s dominance in recent years I initially found no obvious alternative.

This left me with only one course of action: take Coupé-Décalé apart to see how it worked.

Hi. My name is Garry McKenzie, sometime music writer, radio producer and presenter from Brisbane, Australia, and I’m a bit disappointed with Google Maps. Back in the day if I asked for directions from Brisbane to Abidjan Google Maps would send me driving across Australia, ask me to paddle a kayak to East Africa, and finally send me on another long drive to the other side of that continent. Checking now, it seems Google Maps has discovered something called an airplane, which could have me in the largest city of Côte d’Ivoire in 27 hours. Which is unlikely to happen anytime soon, though that’s hardly Abidjan’s fault. A year ago I couldn’t even spell Abidjan, let alone Côte d’Ivoire. If someone asked me about the country I would have mentioned footballers Didier Drogba and Toures various, plus the fact that, like Brazil and my own Australia, it moved its capital city to the middle of nowhere. I had heard one album of Ivorian music, but that was hip hop as curated by DJ /rupture, so it was hardly indicative of the country’s musical tastes. All this changed late last year when I was asked to manage Côte d’Ivoire in Freaky Trigger’s Pop World Cup. The Pop World Cup is run every four years in parallel to the footballing version. It takes the same 32 countries but competes with beats rather than balls, with the fancy footwork kept strictly on the dance floor. This is country versus country via r’n’b, cumbia, reggaetron, crazy electronica or whatever else constitutes local popular music, with obvious artists often being marked down by the judges. The idea is to get out and explore.Last December I joined the other 31 managers in scouring Youtube and Soundcloud to select tracks to represent my adopted country. The only stipulation was the music had to be released since the last World Cup in 2010.My search for Ivorian music threw up two immediate challenges. Firstly I do not understand Parisian French let alone the street slang of Abidjan. And even though Google Translate was there to help there was a lack of available lyrics. The main French word I learned was ‘paroles’, which means lyrics. My other challenge was recent history. Côte d’Ivoire suffered a civil war over 2010-11 which had a profound affect on the local music scene, to the point some musicians fled the country.Undeterred I dug deep and eventually came up with a strong line-up for the Pop World Cup. But I’m not going to dwell on the competition as it is best experienced via this Scorecard which contains links too all the games. Instead this week I’m going to write about what I learned from several months obsessing about a four-year slab of Abidjan hop-hop, reggae and the competing juggernauts of Zouglou and Coupé-Décalé.I must add I cannot claim expert knowledge but I’ll try to give you a basic primer to the music which has been putting Cote d’Ivoire on the map.

Hi. My name is Garry McKenzie, sometime music writer, radio producer and presenter from Brisbane, Australia, and I’m a bit disappointed with Google Maps. Back in the day if I asked for directions from Brisbane to Abidjan Google Maps would send me driving across Australia, ask me to paddle a kayak to East Africa, and finally send me on another long drive to the other side of that continent. Checking now, it seems Google Maps has discovered something called an airplane, which could have me in the largest city of Côte d’Ivoire in 27 hours.

Which is unlikely to happen anytime soon, though that’s hardly Abidjan’s fault.

A year ago I couldn’t even spell Abidjan, let alone Côte d’Ivoire. If someone asked me about the country I would have mentioned footballers Didier Drogba and Toures various, plus the fact that, like Brazil and my own Australia, it moved its capital city to the middle of nowhere. I had heard one album of Ivorian music, but that was hip hop as curated by DJ /rupture, so it was hardly indicative of the country’s musical tastes. All this changed late last year when I was asked to manage Côte d’Ivoire in Freaky Trigger’s Pop World Cup.

The Pop World Cup is run every four years in parallel to the footballing version. It takes the same 32 countries but competes with beats rather than balls, with the fancy footwork kept strictly on the dance floor. This is country versus country via r’n’b, cumbia, reggaetron, crazy electronica or whatever else constitutes local popular music, with obvious artists often being marked down by the judges. The idea is to get out and explore.

Last December I joined the other 31 managers in scouring Youtube and Soundcloud to select tracks to represent my adopted country. The only stipulation was the music had to be released since the last World Cup in 2010.

My search for Ivorian music threw up two immediate challenges. Firstly I do not understand Parisian French let alone the street slang of Abidjan. And even though Google Translate was there to help there was a lack of available lyrics. The main French word I learned was ‘paroles’, which means lyrics.

My other challenge was recent history. Côte d’Ivoire suffered a civil war over 2010-11 which had a profound affect on the local music scene, to the point some musicians fled the country.

Undeterred I dug deep and eventually came up with a strong line-up for the Pop World Cup. But I’m not going to dwell on the competition as it is best experienced via this Scorecard which contains links too all the games.

Instead this week I’m going to write about what I learned from several months obsessing about a four-year slab of Abidjan hop-hop, reggae and the competing juggernauts of Zouglou and Coupé-Décalé.

I must add I cannot claim expert knowledge but I’ll try to give you a basic primer to the music which has been putting Cote d’Ivoire on the map.

Coming up: Côte d’Ivoire, 2010 – 2014

image

Thank you, Parisa!

Next up, we’ll have a bit of change of format, similar to our recent Brazilian music round-up. For next week we’ll take a look at the decade in music so far from the Ivory Coast, from Coup Decale to Zouglou and Reggae to Hip-hop.

Our host for the week is Gary McKenzie. Garry is a Brisbane-based freelance journalist, music critic and radio producer, and you can find him on Twitter. He initially took on exploring music from Côte d’Ivoire for this year’s edition of FreakyTrigger’s Pop World Cup.

***

Obviously, any West African followers & readers are very welcome to chime in with their picks and suggestions. And if you’re generally interested in music from the region & beyond, it’s always worth to pay a visit to okayafrica.com

See you tomorrow!

— Hendrik

So what is HIM doing now? They are currently playing shows in China. HIM had festival shows in China earlier this year, but they cancelled due to weather and unsafe stage mechanics. This year is the first year the band played in China, as well as South America. After years of waiting, these fans had their chance to see their favorite band live. I’m sure the band will return to these locations in the future. Their 2014 tour and festival circuit is over, but they will appear at select shows later this year.

In October, reissues of HIM’s early CDs will be available in the U.S. This will be the first time American listeners will have proper releases of classic HIM albums. Included with these reissues will be never-before-heard B-sides. Valo recently mentioned there will be new music some time between now and December 2016.

On August 25th, Mika “Gas” Karppinen announced the return of Helldone Festival. This festival is organized by HIM and occurs in Finland. The dates for this year’s Helldone are currently unknown, but have in the past been around New Year’s Eve. 

I would like to thank Hendrik for the opportunity to write for One Week One Band. It was a challenge I felt excited to encounter. Writing about HIM was the best way for me to participate in this experience as I have a lot of passion about these five guys from Finland. I would very much like to write for this blog again, perhaps about something entirely different.

I would also like to thank my friends Alyssa and Evan for their content advisement and editorship. Alyssa has a Tumblr dedicated to HIM, which I have linked to and used as a source for several articles.

Thank you for reading and all the kind words that have been sent to me. In the meantime, I am in the process of my last year of undergrad. I can be found at my own Tumblr

I know I mentioned some of the band’s dumb lyrics yesterday, but that doesn’t stop how I feel about HIM. On March 19, 2014, I was fortunate to see HIM in concert. I bought the tickets in December, knowing full well HIM doesn’t tour the U.S. often. After a three-year hiatus, the longest of their 20-year career, their latest CD Tears on Tape and subsequent U.S. tour seemed like a miracle. HIM was back in action, hallelujah! I had an opportunity to see them on their Screamworks tour in 2010, but I didn’t feel like a big enough fan at the time; I willingly passed on that opportunity. This time, I felt like a “proper fan.” I was also not going to let the fact that I would have to go alone get in the way. I bought the tickets as soon as they went on sale.

I left my house early for the hour-long drive to the House of Blues. The whole drive I kept thinking how absurd this idea was: I woke up at the crack of dawn to wait for hours in a line to see a band by myself. Then again, this wasn’t just any band; this was my favorite band. I also wanted a great spot because of devotion (or obsession, depending who you ask) and my short stature.

I approached the line of seven others. Wait, these are HIM fans, I thought to myself. After several years of thinking I was the only fan in the Central Florida area, seeing seven other fans surprised me. It was 10 AM and I had nobody to talk to, but I smuggled homework in my bag to do while I waited. Only eight hours to go!

As time passed and the line filled, I got to talking with my comrades. A girl from Ohio bought Greyhound ticket after Greyhound ticket to see HIM perform in several cities. Another was there with her husband and complained about her thighs sweating and chafing. A mother and daughter talked about their numerous concert-going experiences. Some had heartagram tattoos, some didn’t. Some had Manic Panic-dyed hair, some didn’t. There were mostly girls, but there was a fair share of guys too. We were all different — except for the fact we were mostly all clad in black.

As the day progressed, Facebooks and Twitters, Instagrams and Tumblrs were exchanged. Future plans were made. It was serendipity at its finest.

The doors opened. Skip-the-line wristband on and ticket in hand, I rushed toward the barrier. I didn’t quite get to the front (I was one person away), but I was around my new-found friends. I felt emotional looking around the venue and seeing hundreds of HIM fans. I’ve encountered hundreds of HIM fans online, but never offline. It was quite a sight.

Their opening act, Anathema, had an amazing set. Ville has mentioned them as one of his influences, and it’s no surprise. Both tackle internal struggles through melody and verse. Anathema blew me away with their song “Untouchable, Pts. 1 and 2.” I highly recommend them, but that’s a band for another week.

During Anathema’s set, the crowd was hustling and bustling. The guys of HIM had made their way to the green room and were watching the show. One by one I saw the shadowed faces of each member peek through the window. Squeals signified that Ville made an appearance. Unfortunately, this distracted the audience from Anathema, but in the end, this night was about HIM.

The lights dimmed and “Lucifer’s Chorale” filled the House. Each member walked out to their respective instrument, tweaking and adjusting as they picked up their respective axe. Ville walked out last. More screaming. Eye contact among the band. Nods. A countdown on the high hat. “Buried Alive by Love.”

I am one person from the barrier and roughly one hundred feet from the stage. They’re real, I thought. One of my line friends asks if I was feeling okay. I was beyond okay. I was ecstatic and, dare I say, alive.

HIM played a lot from their back catalogue, a sort of for-die-hard-fans set. The guys were charged and the crowd was energized. Cheering, singing, and head banging abound. A goofy grin slid across Ville’s face when the crowd fulfilled the handclap part in “All Lips Go Blue”’s chorus.

I clutched my heart when “Tears on Tape” began. I played that song on repeat when I was going through a period of self-doubt and heartache earlier this year. To hear it through my headphones was one thing, but to hear it from the mouth of a babe was another. I’m pretty sure Ville saw me swooning and teary-eyed which caused him to chuckle. It was probably payback for earlier in the show when I laughed at him looking confused as girls in the audience catcalled him. Only someone close to the stage could’ve seen his facial contortions. He snapped his head toward my direction and blushed. Actually, I can only assume he blushed what with the stage lights and dark pit. I remember that night as being the first time I saw HIM, as well as the time when I laughed at Ville and he laughed at me. At least I can say Ville personally acknowledged my existence.

Girls in the audience wooing, guys yelling in joy, and me laughing. Being at that show didn’t feel real and yet here was Linde throwing guitar picks into the crowd 6. It’s a night I often remember. I re-watch the videos my new friends and I took and sigh. If that’s the only time I’ll ever see HIM perform, then so be it.

Because Not All Lyrics Can Be Great

HIM is from Finland, a country where English is widely spoken as a second language; compare roughly 5 million Finnish speakers to millions of English speakers. It’s estimated that 70% of all Finns speak conversational level English. I had no issues speaking English when I visited Finland recently as long as I initiated conversation in English. The Finns speak excellent English as a whole. Of course there are varying degrees of fluency. The guys of HIM are a great example: Ville Valo speaks the best English since he writes and interviews in English, while the other guys fall between great and just okay. There are definitely times when I listen to HIM, scratch my head and go, Ville, what the actual fuck does that mean?

Here are my favorite examples of Ville’s questionable lyrics:

  • 41 + 66.6 equals our loss // “Death is in Love with Us”: Okay, what does that mean? What is the significance of 107.6? That’s not a number referenced by HIM; generally the two marks of the devil (666 and 616), 3 (the Holy Trinity), and 9 (the Holy Trinity of Holy Trinities) make it into their songs. But 107.6? Google says that’s the temperature in Fahrenheit where the brain suffers damage due to a fever. Is that what you mean, Ville? Your loss is like temporal damage due to influenza?
  • I’ll violate you in the most sensual way // “It’s All Tears (Drown in It)”: No you will not, sir! I’m pretty sure that’s nonconsensual, and that’s frowned upon as well as being illegal.
  • I’m your Christ to die on you // “Sigillum Diaboli”: I guess that’s what we get for a song called “Seal of the Devil.” These lyrics seem to be more shock value than anything else.
  • Tears on tape she surrenders needle in arm while we dance into the storm // “Tears on Tape”: Why are you dancing in a storm? You’re going to get sick. Why does she have a needle in her arm? Are you promoting heroin use among women? Ville says the needle is that of a record player. That’s not where a record needle goes, but okay, whatever you say…
  • I’m tired of the games I’m playing with you when you’re not here // “Kiss of Dawn”: Ville, this is impossible due to the limitations of physicality. Unless you’re being cyber bullied, in which case, please get help.

Of course these are jokes about the literal interpretation of these lyrics. I swear, they make sense in the context of their songs.

Actually, no they don’t. The band’s early lyrics are chock full of phrases determined to shock. Over the years and through the writing of countless other songs, Valo’s writing skills have improved. His lyrics were plain and straightforward while today they hold cryptic messages and meanings. These newer lyrics are fun if you like analyzing lyrics. I just like making fun of these guys because I love them.