Ghana-based Benjamin Lebrave speaks fluent French and English, and can schmooze in Spanish and Portuguese. He’ll report on new African music every other week. This week, he wrote about coupé décalé and Oudy 1er.
Living in Ghana, coupé décalé is more of a distant memory than a live phenomenon. The Ivorian genre peaked here around 2008 with "Sidney," but it's now confined to a small number of Francophone nightclubs, and even there you have to wait until 3AM for a brief coupé décalé frenzy—DJs refuse to play coupé décalé earlier. Apparently too risky! But even these parties feel more like revival nights than a focus on current sounds. And that's unfortunate, as I find coupé décalé to be one of the most infectious dance styles I've ever heard.
Thankfully, I have Ivorian friends who remind me that coupé décalé is alive and well. If you know where to look, hits keep pouring, new dance move keep emerging and the general sense of fashion could give Koffi Olomide a run for his money. Now to be perfectly honest, I should say that, musically speaking, I have not been all that impressed with coupé décalé. The only distinguishable evolution in the past few years is a slight speeding up of the tempo, and the incorporation of relatively awful David Guetta-esque synths.
But I still love it. One hit that stood out for me a few years ago was "Tchoumakaya." Ever since, I have been following the music of the man who made it, Oudy 1er, who recently dropped a video that kept me staring at my screen for a long while. The colors. The dancers. Well, that and the outrageous fashion. There's a Hummer but no Alizé, Oudy wears extra futuristic sunglasses and the little kids rock Guinée jerseys. It all feels effortless and beautiful. And the dancing is just sick!
Ghana is home to azonto, the latest Pan-African dance craze. You would think Ghanaian artists would capitalize on the popularity of the dance at home and abroad, and incorporate hefty portions of top notch azonto moves into their videos. Well in fact, not really. Most music videos shot in Ghana showcase mediocre azonto dancing at best. The UK cats do it better, but all in all, it is puzzling—and disappointing—that there are not more insanely dope videos of azonto dancing shot here in Accra, where azonto was born.
I have always noticed that Ghanaian videos are much tamer than videos from Ivory Coast. Though Ghana is home to the latest Pan-African dance craze, azonto, most videos shot here showcase mediocre azonto dancing at best, usually upstaged by the UK cats. In Ghana you will not see mapouka, the aggressive Ivorian dance whose French name translates as "the dance of the behind." Even when I listen to Ghana's highlife, I cannot imagine crowds getting loose the same way I can picture them when I listen to Congolese rumba. But I may be way over my head on this.
Tame or not, Oudy's latest video has better dancing than any Ghanaian video I've seen this year. And that, despite my love for coupé décalé and Oudy's song, is a sad statement for Ghana. Perhaps it helps that Oudy has traveled to different shores, which allows him to reflect on the real beauty of his home. Born and raised in Conakry, the capital of Guinée, Oudy left to study in France as a teenager, where he quickly got the coupé décalé bug and started DJing on the French afro club circuit. His first massive hit came in 2009 with "Tchoumakaya," followed by an endless back-and-forth between France, Conakry and Abidjan in Ivory Coast.
As I tried to pin down Oudy for this piece, he traveled from Conakry to Abidjan and back. In Abidjan to record a song, then back to Conakry, presumably for a show, before he heads back to Europe for more. Clearly the man is always on the go, and I unfortunately barely had time to exchange with him. In this case, though, who needs the full story when you can loop the video? To make some moves of your own, download the track below.
Download: Oudy 1er, "Tounki Faré"