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Ivory Coast, singing against terror.

Grand Bassam is wounded, and yet, she sings. Or better, a number of Ivorian artists have chosen to celebrate through their music the city’s strength and resilience a few weeks after the attacks that, on 13 March left 19 dead on the beach of the renowned Ivorian tourist destination. It was a Sunday, when a group of armed men – belonging to an al-Qaeda linked militia, which subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack – targeted the people who were spending the day by the seaside. The mood of these people, suddenly turning from light heartedness to panic, is well expressed in the words of Serge Bilé, the journalist and writer who authored the lyrics of Bassam, recorded by the Ivorian singers Kandice and Odée.

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“The sky clouded over / no longer words, no longer laughs / but sea, panic and the cries / of the crowd running away from the devil”. These are some of the verses that could be heard, since the beginning of April on the two main national public TV channels, where the song was widely broadcast. But Bilé, after describing the pain and the shock  of the Ivorians, also leaves room for hope: “I am Ivory Coast, my name is ‘resistance’ / we, the living / must tell the world / that never an elephant / is overpowered by the rumbling weapons” the text goes on.

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The same impression is conveyed by the official video clip of Bassam, which mixes the images of the day of the attack, those of the victims’ funerals and those of the solidarity rallies which took place soon after those events. Ivorians have been struck, but they have not lost their ability to react, is the message that the authors of the song (Freddy Assogbah has composed the music for Bilé’s lyrics) wanted to send. That’s where their project meets that of a group of eleven local artists, who chose to record a song together under the name of Collectif Bassam. “Through their action, the jihadists tried to target our love of life. For us, as artists, this song is a weapon to tell them that even jihadists don’t scare us. We know that they will hear”, Chico Lacoste, one of the producers, told the press when the song, titled Même pas peur (which can be translated as ‘even not scared’, an expression which had also been used in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, in early 2005) was launched.

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Similar to Bassam in its message, Même pas peur cannot be more different in its genre and language. While Serge Bilé and Freddy Assogbah’s composition had a slow pace, the artists who formed Collectif Bassam relied on local urban rhytms, such as zouglou and coupé décalé. Also, while Bile’s lyrics are more focused on the feelings of those who experienced, both physically and through the media, the attack, Collective Bassam takes aim directly to the jihadists, questioning their motives and their alleged ideology: “You are killing innocent people for a lost cause” and “You are not going to paradise” are some of the most poignant verses directed at the perpetrators of the attack. Despite these harsh words, however, the message of the song remains one of fraternity. “Islam as we know it is a religion advocating for peace, forgiveness, tolerance. – said Paul Mady’s, one of the artists involved in the project – It isn’t for religious motives that [jihadists] perpetrated that action” and the concept is explicitly reaffirmed in the lyrics.

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The need for peaceful coexistence, beyond any difference, is also well expressed in the song’s video clip, which – unlike Bassam’s one – does not use footage or photos of the actual events. The artists, instead, are seen performing on the beach and the immediate surroundings, usually surrounded by a large crowd, also comprising some white people. This is another way of saying that the attack failed, as explained by Lago Paulin, which was also involved in the song’s production: “What happened should not divide us, for we live in perfect harmony with our brothers, the foreigners, both the Europeans and the thousand Africans from the sub-region – he said – Terrorism won’t make us fall. We are not afraid of them because we are not afraid of dying. We faced many difficult situations, in Ivory Coast, we lived through harder crises, that’s why we are not afraid of terrorists”. These are the same concepts that the artists hope to spread during their planned tour through Ivory Coast’s 19 provinces. Their campaign is aimed to the people, but also to  the ruling classes of Yamoussoukro and the other African capitals. They are the ones who should put in place “social integration policies for the youth”, as Paul Mady’s says. Without them, he explains, many people living in poverty are at risk being lured into armed groups: artists can ring the alarm bell on the issue, but it’s up to leaders to act. (D.M.)

 

 

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