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In Celebration of Didier Drogba



May 1, 2007.


By Teju Cole



Didier Drogba, the current African Player of the Year, is a a great contender for World Footballer of 2007. He is scoring lots of goals at the moment and they are some of the best goals I've ever seen ( this one, against Everton, is the kind of thing he's been doing regularly).


Drogba is the leading goal-scorer of the season, so far, in both the English Premiership and in the UEFA Champions League. In his native Cote d'Voire, Ivorians are in no doubt about whom the best player on the global scene is. From Abidjan to Yamoussoukro, there has emerged a fanatical cult—I don't think the words are too strong—devoted to Didier Drogba.


The first real explosion of this was in the months leading up to the last World Cup, when Drogba's brilliance steered the Ivory Coast to an unlikely first-ever berth in the tournament. Around that time, the dance style known as Drogbacité emerged in Abidjan, nominally based on Drogba's moves, and it was soon followed by dance tracks specifically dedicated to it.


That's what I'm listening to right now: a compilation album called Drogbacité, featuring various examples of the style. If you can get to Paris in France, Brussels in Belgium or Harlem in New York, or any other place with a strong Francophone West African presence, you should be able to pick it up. Just don't expect to find it on Amazon.


At last year’s FIFA World Cup, the Ivorian national team, The Elephants, got to Germany and found themselves in the most difficult group of the tournament, having to play the Netherlands, Argentina and Serbia-Montenegro. They didn't make it out of the group, but they acquitted themselves honorably. I watched their matches in the company of Ivorians—and this, incidentally, also occasioned some of the best meals of my life. I remember in particular one encounter with spicy palm-nut soup, fish and okra—at a "house restaurant" in the Bronx. Good times.


The Elephants, on the performance of players like Drogba, Arsenal's Emanuel Eboue, Tottenham's Didier "Maestro" Zokora, and Arsenal's Kolo Toure were, in my opinion, among the top eight of the thirty-two teams in the tournament. It was a very strong tournament, so that's saying a lot. The loss that dumped them out—to a Netherlands team that was just a shade superior—was a hard pill to swallow. The men and women we were watching with were on the verge of tears, but the pride they took in their boys was also palpable. I very much hope the Elephants will be back in South Africa in 2010; as long as it's not at the expense of Nigeria's Super Eagles! My pan-Africanism has limits.


But back to Drogbacité for a moment. One of the things we miss out on, listening to African music from a distance, and paying attention to Western "World Music" tastemakers, is the current energy of the clubs, a sense of what people over there are actually listening to at the moment. With the World Cup over, I imagine the moment for Drogbacité (the clip features a random assortment of footballing clips set to a Drogbacité soundtrack) itself might be slightly past, though the general aesthetic behind it is ongoing.


And though old-hits like Premier Gaou (which was big in Paris and all over Africa a few years ago) can still rouse a crowd at, say, a Nigerian party, the Ivorians themselves have moved on. These things are constantly evolving. Recently, the larger rubric has been the so-called Coupé Décalé ("cut and shift") dancing style, which has spawned numerous sub-styles. This is not the place to come for delicate Malian kora-work or blinding Congolese guitar improvisations.


This is all about drum-sets, driving rhythms, repetitive licks on the electronic keyboard, a lot of spoken-word call and response, simple melodies, a lot of choruses. The rhythm reminds me very strongly of Tony Allen (Fela's drummer) and his marching-band flavored Afrobeat, though, undoubtedly, there are connections to the traditional percussion of the Baulé as well. Whatever it is, it's the opposite of relaxing.


The hidden element in all this—hidden to those of us not savvy to Ivorian French—is the humor and wordplay hidden in a lot of the music. Much of it has to do with "modern times," being smart to urban realities, not being taken for a fool in matters of love or money. But that—according to a friend of mine who's hip to the lingo—is all expressed in double or triple entendres.


The vocalists are excellent, but they're not "fine" like Salif Keita or Oumou Sangare. This is nightclub music, and it goes on and on and on, and it's there to serve the dance, not the other way around. This isn't the kind of music you're going to get on World Circuit, and it isn't going to win any Grammy Awards. Not because it isn't good—it is—but it certainly doesn't fit Putumayo's idea of "Music from the Coffee Lands" or whatever marketing gimmick is currently in style. This stuff is designed to make you spill your coffee.


Here's an mp3 of one of the tracks on the compilation. It 's called Boucantier, and the first few seconds are NSFW, as the kids say. So, you might want to lower your speakers a bit. And having just listened to an entire album of Drogbacité, I feel like I've gone the full ninety minutes on a football pitch. Now, if only I could locate some palm-nut soup…


Teju Cole is a New York-based writer. He blogs at Modal Minority.


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