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DJ Arafat, bandit or prophet? The legend of the little Ivorian nouchi who became Zeus of Africa

A year and a half after the death of DJ Arafat, Muriel Champy, lecturer in anthropology at the University of Aix-Marseille University, looks back on the legendary career of the artist.

For a whole popular youth, the Ivorian offbeat cut artist, tragically deceased in 2019, embodied social ascension through irreverence to standards and emancipation through the implementation of a frenzied individualism.

During my research stays in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) between 2008 and 2018, the Ivorian quirky coupe artist DJ Arafat continually fed the sounds of the city: he constituted the omnipresent sound background, his escapades and his clashes were commented on at the 'infinite.

The artist was sometimes described as a “bandit”, a term used locally to designate delinquents, but also the marginalized, the free thinkers, those who free themselves from norms and leave the beaten track; so many attributes that the late DJ Arafat intended to embody. How did this “bandit” and his character mark the country to the point of becoming a symbol of both neoliberal and protest?

A little nouchi

Above all, DJ Arafat knew how to build his legend as being that of a “little nouchi” among others, who became “Zeus of Africa” thanks to an innate talent and an unfailing will.

Designating the “petty delinquent” in Abidjan slang, the term nouchi ended up encompassing all the young people who actively frequent the street, and therefore the majority of urban young people from working-class neighborhoods.

Due to the fact that he grew up in the popular district of Yopougon, the success of DJ Arafat is thus experienced as that of all the nouchi, in short, of all the little bandits of everyday life.

DJ Arafat signed his first success in 2003, at the age of 17: his tribute to Jonathan celebrates the memory of a DJ friend who died in a motorcycle accident.

DJ Arafat died on August 12, 2019 in Abidjan, at the age of 33, while demonstrating by pitching up his motorcycle at full speed (his last hit was called "Moto Moto").

This accident leaves orphans her five children, born to four different mothers. But also street children, whom he supported through ad hoc initiatives and which he planned to perpetuate by creating a foundation to "help widows, orphans, street children". And of course, his millions of "fanatics", whom he affectionately called "People's China", "because there are so many of them."

The king of the quirky coupe

The offbeat coupé was born in the early 2000s in Parisian and London nightclubs frequented by the Ivorian diaspora. there, the singer Douk Saga and all the clique of the "Jet Set", stage their success in "Mbengue" (the world of whites), by ostentatious demonstrations of the attributes of success such as banknotes, gold watches and large cars.

Their music draws from the rhythms of Congolese ndombolo and Ivorian zouglou, while the phrasing is inspired by the repertoire of the DJs who animate the evenings (the atalaku, a term of Congolese origin) by singing the praises of the customers who slipped to them. a few tickets.

"Cut", in Ivorian slang, means to swindle, steal from the snatch, and "to shift" to leave without paying, to scamper away.

Despite these connivances displayed with the world of small-time bandits, this movement embodies above all the rage to succeed, perseverance in the face of obstacles, confidence in one's own worth. Here, success has a moral value: it sanctifies the real fighters. The expression here refers to the logic of a quest, be it for social success or recognition.

At the same time, in Abidjan, the young Ange Didier Houon, then aged 14, left school and left his family home shattered by a divorce. It reaches the Yopougon district, famous for the crazy nights of its famous rue Princesse.

Nicknamed "Arafat" by his Lebanese friends because, he said, of his character of "dictator", he then officiates as a DJ in various maquis [bars], earning a few tickets by doing atalaku. After the success of his Homage to Jonathan, he went on tour in Europe, attempted an adventure in France for a while, then settled permanently in Abidjan in 2008.

If he did not invent the offbeat coupe, DJ Arafat knew how to appropriate this musical genre to make it shine well beyond the borders of Côte d'Ivoire, and even the continent. Forbes Africa and Trace Africa in 2015 awarded him the title of most influential African artist internationally.

A daily warrior

DJ Arafat's fame also came from the many “clashes” he had with most of the country's media and artistic personalities, most often through interposed videos.

Thus, his long videos posted daily on social networks combine information on his own activities and aggressive logorrhea against his rivals or detractors of the day, where the alternation between accusations and threats of sodomy are a recurring reason.

While his outrageous behavior, outbursts of violence and permanent aggressiveness continued to create opprobrium, his fans most often defended his attitude, arguing that his excesses fueled the dynamism "of the movement" of the offbeat coupe - even if some of his behavior was considered excessive, as in this video who showed him an alcoholic breaking dishes on the head of his companion, whom he accused of infidelity.

The aesthetics of a fight

The aesthetic of the fight he wore was largely inspired by American urban cultures today globalized, where success is won and torn away in adversity; "Get rich or die trying" thus proclaimed the American rapper 50 Cent. On the occasion of the release of his album "Renaissance", DJ Arafat affirmed thus to RFI, in the program “Urban Legends” (March 20, 2019):

"If you're poor and want to be anything in life, give your all, don't listen to people, focus on what you want to do and fight to be what you want. . Because that's how I've been and that's what I want to see my fans apply. I want to see fans who have fought for themselves without relying on their parents' help to have their billions, their car, their house. You should never let yourself be defeated. And above all, there you have it, the in-ter-diction of life: when you love Arafat, never take shame, whatever the situation. You always have to emerge victorious. "

Let us not neglect the contested scope of this consumerist and ultraliberal discourse: it indeed affirms the possibility for the wretched of today to become the powerful of tomorrow.

"Life is war"

In a Peopl'Emik show (PPLK) celebrating the anniversary of his death, artist Ariel Cheney also recalled DJ Arafat's slogan: "Life is war". “It was a hell of a philosophy, an ideology that deserves to be taught in schools today. An ideology of life, because life is a war, ”one of the PPLK columnists immediately got carried away.

We could obviously be surprised by the fact that she was considering making DJ Arafat a model for the country's students, he who left school early in order to join the street, or even worry about the scope of a message. who says “that in fact education is an option; that what matters is the pursuit of material goods, it is immediacy, it is to assert oneself as '' male '', as the blogger Charles Kabango put it in one of the only critical analyzes that I have read on DJ Arafat.

But in a country "of the South" where inequalities reign, he proposed a breach in the established hierarchies. And if he hardly carried any hope of a collective political transformation, he at least embodied the dream of an individual escape.

A prophet ?

On the day of DJ Arafat's death, Abidjan is in turmoil. All animosities are forgotten. The public and political figures who yesterday denounced his scandalous behavior present themselves as long-time converts. Quickly, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara announcement that the government will fund a lavish state funeral for the deceased.

Many African artists such as the Nigerian Davido, the Congolese Koffi Olomide or the Malian Sidiki Diabaté perform there, in front of tens of thousands of spectators gathered at the national stadium. While it seemed politically expedient to win the sympathy of Arafat fans, the government probably also sought to avoid chaos.

Sidiki Diabaté Tribute to DJ Arafat Beni Child, August 13, 2020.

Thus, during the ceremony, the host continued to urge “the Chinese” (Arafat fans) to “love and honor their president” (DJ Arafat), who was, on this occasion, decorated Chevalier. of the national order by the Minister of Culture and Francophonie (of Côte d'Ivoire).

The ceremony and the musical evening went off without a hitch. But the next morning, a few hours after his small committee burial, Arafat's vault was unsealed, the coffin exposed and the lid overturned to cheers. For more than an hour, hundreds, even thousands of hallucinated people jostle around his coffin. Without letting go of their phone to film the body, some touch his face and chest, undo his tie, unbutton his shirt. Still in disbelief, others shout "it's not him!" ".

The country is upset, even wounded, by this macabre spectacle. However, a representative of Yôrôgang (its production house) asked the government not to make arrests, “ arguing that it is in the continuity of the buzz so prized by the "'President of China'" that his fans have acted ».

He thus recalls that DJ Arafat embodied a model where the thirst for fame and success justifies all means, in a neoliberal world where success, cardinal virtue, is acquired through navel-like aggressiveness and irreverence to established standards.

This article was published in collaboration with the Terrain journal blog on the occasion of the publication of number 74 Robbers.

Muriel Champy is a lecturer in anthropology, Aix-Marseille University (AMU)

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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