Each sporting competition has its own anthem, official or not. And in this area, Ivorian artists are popular. Remember the 2014 Football World Cup and the heady rhythm of Magic in the Air, by Magic System, which accompanied the French team; then Bring the Cup Home, from Vegedream, during the following World Cup. It was therefore natural that local musicians were responsible for the soundtrack of the African Cup of Nations (CAN), hosted by Ivory Coast since Saturday January 13.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has bet big on music by ordering from Universal a six-track EP, entitled AFCON 2023, which brings together some of the stars of the moment, like Vegedream – him again –, invited for a duet with another French rapper of Ivorian origin, Kaaris.

But it was Magic System that was responsible for composing the official CAN anthem. The title Akwaba (meaning “welcome” in several Akan languages) was released, featuring Nigerian singer Yemi Alade and Egyptian rapper Mohamed Ramadan. An unsurprising choice, since the zouglou group remains the biggest Ivorian seller of music internationally and maintains excellent relations with the authorities.

Akwaba does not disorient fans. Its composition takes up all the codes of the previous successes of the group led by A’salfo. “It is very clear that the two titles [Akwaba and Magic in the Air] are similar and that Magic System is no longer really being renewed,” recognizes anthropologist Léo Montaz, a specialist in the Ivorian music industry. But in their defense, the “stadium tracks” are all similar: a martial rhythm, a repetitive synth melody and a simple to remember song, which will praise national unity and victory. »

An unexpected success

But this magic recipe is not infallible, as shown by the unexpected success of a piece of “ivory rap” mixed with coupé-décalé that no one saw coming: Coup du hammer. The title is almost as widely distributed as Akwaba in stadiums and largely preferred to the official anthem in the maquis (popular restaurants where matches are broadcast) and on social networks.

Behind Hammer Shot is Tam Sir, a producer who has worked with artists Didi B and Kerozen. For the occasion, he brought together a range of emerging artists: Team Paiya, Ste Milano, Renard Barakissa, Tazeboy and PSK. Far from the traditional stadium anthem, the song was initially intended to “excite” nightclubs. The rhythm is fast, the lyrics are as difficult to understand as they are catchy, and the song is accompanied by a choreography that is easy to imitate: the thrusts of the kidneys punctuate the “hammer blow”.

Supporters were quick to prefer this supercharged hit to the more classic Magic System song and performed the dance steps in unison in the stands, including during the CAN opening ceremony on January 13. “Where Tam Sir fell short,” estimates Léo Montaz, “is by releasing the song well before the others [on December 8, while the official AFCON 2023 compilation was released on December 21]. By focusing on a piece of ivory and coupe-décalé rap, 100% Ivorian, which brings together several young artists in vogue, it gives a sound in tune with the times – which Magic System is no longer, it must be admit. »

Another recent success although more modest, the hybrid piece La CAN c’est chez nous, from the second major zouglou group, rival of Magic System, Yodé

Featuring rappers Fior 2 Bior and Lil Jay Bingerack, CAN 2024 heat up, released on January 6, reached almost a million views. For comparison, the least popular track on the official EP, the amapiano track Sizimisele, by Nobantu Vilakazi and Phantom Steeze, barely maxed out at 15,000 views.

Around fifteen unofficial anthems have thus come out of the hands of Ivorian or diaspora artists: the reggaeman Alpha Blondy has his own, the coupé-décalé singer Serge Beynaud too, while the French rapper of Ivorian origin Le Juiice has announced on his social networks the upcoming release of a song for the CAN.

How can we explain such enthusiasm? The first driving force is political: Prime Minister Robert Beugré Mambé launched an official call on December 8 for the mobilization of Ivorian artists, bombarded for the occasion as “ambassadors of the event”. “I ask you to release songs,” declared the head of government, “and to raise awareness among your brothers and sisters so that they take the CAN into their own hands. »

Money and prestige

With this in mind, the CAN Organizing Committee (Cocan) has undertaken to directly involve cultural actors in the organization of CAN villages, where supporters can gather to follow the matches on giant screens. For example, we find the A’salfo production company, responsible for the sound system, while the former star Monique Séka is the godmother of two villages.

For artists, the event is also an opportunity to produce a piece capable of quickly gaining popularity, and therefore bringing in money and prestige. “All artists are trying to ride the CAN wave,” summarizes Léo Montaz. There are concerts every match day all over the country, nightclubs invite artists all over the place, fan zones organize their own concerts… Releasing a CAN song that works is the guarantee of land juicy contracts and tour all over the country. »