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Hip Hop in Benin
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A relative newcomer on the African hiphop scene is Benin. Whereas the Sakpata Boys used to dominate the small hiphop scene in capital Cotonou, nowadays there are several upcoming bands who are ready to be heard.

Conscious of their cultural background, these young rappers dream of the conservation of known traditional chants and dances. But at the same time they create a modern local style that's characteristic of the contemporary Beninese society. With their inspiring lyrics, thriving rhythms and creative melodies they conquer the local night life and give a voice to the young ‘Cotonois'.

The local hiphop scene in Cotonou took shape in the early nineties. In '92 all time French favourite MC Solaar gave a concert in Cotonou. Opening for him, the group H2O decided to make a Fon (a local language in the south of Benin)-version of his huge hit ‘Bouge de la '. Solaar loved it, as did the rest of those present. At that moment Beninese rap had been put on the map.

Still it took the Beninese rappers several years to find the right form for their music. At the end of the nineties they found it: modern dazzling rap based on the multitude of traditional rhythms and melodies their country owns.

Sakpata Boys
Members: Ludovic, Olivier, Urbano
Albums: Amen (1998), Africa Party (1999), Voodooland (2000)

In Hollywood-movies, voodoo practice has always been made to look scary. This has much to do with stereotypes of Africa and Africans that have a long history in western writing.

Voodoo is usually associated with Haiti. Few people know that it's origins are to be found in West-Africa, where the religion vodoun is still a part of the contemporary culture.
Benin's most popular rappers Sakpata Boys have incorporated chants, dances and practices of this religion into their performance. Their latest album Voodooland was co-produced by Senegalese top musician Youssou N'Dour and features Senegalese emcee Bideew Bou Bess. They also were part of the 1999 Pan African hiphop festival in Cotonou (see our report).

Recently the Boys were very successful throughout West Africa with their clip 'Vodounvi' (children of the voodoo) in which they display vodoun-rituals. The beat to the song incorporates traditional instruments and rhythms. See what it's all about as we have a realvideo stream of the entire clip - courtesy LC2 (Benin).

Click to view 'Vodounvi' in streaming Realvideo

Their latest release is the song ‘Fifa' (peace) created for the 2001 elections in Benin. This song can be found on the compilation album ‘La paix est un comportement', released by several well known Beninese artists at the beginning of 2001.

H2O Assouka
Members: Dadjo, Al, Bignon, Fadji
Albums: Origines (2000)

Like the Sakpata Boys H2O also incorporates local traditions in their rap in a very creative way. When these four rappers where kids, they were active singers, players and dancers in traditional musical groups. This gave them a good starting point for their own music. When you play their album, be prepared to be startled by the creative, vibrant way whereupon local instruments and rhythms are interweaved with smooth rap.

As easy as they rap, they let the local drums produce rhythms in a way that you just can't sit still. They base their music on local Beninese rhythms like tchinkounme (Mahi) and gbon (Yoruba), using instruments like the talking drums and the gota (a drum made of a huge hollow calabash). Their biggest success till this moment is the hit single ‘Nao Nao', which talks about the egungun's; the deceased who - according to the vodoun - return to the earth as spirits.

A fragment from Nao Nao:

The respect for the memory of our ancestors is a taboo
The dead aren't dead
They come back as egungun
History of sleeping upright
You don't believe me, well follow me
Under the great baobab of Ouidah
There, where I'm from
Which in my language we call ‘Gueléhoué'
Gathered, the whole village was standing there in a circle
Silent and exactly in the middle
But he, who is he?
The ‘Balley'
The great egungun priest
The guide of the spirits on earth
Portrays his magical outfit of important days
Pronouncing incantations that give you goose-pimples
He takes the Okpa Atche, the cane of authority
And hits the ground
In a cloud of dust, the egunguns appear
And the women screamed
© H2O 2000

Music is for H2O as indispensable as water, which explains the group's name. Assouka stands for the fact that they base their music on their traditional background. Rapping in French, Fon and Yoruba, they comment the present-day (Beninese) society. They're dealing with themes like emancipation, the development of their country, male-female relations, cultural identity and positive thinking.

In 1999 they worked together with several well known Beninese artists on the compilation album Bénin Fusion. At the moment H2O are in the studio working on their second album.

Members: Big Melody, Dave II, Fuzajay, Magic, L'archange, Melcky, S II B, R. Man, Surah
Albums: Rainstorm Dark Spirits (1997), Yemalin (2000)

Ardiess showing their best on stage (2001). From left: l'archange, Melky, Surah, R-Man, S II B and Fuzajay (Magic, Big Melody and Dave II are absent) - Image © 2001 K. Coolen

Recently these rappers had a firm grasp of young Cotonou with their hit single ‘Samedi Soir', coming from their latest album Yemalin. It all started out as a one-time collaboration between three rap groups. But after their first album in '97 they realised that you don't change a winning team; so this group consists of none less than nine rappers.

Ardiess - standing for courage, success and solidarity - started out as a purely modern rap group, basing their music on American rap they heard on the radio and saw on TV. But at the end of the nineties they decided to change their course a bit. They wanted to incorporate their traditional background into the rap. And although they stay mostly America-oriented, on their latest album you can hear several local instruments, rhythms and melodies that make their music much richer and more original.

Loving the act of freestyle-rapping, the nine rappers of Ardiess created a very diverse album in Yemalin. Singing in French, Fon and English, they bring up themes as corruption, refugees and social relations in a critical way. Frequently performing in the Cotonou night life, Ardiess is most certainly a well known and even so appreciated rap group in the Beninese capital. They also were part of the 1999 Pan African hiphop festival in Cotonou (see our report).

Special thanks to Kristel Coolen for the November 2001 Benin updates & photograph.
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