Garba 50 is Sooh and Oli, two young men in their twenties. They come from Youpougon, a neighbourhood west of Abidjan. They first emerged on the Ivorian musical scene in 2006 with the album Y en a pour les oreilles [‘Something for the ears’].
“Garba is the name of an Ivorian dish made of steamed cassava flour and fried tuna; a kind of fast food sold on the streets. The smallest portion costs 50 CFA francs (0.07 euros). Garba 50 is therefore the staple diet of the common people, something they relate to.”
For the album Président russe, Sooh is the lead singer and Oli does the chorus. The roles will be reversed for the next album. The young men want everyone to remember that “Président russe is a product of Garba 50, straight from the Garba 50 lab.”
For their latest album, Président russe, the Ivorian rap band Garba 50 hopes to draw the government’s attention towards the condition of today’s youth.
By Selay Marius Kouassi, Abidjan
Instead of just deploring the socio-political situation in Ivory Coast, the duo of Garba 50 chose to clearly depict daily life in the eleven tracks that make up their new album, Président russe (‘Russian president’). The rappers Sooh and Oli use plain language and regular doses of humour to reach out to regular Ivoirians.
“Up until now, Ivorian rap music has been influenced by the American and French styles, with lyrics disconnected from our reality. We wanted a style that addressed our community directly, with lyrics that describe the daily life of the ordinary Ivorian – the person no one talks about,” explains Oli.
Tough men trampling
For this album, Garba 50 likens African presidents to their Russian counterparts: “Tough men who trample on the principles of democracy”. Throughout the album, the duo looks back at the turbulent decade that culminated in the post-electoral crisis in Ivory Coast, and they do this in their own distinctive style.
For example in the track ‘Politik sa mère’, they denounce the two politicians whose ambitions cost thousands of lives during the country’s latest political crisis. “The weak are manipulated; in times of crisis, they are sacrificed like chickens.”
In another track, ‘Soldat Seydou’, the band vents out its frustration at government laxity over abuses committed by ex-soldiers on civilian populations.
‘Soldat Seydou’, a fictional character, is an illiterate, armed and trigger-happy ex-soldier who is not integrated into the national army. “Soldat Seydou, he is the law and the outlaw […] He operates at night, armed robbery in uniform, he makes the headline once again […] his victims are counted in dozens.”
“We tell the truth as it is, and that does not sit well with everyone. As a result, we are facing unprecedented censorship. Although we’ve never received an official notice censoring one of ours songs, the censorship can be felt in people’s reactions,” observes Oli.
In the face of this veiled censorship, Sooh and Oli turned to the internet and social media to promote their songs and reach out to a larger audience. “It’s through the internet that Garba 50 stays in touch with their fans,” says Fofana Sékou, the band’s manager.