Online, 02 October 2020 — 13 December 2020
Image: Collective Amnesia, Christelle Oyiri (2018).

For this week’s contribution to the digital programme of ‘PICO: Un parlante de Africa en América’, we’re pleased to share ‘The forgotten history of Logobi, an Ivorian dance on the streets of Paris’ by Christelle Oyiri.

Christelle Oyiri: The forgotten history of Logobi, an Ivorian dance on the streets of Paris

Pury celebration, kinship. These are the words that come to my mindd when I think about dancing and music. It is like your pysché and body joining hands and making sense of a society that wants to dissociate and desensitise both of these entities. Holding on to dancing and music, I often invoke their powers through DJing, trying clumsily to create communal transe, influenced by the hybrid energy of coupé décalé and logobi. The former is a music genre from then war-torn Ivory Coast, my father’s homeland. It gained prominence there in the early 2000s, and then turned into a lifestyle and social phenomenon in the African clubs of Paris. Stemming from coupé-décalé itself, logobi is a dance coming from the streets of Abidjan, Ivory Coast. From the art of miming wearing handcuffs to imitating bird flu symptoms, the dance moves are always playful.

In an astonishing turn of events in the late 2000s-early 2010s, this logobi went from being an Ivorian local dance to a working class black French youth phenomenon in Paris’s banlieues. Dancers would form crews and perform in subway stations, in malls or simply outside. They were creating a club ethos, at a time when clubs were rejecting them and youth centres were either impoverished or closing down due to austerity. These acts of African joy were radical in a country where colourblindness and assimilationism are institutionalised: from the ban on the word “race” in the country’s legislation, to the lack of commemoration of black history, to the fact that the country’s anti-racist organisations tend not to be led by any people of colour. While France has the biggest black population in Europe, that population’s contribution to French music is rarely recognised in genres other than rap. The absence of black people from the great French club culture narrative is never discussed.

Sonically logobi was an oddity in the most noble sense: a fusion between the frenetic tecktonik/hard-tech Belgian sound and the hard-hitting coupé-décalé. But rather than staying marginal, it has mutated and heavily infused into mainstream French music, all while being wrapped in secrecy and submitted to erasure. When France sealed their second World Cup triumph in 2018 with a 4-2 win over Croatia, I was intrigued by the soundtrack of this long-awaited victory: defender Presnel Kimpembe provided the ultimate playlist and party vibes, and videos of the whole team dancing non-stop and singing along to “Seka Seka” by Maréchal DJ and songs by DJ Caloudji immediately went viral. These names might not ring a bell to many in the English-speaking world, but to see West African music (not coming from Ghana or Nigeria) occupying a mainstream stage was incredible. Many French West Africans felt seen.

On the other hand, as a black femme electronic musician and DJ I operate from a place of marginality. French electronic music hasn’t exactly been known for its diversity of voices and paths. The bour- geois assert themselves as house connoisseurs or synth pioneers, rewriting the history of techno and house without giving credit to its black American roots. Jean-Michel Jarre stating he invented rave, David Guetta being named one of the founding fathers of house music. If African American contributions are being erased in genres they have birthed, what about black French electronic music legacy?

This unresolved question lead me to produce Collective Amnesia: In Memory Of Logobi – a multi-disciplinary performance combining DJing, film and 3D in remembrance of the gestures of France’s black youth.

Indeed, beyond dance and music, logobi produced a DIY digital wn ecosystem, language, and even its own form of social media knogobi as “info-cybers”. Info-cybers were mainly databases compiling logobi tracks and dancers’ profiles, as well as the community of cute boys and girls that were logobi-adjacent. They participated in wha t writer Nabeel Zuberi describes as “dematerialization” in an illuminating essay for the journal Science Fiction Studies, titled “Is This the Future? Black Music and Technology Discourse”1, which considered sound recording as a space for possible rematerialization. In Collective Amnesia: In Memory Of Logobi, sound and voice is used to piece together a story with different timelines.

I first decided to write on logobi in 2016 – but despite my research and knowledge of many people who had participated in the move- ment, I gathered very few testimonies. When I did, they were tinged with shame. This grey area didn’t stop me from pursuing my research, and I drew conclusions from this deafening silence. A question was raised: Why had nothing been ever written on this subject? Why were people shying away from answering questions that weren’t harmful? Logobi was stigmatised, not only by outsiders, but its main protagonists.

I was deeply interested in the resourcefulness of banlieue kids who used technology as a fortress, well before the era of social media. The well-known website Niggaz With Enjaillement, which showcases daily viral African dance videos, comes directly from this era. (The term enjaillement itself comes from Ivorian dialect nouchi, and means “having fun”). Though rappers like MHD and Niska, as well as underground electronic artists like NON WORLDWIDE’s Nkisi, regularly take cues from logobi, and though tributes are sprinkled on tracks and mixes from time to time, the movement never gained the recognition it deserved.

Rather than falling into the pit of reconstituting the history and importance of logobi in a literary and linear way, fictional story-telling and polyphonia were used. Such processes of transmission used by griots, a class of West African poets who maintain oral tradition and history. Rather than asking for a shallow visibility, Collective Amnesia serves as a poetic archive rooted in the now and doesn’t aim for objectivity. Collective Amnesia aims to explore these subjects while using a fictional story: a young woman (French R&B artist Helma Mayissa) becomes amnesic and tries to find cues from her past thanks to art, sorcery, music and a crucial friendship with a young immigrant (artist Saray Escoto). They wander in symbolic spaces aiming to piece together the memory of logobi, the vassal for remem- brance.

In creating Collective Amnesia: In Memory Of Logobi, I was heavily inspired by the work of DJ Spooky and his performance Rebirth Of A Nation – a live remix of Birth Of Nation by D.W. Griffith (1915). His experimental use of DJing as a tool to showcase new narratives definitely inspired my work. On the other hand, my thoughts on logobi as the first black French sonic hybridity were fostered by reading the writings of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, a diverse group of thinkers who experimented in conceptual production by welding together a wide variety of sources, and who found a singular resonance in the intersection between rave culture, black American/black British-Jamaican sounds, Afrofuturism, and accelerationism.

“We refuse amnesia as a method.” This was said by Aimé Césaire in Discourse on Colonialism (1956). Being black, and being black French in particular, forces you to be your own archivist: to seek out history, even ultra-contemporary history. I refuse to allow it to be wiped out of the collective memory.

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1) Nabeel Zuberi, Is This the Future? Black Music and Technology Discourse, (Science Fiction Studies Vol. 34, No. 2, Afrofuturism, 2007), 283-300

This text has been developed from an original article commissioned by Dazed Digital, The forgotten history of logobi, an Ivorian dance on the streets of Paris (2018).

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Christelle Oyiri (also known as Crystallmess) is a DJ, producer, writer and multi-disciplinary artist. Through Oyiri’s multidisciplinary practice she tackles subjects of experimental futurisms, digital culture, and ‘the warm embrace of black secrecy’. She has exhibited at Lafayette Anticipations and La Gaité Lyrique in Paris, Cinema Nova in Brussels, Les Urbaines and Espace Arlaud in Lausanne, and Auto Italia in London amongst others. In addition, she tours internation- ally through her work as a DJ and producer and is currently a recipient of the NTS Artist Development Programme award.