“We are like fine wine. The older we get, the better we become. It would be hard to contradict them. Yodé and Siro, emblematic zouglou duo, never stop releasing albums whose titles make all the maquis of Abidjan dance. Next October, they will celebrate their 25-year career. A quarter of a century of frenzied rhythms and – often – militant lyrics that they intend to celebrate with dignity, and with their audience. Their last title, The 49has already been viewed more than half a million times on Youtube, just ten days after it went online.
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Ces 49, it is the Ivorian soldiers who were arrested in Mali, and who have since been at the center of a diplomatic quarrel between Alassane Ouattara and Assimi Goïta, in which Faure Essozimna Gnassignbé plays the role of mediator. If three soldiers have been released since the release of the single, the artists do not budge: we must remain mobilized until all the soldiers have “returned to the country”.
Interview with Siro, half of this protest duo – currently in France to support the group Les Patrons which is performing at the Zenith in Paris this Saturday, September 10 –, who assures us that he “trusts” the Ivorian head of state on this file, and calls for harmony between peoples.
Young Africa: Your last song, The 49, evokes the affair of the Ivorian soldiers imprisoned in Bamako. The text adopts and your conciliator, far from the register in which you stood out: why this effort of diplomacy?
Siro : For us, the military fatigues, the uniform, represents a nation, and to see our soldiers imprisoned breaks our hearts. The situation created a lot of anger and tension, some Ivorians even called for demonstrations. We wanted to release this awareness song to accompany diplomacy. We must trust the Head of State on this issue, we must avoid adding fuel to the fire.
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And you will have noticed it, three days after the release of this song of mobilization to maintain the flame of hope, three soldiers were released. We hope that the others will be freed too, within two weeks. Our priority is the release of our soldiers. The song remains completely relevant. The 49, it’s a spirit, even if there are 46 left there, for us there will always be 49: because it’s a team that has left, it’s a team that must come back. Until this is the case, we will continue the mobilization.
If they weren’t released within a fortnight as you hoped, what do you plan to do?
We want to involve Malian artists in our initiative. This situation tires both peoples, it is uncomfortable for everyone. Since the start of this affair, Malian artists can no longer perform in Côte d’Ivoire for fear of reprisals or boycotts. Concerts by Malian artists that were scheduled in Abidjan have even been canceled.
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We want to get together, Ivorians and Malians, to support diplomacy. Our action will be peaceful and we will sensitize and encourage the authorities of the two countries, as well as the Togolese mediation, to find a solution.
On this issue, call on you to trust the Head of State. You are, however, reputed to be close to the opposition…
We make music that was born in contestation, in combat. We are always on the side of the weak. We don’t do salon zouglou! But for all that, we are not close to the opposition. We believe, for example, that the rapprochement between President Alassane Ouattara and his two predecessors, Laurent Gbagbo and Henri Konan Bédié, is good for the country.
It is an initiative of President Ouattara that we welcome. Just as we salute the opposition because, if the country is doing better, it is also thanks to the maturity of the latter, which is no longer in mistrust. The behavior of the opposition is a pledge of appeasement of the political environment. When the opposition boils, the country is weakened. Our dream is peace. We cannot go from war to war, from crisis to crisis. And in this perspective, the notion of forgiveness is important.
In 2020, Siro and you were sentenced to a suspended prison sentence and a fine of 5 million CFA francs for have claimed that the prosecutor only prosecuted opponents… What do you remember from this episode?
We consider any fight to be noble. And in our texts, we say things as we think they are, without trying to take advantage of them. We want to change things in our country. We chose a music, the zouglou, which was born in the dispute, in the fight. We always stay on this line.
In addition, we share ties with some of the personalities cited in the case you mention… This resulted in a complicated situation, which cost us very strong friendships. But these are the consequences of a fight.
You present yourselves as the heirs of a fundamentally protesting music. However, we have not heard you so far on the consequences of inflation and the difficulties of Ivorians facing the high cost of living.
It is not up to us to solve all the problems of Ivorians! And above all, these are questions that we have never ceased to address. This was the case, for example, in the album Legacy which we released in 2020. Listen to this title again: we sing that, of course, there is tar everywhere, and even lights on the tar, but that Ivorians do not eat tar!
Moreover, our songs, or our interventions in the media, are not our only ways of getting involved. We don’t just sing or talk, we are also in action. And if we denounce the evils of society, it is to move the lines, as in the story of imprisoned politicians or opinion leaders. This is also our role.
There is a theme, new for you, on which we have seen you very active in recent months: the fight against climate change, in particular in favor of reforestation. Why this commitment?
Côte d’Ivoire has lost more than 90% of its forest. This country is our only heritage. We had to engage in reforestation. We launched a reforestation caravan this year which has planted 184 hectares of forest and next year we are aiming for 500 hectares. We are not satisfied only to reforest, we also do agroforestry, we transfer the reforested plots to women’s associations who cultivate food products there. It is also a way to fight against food insecurity.
We also fight against forest fires by raising awareness among local communities. We also work with the Forest Development Company (Sodefor, a public company), which trained us. And if you think about it, by planting trees, we are also fighting against the high cost of living. For the time being, we have carried out this initiative on our own funds. This caravan was a great success. Now, we want to move up a gear and are calling on donors and lenders to make the mobilization even more important. the year next.