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The song “Gbaka” by Daouda Le Sentimental : A whistleblowing anthem

The song “Gba­ka” by Daou­da Le Sen­ti­men­tal saved the life of infor­mal trans­port in Abid­jan in 1976. We take a look at this whist­le­blo­wing anthem.

 

 

Daou­da Koné began wor­king in Ivo­rian tele­vi­sion as a tech­ni­cal control­ler. During his lunch breaks, he would reel off some of his own com­po­si­tions on his acous­tic gui­tar to enter­tain him­self and his co-wor­kers. On spot­ting his talent as a sin­ger-song­wri­ter, his col­leagues in pro­duc­tion invi­ted him onto their musi­cal varie­ty shows. His roman­tic, humo­rous songs were popu­lar with vie­wers, soon ear­ning him the nick­name “Daou­da Le Sen­ti­men­tal”. He was com­pa­red to GG Vickey, ano­ther lyri­cist and gui­ta­rist from Daho­mey, present-day Benin, who was popu­lar in the 1960s.
Georges Taï Ben­son, the then direc­tor of pro­gram­ming for the natio­nal tele­vi­sion net­work, deci­ded to pro­duce his first 45T entit­led “Gba­kas”, the name given to infor­mal trans­port mini­buses. Its huge suc­cess would see the shel­ving of a minis­te­rial decree ban­ning this so-cal­led infor­mal trans­port in Abid­jan. Incre­dible but true !

During the colo­nial per­iod, the exploi­ta­tion of cash crops such as cof­fee, cocoa, rub­ber and palm oil contri­bu­ted to the deve­lop­ment of an emer­ging indus­try in the fores­ted south of Ivo­ry Coast and par­ti­cu­lar­ly in Abid­jan, the poli­ti­cal capi­tal of the time. In vast waves, those living in rural areas and migrants from across West Afri­ca came to popu­late the plan­ta­tions and the emer­ging metro­po­lis of Abid­jan in par­ti­cu­lar, home to the lar­gest port in the Gulf of Gui­nea and the employer of a sizeable work force. The city of Ébur­nie was visi­bly gro­wing and sprea­ding out as far as the eye could see. Out­lying areas were swel­ling with new arri­vals from the rural exo­dus and job­see­kers from Gha­na, Bur­ki­na Faso (Upper Vol­ta at the time), Mali, Sene­gal, Niger, Gui­nea, Cona­kry and so on. There were – and still are – plen­ty of people to be taken from the sub­urbs north of the city to the indus­trial areas and port across the water in the south. It was no sur­prise that the only state car­rier, La Socié­té des Trans­ports Abid­ja­nais (SOTRA), could not meet the gro­wing demand.

His­to­ri­cal­ly, in the tro­pics, whe­ne­ver the state shows itself to be lacking, the people have come up with a solu­tion. And this was no excep­tion : pri­vate com­pa­nies ente­red the public trans­port fray in Abid­jan, with vehicles that, for the most part, were in a sus­pect tech­ni­cal state, their pat­ched-up engines and body­work lea­ving much to be desi­red. These vehicles may not neces­sa­ri­ly have pro­vi­ded reas­su­rance, but the most impor­tant thing was that they went, conveying wor­kers from home to their jobs. As they drove, their scrap metal made a “Gba­ka ! Gba­ka ! Gba­ka!” sound as it clan­ked toge­ther. This ono­ma­to­poeia would later give its name to all infor­mal trans­port minibuses.

Not only was the ride chea­per than the SOTRA ticket, but stops were made at the request of pas­sen­gers. “Dri­ver ! I’m get­ting off by the phar­ma­cy ; I need to go to the lit­tle mar­ket ; my stop is by the three coco­nut palms” etc.

But des­pite their unde­niable social impor­tance, there was no get­ting away from the fact that gba­kas cau­sed more than their fair share of acci­dents. But how help­ful they were to the vast majo­ri­ty of people living in the com­mu­ter districts !

Faced with traf­fic chaos cau­sed by these gba­kas, cou­pled with frequent acci­dents, in 1976, the Ivo­rian Minis­ter for Public Trans­port issued a bill that would see gba­kas remo­ved from Abidjan’s roads. Those at the bot­tom of the social lad­der were dis­mayed, as were the emer­ging middle class of civil ser­vants and tech­ni­cians wor­king for com­pa­nies or radio and tele­vi­sion ser­vices, such as Daou­da Koné, who would strum away at his gui­tar bet­ween pro­duc­tions, whis­pe­ring mushy dit­ties, among other refrains. His reper­toire inclu­ded a hand­ful of impro­vi­sed social commentaries.

He lived in the large out­lying dis­trict of Yopou­gon and was just as concer­ned about the plan to ban the dis­pa­ra­ged trans­port as eve­ryone else. Quick as a flash, he laid down the song “Gba­ka”, a crisp and color­ful plea, spi­ced with meta­phors car­ried by an inno­cent tone. The lyrics depict life inside a wor­king gba­ka. The ama­teur musi­cian played all the cha­rac­ters and pas­sen­gers, as well as the appren­tice (the driver’s assistant).

Hamed Tou­ré, host of Radio Côte-d’Ivoire’s mor­ning show, played the song on repeat. The effect was viral ; it spread across the coun­try. In eve­ry backs­treet tavern, maquis (wor­king-class Ivo­rian res­tau­rant), snack kiosk and office, Daouda’s “Gba­ka” spar­ked public debate about the Minis­ter for Transport’s unac­cep­table plan. In this decade of eco­no­mic pros­pe­ri­ty in the coun­try of Hou­phouët-Boi­gny – the foun­ding father of inde­pen­dence – revo­lu­tion was in the air. The pal­pable dis­content rose to the highest levels of govern­ment and the decree was sus­pen­ded by the leader’s uni­la­te­ral deci­sion. Infor­mal trans­port conti­nued una­ba­ted, but gba­kas became for­ced to under­go road­wor­thi­ness tests.

Soro Solo

 

Soro Solo was one of the well-known cultural journalists in Côte d'Ivoire until the events of 2002. He twice received the National Union of Journalists of Côte d'Ivoire (UNJCI), a prize which honored the best journalist in the country (Ebony Prize, 1993 and 1994).

His pedagogical approach and his fifteen hours a week airtime for years have made him a popular radio man in his country.

His broadcast "le grognon", free-to-air where citizens called to complain about dysfunctions and other embezzlement that sclerosed public services, earned him a great popular esteem (see his portrait in the Liberation Media, January 2000).

Soro Solo discovered many talented artists and he accompanied the opening of Europe to African music. He also made the first recording of Amadou and Mariam in Abidjan in 1988.

He enthusiastically launched Tiken Jah Fakoly's (Victoire de la musique in 2003) album on Radio Côte d'Ivoire.

From Ray Lema to Salif Keita, Manu Dibango, Toots and the Maytals, Jacques Higelin or Pierre Akendengué, many great musicians who went to Abidjan came to his studio.

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