Ivory Coast bids singer DJ Arafat farewell, fans open his coffin

Thousands of fans gathered to pay tribute to DJ Arafat, an Ivorian singer with a huge following in francophone Africa that died at the age of 33, on Aug. 12, after a motorbike crash. (AFP/Sia Kambou)
Updated 01 September 2019

Ivory Coast bids singer DJ Arafat farewell, fans open his coffin

  • News of his death led to scenes of hysteria among fans and Twitter tributes from fellow artists
  • Police fired teargas to disperse the grave profaners, and several people were injured

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast: Fans of Ivorian singer DJ Arafat opened his coffin Saturday to take photos of the corpse, prompting police to fire teargas after an overnight funeral concert where tens of thousands paid tribute to the one of West Africa’s most popular stars.

Following hours of musical homage, tears, and solemn reminiscence at Abijan’s main stadium, events took a dark turn as fans battled police preventing them from entering the cemetery where the singer’s family gave him a private burial.

But several did make into the Williamsville cemetery in Abidjan’s working-class Adjame district, forced open the fresh grave and coffin, and took photos and videos that they shared on social media. Police fired teargas to disperse the grave profaners, and several people were injured, witnesses told AFP.

“We wanted to see the body of our idol before the tomb was sealed,” said one fan, who did not give a name. Throughout the night, A-list African stars such as Davido, Sidiki Diabate, Fally Ipupa and Serge Beynaud had sung in memory of DJ Arafat, who died aged 33 on August 12 after a motorbike crash in Abidjan.

“The ceremony was really moving,” said Raymonde Nguessan. “We have lost a great man.” Another fan, Samuel Kablan, tearfully declared: “Arafat was my life, my source of inspiration.” Culture Minister Maurice Bandaman conferred on DJ Arafat the national order of cultural merit for “his immense contribution to the artistic radiance” of Ivory Coast.

On Saturday morning, before the private burial, DJ Arafat’s casket was placed at the center of the 35,000-capacity Felix Houphouet-Boigny stadium in Abidjan, drawing wild applause before the mood turned somber and many burst into tears. The singer, whose given name was Ange Didier Houon, was one of the Francophone world’s most popular African musicians, considered the “king” of coupe-decale (cut and run) — an Ivorian form of dance music.

News of his death led to scenes of hysteria among fans and Twitter tributes from fellow artists. President Alassane Ouattara called him “a youth icon and ambassador of Ivorian music and culture.” DJ Arafat’s five children were present at the concert. There was tight security at the venue with some 6,500 security forces deployed across the stadium overlooking Abidjan’s picturesque lagoon.

State radio and television broadcast the event live and giant screens were installed in Yopougon and other working-class areas, as well as the upmarket Cocody-Angre district where DJ Arafat lived. With a professional recording engineer for a father and a singer for a mother, a young DJ Arafat was well placed to discover musical techniques on the job.

“He toured the studios to learn, he was curious about everything,” said Franck Alcide Kacou, label and publishing manager of Universal Music Africa, a subsidiary of the multinational Vivendi, which produced DJ Arafat’s work from 2013.
Working as a disc jockey on Rue Princesse, DJ Arafat made his breakthrough with “Jonathan” in 2003, which he followed with a string of other hits.

He “revolutionized coupe-decale by mixing sounds and rhythms. For instance he was inspired by African traditional music, but also by Nigerian Afrobeat, by rap and by Brazilian funk,” Kacou said. “He was also an exceptional dancer and he linked the music he made to new dance forms.”
Coupe-decale originated in the bars of the lively Rue Princesse in the working-class Yopougon district of Abidjan and clubs and spread across West Africa.

His broad musical interest was reflected on DJ Arafat’s last album “Renaissance,” released in December 2018 and featuring artists including Congolese rapper Maitre Gims and French singer Dadju.
The Ivorian star was also known for conflict with rivals.

“He had a divisive personality. He was very sensitive, which explains his ‘unfiltered’ reactions and clashes with other artists, which formed part of his musical career,” Kacou said. DJ Arafat won artist of the year in the Coupe-Decale Awards of 2016 and 2017, and had been named “Best African Artist” in 2012 at the pan-African Kora Music Awards.


At 90, Alaska Native woman is 1st counted in US Census

In this Monday, Jan. 20, 2020 image, Lizzie Chimiugak looks on at her home in Toksook Bay, Alaska. (AP)
Updated 22 January 2020

At 90, Alaska Native woman is 1st counted in US Census

  • The decennial US census has started in rural Alaska, out of tradition and necessity, ever since the US purchased the territory from Russia in 1867

TOKSOOK BAY, Alaska: Lizzie Chimiugak has lived for 90 years in the windswept western wilds of Alaska, born to a nomadic family who lived in mud homes and followed where the good hunting and fishing led.
Her home now is an outpost on the Bering Sea, Toksook Bay, and on Tuesday she became the first person counted in the US Census, taken every 10 years to apportion representation in Congress and federal money.
“Elders that were before me, if they didn’t die too early, I wouldn’t have been the first person counted,” Lizzie Chimiugak said, speaking Yup’ik language of Yugtun, with family members serving as interpreters. “Right now, they’re considering me as an elder, and they’re asking me questions I’m trying my best to give answers to, or to talk about what it means to be an elder.”
The decennial US census has started in rural Alaska, out of tradition and necessity, ever since the US purchased the territory from Russia in 1867. The ground is still frozen, which allows easier access before the spring melt makes many areas inaccessible to travel and residents scatter to subsistence hunting and fishing grounds. The mail service is spotty in rural Alaska and the Internet connectivity unreliable, which makes door-to-door surveying important.
The rest of the nation, including more urban areas of Alaska, begin the census in mid-March.
On Tuesday, Steven Dillingham, director of the census bureau, conducted the first interview after riding on the back of a snowmobile from the airport to Chimiugak’s home.
“The 2020 Census has begun,” he told reporters after conducting the first interview with Chimiugak, a process that lasted about five minutes. “Toksook Bay isn’t the easiest place to get to, and the temperature is cold. And while people are in the village, we want to make sure everyone is counted.”
Dillingham was hours late getting to Toksook Bay because weather delayed his flight from the hub community of Bethel, about 115 miles (185 kilometers) away. Conditions didn’t improve, and he spent only about an hour in the community before being rushed back to the airport.
After the count, a celebration took place at Nelson Island School and included the Nelson Island High School Dancers, an Alaska Native drum and dance group. Later, the community took over the commons area of the high school with a potluck of Alaska Native foods, including seal, moose and goose soups, herring roe served with seal oil and baked salmon.
Robert Pitka, tribal administrator for Nunakauyak Traditional Council, hopes the takeaway message for the rest of the nation is of Yup’ik pride.
“We are Yup’ik people and that the world will see that we are very strong in our culture and our traditions and that our Yup’ik language is very strong,” he said.
For Chimiugak, she has concerns about climate change and what it might do to future generations of subsistence hunters and fishers in the community, and what it will do to the fish and animals. She talked about it with others at the celebration.
“She’s sad about the future,” he eldest son Paul said.
Chimiugak was born just after the start of the Great Depression in the middle of nowhere in western Alaska, her daughter Katie Schwartz of Springfield, Missouri, said. Lizzie was one of 10 siblings born to her parents, who lived a nomadic lifestyle and traveled with two or three other families that would migrate together, her son said.
Lizzie and her 101-year-old sister from Nightmute, Alaska, survive.
In 1947 Lizzie married George Chimiugak, and they eventually settled in Toksook Bay after the town was founded in 1964 by residents of nearby Nightmute. There are five surviving children.
He worked maintenance at the airport. She did janitorial work at the old medical clinic and babysat.
Like other wives, she cleaned fish, tanned hides and even rendered seal oil after her husband came home from fishing or hunting. Her husband died about 30 years ago.
She is also a woman of strong Catholic faith, and told her son that she saved his life by praying over him after he contracted polio.
For her own hobbies, she weaved baskets from grass and remains a member of the Alaska Native dance group that performed Tuesday. She dances in her wheelchair.
She taught children manners and responsibility and continued the oral tradition of telling them stories with a storyknife.
Chimiugak used a knife in the mud to illustrate her stories to schoolchildren. She drew figures for people or homes. At the end of the story, she’d use the knife to wipe away the pictures and start the next story with a clean slate of mud.
“She’s a great teacher, you know, giving us reminders of how we’re supposed to be, taking care of subsistence and taking care of our family and respecting our parents,” her granddaughter Alice Tulik said. “That’s how she would give us advice.”