As I listen to Ivorian artist Meiway’s M20 album in my studio flat, it’s hard not to reflect on one of Ivory Coast’s most unique musicians. In fact when you talk about Ivorian music you generally talk about three types of music (zouglou, coupe decale and reggae) and then say Meiway (or perhaps ‘zoblazo’, a genre with only one major artist in it, Meiway, who invented it). This is a guy in his 50s who still looks like his was 30. And he’s an incredible musician – an increasingly rare breed in the world of samples or rehashed Marley.
But I think above all, he stands out as a remarkable individual, and probably the nicest guy in Ivorian showbiz. I did a long interview with him when his M20 album came out (he speaks great English) and near the end he said ‘hang on, I’m sure I’m seen you before’. He promptly remembered me posing a single question in a press conference in 2007 in Brazzaville.
The last I saw him was during the Ivorian crisis just before the war reignited. I was walking near the office and he picked me up and took me to my destination. He’d been to the blockaded Golf hotel a few days before to meet the Ouattara government. It was a dangerous thing to do considering the recently-elected Ouattara didn’t control much beyond the grounds of the hotel. Meiway’s mum was scared, but he felt it was just the right thing to do.
Over the weekend he performed at the shambolic-ally organised Kora awards in Abidjan. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were paid to bring international stars, especially Chris Brown, to Abidjan, who then promptly didn’t perform at all. A huge slap in the face for local artists, as Meiway said quite clearly in the show concert.
My biggest Meiway moment will perhaps always be when when of his early tracks was played at my wedding and the traditional paper handkerchiefs came out as people danced in a long line around the garden.