SOAS University of London

Africa Section, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Ms Anne Schumann

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Anne Schumann
Ms Anne Schumann
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Thesis title:
Danse philosophique! The Social and Political Dynamics of Zouglou Music in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, 1990-2008
Year of Study:
2006-2010 (successful viva: January 2011)

PhD Research

Zouglou is a popular music style of Côte d’Ivoire that is identified primarily through its outspoken lyrics of social comment and its dance with angular arm movements. It was born into a time of social upheaval in the country in the early 1990s, when students and professors were at the forefront of a movement demanding political pluralism. Today, Zouglou has also become Côte d’Ivoire’s internationally most successful music. This thesis provides a detailed history of Zouglou’s development from the university residence in Yopougon through the precarious neighbourhoods of Abidjan to its rise in international charts. It argues that the power of Zouglou music is located in a number of factors: as an urban music, Zouglou is not associated with any particular region or ethnic group; it is a supra-ethnic, national music which is of special significance at a time in Ivoirian history where political battles have divided the country into a northern and a southern half. As a new, urban musical form, Zouglou distinguishes itself through its use of Nouchi, the French street-slang spoken in Abidjan, and its use of very direct, outspoken texts, rather than of subtle, coded messages.

It is well known that in many African cultures, musical performance is evaluated primarily through the song texts. Based on the idea that the strength of Zouglou music lies in its song texts, this thesis gives detailed analyses of their content. Zouglou’s pervasive use of satirical humour has won it many listeners and great acclaim. Thus, Zouglou has in a real sense become street poetry, and its main themes criticise and comment on social problems. Zouglou is also known to criticise the behaviour of the political elite, and thus has gained a reputation as socially and political engaged music. Zouglou musicians have, through their songs, taken the initiative of public debate in the country, and have been considered as speaking in lieu of intellectuals, despite frequently being school drop-outs. In one of Zouglou’s first recordings, its dance was described as a danse philosophique, a philosophical dance. Despite its intrinsically popular and mediated nature, Zouglou has, through its reflective song texts, remained true to this description, as this thesis demonstrates.


  • Schumann, Anne. 2011 (forthcoming, paper accepted). ‘A Generation of Orphans: the Socio-economic crisis in Côte d’Ivoire as seen through popular music’ Africa,  Journal of the International African Institute.
  • Schumann, Anne. 2010. ‘Popular Music & Political Expression in Côte d'Ivoire’ in Downing, John (ed.) Encyclopedia of Social Movement Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
  • Ogola, George, Anne Schumann and Michael Olutayo Olatunji. 2009. ‘Popular Music, New Media and the Digital Public Sphere in Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria’ in Mudhai, Okoth Fred, Wisdom J. Tettey and Fackson Banda (eds.) African Media and the Digital Public Sphere. Palgrave Macmillan Series in International Political Communication. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Schumann, Anne. 2009. ‘Popular Music and Political Change in Côte d’Ivoire: The divergent dynamics of zouglou and reggae.’ Journal of African Media Studies (JAMS) 1:1 (117-133).
  • Schumann, Anne. 2008. ‘The Beat that Beat Apartheid: The Role of Music in the Resistance against Apartheid in South Africa.’ Stichproben: Wiener Zeitschrift für kritische Afrikastudien / Vienna Journal of African Studies (Special issue: Popular music and politics in Africa) 14 (17-39).


  • ‘Zouglou music in Côte d’Ivoire: songs of the ‘sacrificed generation’’. Cadbury Fellows Conference 2010: ‘Tuning in to African Cities: Popular Culture and Urban Experience in sub-Saharan Africa’. The Centre of West African Studies, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, May 2010.
  • ‘An introduction to Zouglou music in Côte d’Ivoire’. PhD Seminar of the Institute for Anthropological Research in Africa. Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, April 2010.
  • ‘The Articulation of the Ivorian Crisis in Zouglou Music: Making Sense of 'Patriotic' Popular Music in Côte d'Ivoire’. African Studies Association of the United Kingdom (ASAUK) Journal Articles Writing Workshop, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, November 2009.
  • ‘Making sense of the social and political dynamics of popular music in post-colonial Côte d‘Ivoire’. West Africa Anthropology Seminar Series, University College London (UCL), United Kingdom, October 2009.
  • ‘The Articulation of the Ivorian Crisis in Zouglou Music: Making Sense of 'Patriotic' Popular Music in Côte d'Ivoire’. 3rd European Conference on African Studies (ECAS),
    Universität Leipzig, Germany, June 2009.
  • ‘Peacebuilding in Côte d’Ivoire: Challenges and Prospects’. Department for International Development (DFID) Workshop. School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), United Kingdom, September 2008.
  • ‘The Role of Coupé-Décalé Music in the Ivorian Crisis: a new Relationship with France’. African Studies Association of the United Kingdom (ASAUK) Biennial Conference, University of Central Lancashire, United Kingdom, September 2008.
  • ‘The Beat that Beat Apartheid: The Role of Music in the Resistance against Apartheid in South Africa’. 2nd European Conference on African Studies (ECAS), Universiteit Leiden, The Netherlands, July 2007.
  • ‘Popular Music and Political Change in Côte d’Ivoire: The divergent dynamics of zouglou and reggae’. Media and Democracy in Africa Conference, Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI), University of Westminster, United Kingdom, March 2007.