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African Music Spotlight: Bisso Na Bisso Brought African Heritage to French Rap

by Eva Rose Tesfaye on June 23, 2018

Bisso Na Bisso is the perfect introduction for those who want to get into African hip hop music. They were a music collective of established rappers and singers with origins from Congo Brazzaville. They are one of the first French rap groups to explore their African heritage.

In 1999 some of the members of the label Secteur Ä who shared Congolese heritage decided to form this collective. Bisso Na Bisso means “between us” in Lingala. The group consisted of Passi, Ben-J, from the group Les Neg’Marrons, Lino and Calbo, from the group Ärsenik, Doc and G Kill from 2 Bal, and Mystik and M-Passi. M’Passi was the only female in the group.

The group was based in Paris. They have described their desire to foster solidarity among black people and demonstrate their pride in their African heritage, while also acknowledging their roots in an Urban French context.

This is a struggle for many French rappers and is complicated by the fact that black rappers in France struggle to be a part of the film and television industry. French black people in general have very little opportunity in this sector. Bisso Na Bisso has expressed their feelings of disconnect from both their homelands and from their present homes where they cannot use the media to portray the inequality in French society.

One of their biggest albums is “Racines” which translates from French to “Roots”. It is a fusion of hip hop with African and Carribean rhythms, including rumba, soukous, and zouk. The album has collaborations with legendary African artists such as Koffi Olomide, Papa Wemba, Ismael Lo, lokua Kanza, and Manu Dibango, as well as the French/Caribbean Zouk group, Kassav.

The address many African issues throughout their album as well as issues that pertain to French blacks, such as war, immigration, bicultural identity, bad governance, and corruption. Some of the singles on the album include “L’Union,” “Le cul entre deux chaises,” and the satirical “Dans la peau d’un chef.”

They have also spent much of their time providing humanitarian aid to Congo and other African countries, especially during their tour and have been vocal in their criticism of African politics. The group incredibly popular during this time with people rushing and pushing to get into their venues. They won three Kora Awards that year in the categories: Best Arrangement, Best Group, and Best Video.

French rap has undergone many changes since Bisso Na Bisso. Many of the powerful labels form the 90s no longer exist. Even though the new generation’s music focuses on individualism and egos, mimicking the lifestyle of American rap artists, artists such as Booba, La Fouine and Booba still rap about their African heritage and have dominated the scene for about a decade.

Recently the rappers from the label, Secteur Ä, the label that saw the formation of Bisso Na Bisso, reunited for their 20 year anniversary and performed a series of concerts.

“Popular and well known titles such as Neg’Marrons, Passi, Bisso Na Bisso, hit the mark. We thought that it would be great to continue our work of transmission by reforming Ä on stage,” said Valérie Atlan about this event. It was highly anticipated by fans of rap. For many, this label was made up of the first big family of French hip hop artists.

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Eva Rose Tesfaye
Eva Tesfaye has traveled around the world her whole life but thinks of Africa as home. She loves reading novels and watching plays (especially ones with people of color in them). She has a love-hate relationship with her big curly hair.
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