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Ivorian Band Performs in Both Sides of Divided Country


Efforts to reunite war-divided Ivory Coast have been fraught with difficulty, but some say the Ivorian band Magic System has been able to bring people together in a way politicians have not. The band is marking 10 years of music making by holding two concerts in the country. Last Sunday, the group played in the rebel stronghold city of Bouake in the north. Saturday they are playing in Abidjan in the government-controlled south. Phillip Wellman reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar.

The band, from a poor suburb of Abidjan, began its career singing at baptisms and funerals. Today it has a platinum album, 11 gold albums and fans throughout the Francophone world.

The four-man ensemble performs Ivorian dance music known as Zouglou, which uses humor to illustrate society's problems.

A spokeswoman for the band's publisher, Paris-based EMI, Jade McLaughlin, says that the juxtaposition of humor and serious topics has been effective in bringing Ivorians together and providing a platform to discuss issues.

"Magic System is a band about movement, about partying, going out and enjoying life," she said. "They are a band that is very close to the people. They are very simple and appreciated by everyone and obviously over there [in Ivory Coast] people do follow all the problems they talk about in their songs."

Appolos Godai of Market for African Performing Arts in Abidjan, a program that supports African artists, says Magic System reminds people on both sides that they have things in common.

"Today, Magic System is one of the biggest groups in music in Abidjan, but not only in Abidjan, in Africa and perhaps in the world," he said. "Today Magic System is a star group. You know that Magic System can bring people together."

The band sings about ethnic divisions, as well as juvenile delinquency and the importance of traditional values. The single "Premier Gaou," which the band describes as its first big hit, tells the story of a woman who is only interested in men who have money.

Magic System began drawing international attention at a time when many northerners were complaining that they were being treated as second-class citizens and denied basic rights. In 2002, rebels seized the northern part of the country, splitting it in half.

In March, President Laurent Gbagbo and rebel leader Guillaume Soro signed a peace agreement, creating a power-sharing government in which Mr. Soro was named prime minister. But efforts to implement the agreement by issuing identity papers to northerners and integrating rebel forces into a unified army have stalled.

Appolos Godai says Magic System's decision to perform in both sides of the country can help advance peace.

"Music can be a real factor of unification in a country, which is divided by war," he added.

Magic System's concert on Saturday comes days after Ivory Coast's electoral commission said long-delayed elections may be pushed back to October 2008. The March peace plan called for presidential and parliamentary elections to take place within 10 months, by January next year.

Elections were originally scheduled for 2005, but were postponed twice because supporters of President Gbagbo and rebels who control the north could not agree on how to implement a series of peace deals.

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