Home WORLD AFRICA When the yéyé wave swept across Africa

When the yéyé wave swept across Africa

Book cover: Johnny Hallyday wrestles on a dance floor.

The book “Johnny Hallyday, repeat if you have balls” relates Johnny’s career and the yéyé wave in French-speaking Africa.PHOTO: Éditions Cercle Média

On Sunday December 5, Johnny Hallyday will have passed away for 4 years. In his book Johnny Hallyday, repeat if you have balls, the journalist and writer Serge Bilé brings us to experience the period of the yéyé years in Africa, especially in French-speaking Africa.

At the origin of the book, a story that touches the author closely: during a visit to Ivory Coast in 1966, Johnny Hallyday granted an interview to Ivorian television in the program Midi magazine, led by Marcel Bilé, Serge Bilé’s father. Throughout the story, we live the “yéyé years” in the company of childhood memories of Serge Bilé and encounters with personalities of the time who surfed on this yéyé wave which overwhelmed Africa.

The children of independence thirst for freedom

These years were also those of independence and a new start for certain African countries, sometimes at the cost of an exacerbated patriotism encouraged by authoritarian regimes. For Serge Bilé, young people want freedom above all and find it in an uninhibited song, the song of the yéyé years which sings both love and freedom. That’s the whole paradox, young people find themselves in French song because, at home, they are deprived of their liberty.

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Johnny or Antoine, Sylvie or Françoise?

African youth embrace the yéyé wave, appropriating the codes and the fashion of the time: “elephant legs” pants, mini-skirts, V-neck polo shirts and slicked-back hair. The magazine Hi buddies circulates and reports the rivalries and quarrels between the different artists. You had the pro-Antoine, the pro-Johnny, the pro-Eddy Mitchell and all that clashed with invectives because every time something happened in France, we learned about it in Côte d’Ivoire from almost instantaneous, recalls Serge Bilé.

Marcel Bilé has a microphone in his hand, Johnny Hallyday looks at him, he wears sunglasses.

Johnny Hallyday in an interview with journalist Marcel Bilé in Abidjan in 1966.

All rights reserved – Serge Bilé

A great mix of music

The author recalls that at the time, several musical movements coexisted harmoniously in Africa. Musician Manu Dibango, for example, started his career with his song Twist in Léopoldville and said of Johnny during his disappearance: Johnny was not a singer, he was an enchanter. Likewise, Alpha Blondy composed the song Yéyé long before he became the pope of Ivorian reggae. Young Africans listened to both the funk of James Brown, the Congolese rumba of Tabu Ley Rochereau, the songs from the Caribbean and the rock of Johnny Hallyday.

There was an open-mindedness in Africa which was extraordinary. All these musics came and everyone found their account and often even people appreciated the four musics at the same time. This period is very rich because it allowed the crossing of people and music that came from everywhere.

A quote from

Serge Bilé, journalist and writer

The book Johnny Hallyday, repeat if you have balls by Serge Bilé is published by Éditions Cercle Média

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