Boucan: loud “African” Girls Singing and Dancing in Public Spaces

Laura Steil (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes)

They call themselves “Bana Danger”, “Black Boukantes”, “Les Boucantières” or “Bana Massacreuzes”, names that refer to their African origins, racialized and gendered subjectivities, and propensity for being menacing (danger, massacre), loud and conspicuous (boucan). These crews recruit their members — mostly black teenage girls between 14 and 18 — via
blogs, on which they boast their insolence, bluntness and superiority. Their antagonistic relationships with other crews are performed and magnified via disses on line and fights in shopping malls and metro stations around the Paris region. What is puzzling about this new form of female “presence” is the way it is linked to masculine urban sociabilities that are music and dance related. Dancing in French metro stations goes back to the 1980s, when the first hip-hop dancers used these public spaces to practice and compete. In the mid-2000s, metro station dancing is reinvigorated when (male) youth discard hip-hop for coupé-décalé, a new urban genre from Ivory Coast. The genre’s emphasis on boucan, a polyphonic concept meaning “loud noise” in standard French and “showing off and having fun” in Ivoirian slang, in part explains its immense appeal. Five years later, the French media deplore the explosion of female “gangs” whose singing and dancing in public spaces “in fact masks an alarming reality”. My paper will explore how these “loud” female crews triggered debates about space, morality, gender, reputation, beauty, blackness, and Africanness, not only in the press, but also among black young people involved in the “afro” music and dance scene.
[Originally Published in the AAA 2013 Conference Program]

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