Meiway – aka Monsieur Zoblazo or The Genius of Bassam – rules dancefloors all the way across Africa. Ratcheting up zoblazo (a catchy rhythm from southern Ivory Coast), Meiway has forged his own signature style throughout a career that has spanned almost fifteen years. His zoblazo may vary from 200% to 800%, but there’s no doubt about it, Meiway is the zoblazo king forever!
Frederic Desire Ehui was born on March 17th, 1962 in Grand-Bassam, a coastal town west of Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast. His father, a sales representative in a local business, was an amateur accordionist and his mother often sang in the choir of her local Catholic Church. Both of his parents were also members of several local groups. It was therefore quite natural that Frederic started singing in church around the age of nine and continued to do so until he was sixteen.
In junior high, Frederic became friend with a member of Pace, the school band. By accompanying him to so many rehearsals, Frederic ended up replacing one of the singers and trying out the percussion instruments. He quickly became a distinguished member of the band. At the same time he joined other small bands including Lynx or Group. But Pace was growing in popularity and in 1978 he received the Podium Award, a highly coveted musical distinction in the Ivory Coast. Arguments between old and new members as to how the prize money was to be split, led to the break up of the band.
For Frederic, now known as Meiway, this break up was almost a blessing. He was now able to form his own group Les Genitaux or Genitos. Success was in the cards for the eight band members who obtained the very same Podium Award in 1981. Les Genitaux played throughout the country doing tours, dances, concerts, and parties. Moreover, the band plays more and more compositions written by Meiway.
Despite his success, Meiway continued living at home until he decided to try his luck in France and to deepen his musical knowledge. This is why he came to Paris in 1985. Fairly quickly he formed a new group, Defense d'Ivoire, with musicians from Africa, Algeria, and France. They were awarded a prize from the Excalibur club in Paris and they became successful in the French capital.
In spite of his group's success, Meiway took a job in a service station in order to make ends meet. He became manager of the station and was able to put some money aside. Things got better and better and he obtained a bank loan which enabled him to back his first album "Ayibebou," which came out in 1989. Success was immediate in all of French-speaking Africa. Meiway returned to his homeland a star with his group Zo Gang. Together they toured many countries including the Ivory Coast, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, to name but a few. In 1990 this album earned him the Best Singer Award for the Ivory Coast.
In this first album there is a hint of the beginnings of a new style, Zoblazo, of which Meiway was the creator and for which he was to become the ultimate symbol. A mix of different folklore from the southern Ivory Coast, Zoblazo has a dance rhythm with a percussion base. Meiway was influenced by his own ethnic group the N'Zema (also called Appolo), but also by numerous other styles from the Ivory Coast or neighbouring countries such as Ghana. This original musical synthesis is made up of modern sounds and is danced to with a white handkerchief as a sign of joy and purity.
With the second album in 1990 entitled "200% Zoblazo" the musical style of the same name energetically takes form. Meiway became a superstar. This time he toured all over Europe and Canada as a star. The ultimate dream of the young man from the Ivory Coast-to sing in the United States- was becoming more and more of a reality.
From this point on, his albums were released at two-year intervals with great regularity in their titles and frequency and in their success. In 1993 "Jamais 203-300% Zoblazo" was released. At this time, Meiway set up his fan club and started managing his own career. The machine was running smoothly and becoming profitable. He was controlling his image. He was by far the most well-known artist from the Ivory Coast, along with Alpha Blondy who had a completely different musical style.
In 1995 "Apollo 95 (400% Zoblazo)," whose title was inspired by his ethnic group, was released. On this record we find numerous guest performers such as Jacob Desvarieux of Kassav' from the Caribbean island of Martinique. On the cover of this latest opus Meiway is pictured with his daughter Astrid. A long African tour started in May of 96 -"L'Apollo Tour 96." 1996 was an excellent year for Meiway who headlined numerous concerts throughout the world. On June the 21st, he participated in the annual French music festival "Fête de la Musique" before setting out on his American tour in July. Finally at the end of the summer he received the Best Regional Artist Award at the First Annual African Music Awards in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The album "Les Genies vous parlent-500% Zoblazo" came out in 1997. Even more Zoblazo oriented than before, Meiway's style was, as usual, influenced by the music from the southern Ivory Coast. But this time, after the influence of the Ghanian hi-life of the previous album, Meiway took on the Senegalese m'balax. He also integrated strings, piano, and brass. As for the message, which is often present in his work, he speaks of childhood (a favourite Meiway theme) and ancestral traditions.
Earlier this year Meiway returned to the studio with his backing group Zo Gang to put the finishing touches to a new album entitled "Hold Up". This new album finds the singer metamorphosing into a music "gangster" and inciting his audience to get back to listening to "real music"! 1998 has also proved to be a highly successful year for Meiway as far as international recognition is concerned. On 5 September the singer carried off no less than three awards at the "Kora awards" ceremony held in Sun City (South Africa), winning Best Artist in West Africa, Best Arranger and Best Video.
Meiway triumphed once again in December 98 at the 6th edition of the African Awards in Abidjan, carrying off the award for Best African Video.
A year later in fall 2000, the singer came back with a new album, which he entitled "Extraterrestre", his own way of celebrating his 10-year-old career. He invited his friends Manu Dibango, Jacob Desvarieux from Kassav, to back him, along with his own band Zo Gang International. "Extratrerrestre" offered a new variation on Meiway’s zoblazo as Cuban musicians played the brass and cord section, spicing the whole album with Latino touches.
Meiway rocketed back into the music news at the end of 2001 with a souped-up version of his zoblazo style entitled "700% Zoblazo"! Infused with infectious dance rhythms, the album included covers of two of the singer's old favourites - "200% Zoblazo" and "M'mpapa". Meiway went on to bring the house down when he performed at the Yopougon Stadium in Abidjan on 8 January 2002.
In 2004 it came as no surprise to find "800% zoblazo" kicking off Meiway's eighth album, "Golgotha". The Ivorian star continued to mine the same rich musical vein that had forged his success, inviting a host of prestigious guest stars (including Lokua Kanza, Kodjo Antui and Koffi Olomidé) onto his new album and tapping into Ivory Coast dancefloor trends such as prudencia and coupé décalé. Meanwhile, Meiway and Zogang International remained one of the major attractions on the live circuit in Africa. Their concert at the 3rd edition of Festivoire, in Abidjan (on 5 July) was an absolute triumph.
Meiway also received official recognition of his talent at the Tamani Awards (presented as part of the International Music Festival in Mali) in 2005. On this occasion, he walked off with a trophy for Best Ivorian Artist of the Year.
2006: "9ème commandement –900% zoblazo"
On the recording front, Meiway continued to release his albums at the same steady pace, bringing out a new opus in Ivory Coast in December 2006. On "9ème commandement –900% zoblazo", Meiway affirmed his Christian faith, reminding fans of his commitment to peace ("9ème commandement") and the fight against AIDS ("Pitié"). But the singer also remained faithful to the dancefloor, his ninth album including the usual batch of potential hits such as "Emeraude" (a ‘hymn to women’) and the racy "Feu de camp", a duo with the rapper Alibi Montana which poked fun at the TV reality show "Temptation Island."
Practically from the moment it was released in Ivory Coast, pirate copies of "9ème commandement –900% zoblazo" were already in circulation. Meiway immediately retaliated, publicly denouncing the pirates and incriminating a number of students on university campuses. This led to a student movement attempting to boycott his concert in Abidjan on 16 December. But finally, thanks to last-minute mediation from Meiway’s compatriot Gadji Céli, the concert went ahead as planned.
Meiway’s ninth album, "9ème commandement –900% zoblazo", was released in Europe in January 2007.
In February, Meiway gave two concerts in Lomé, Togo, drawing a large West African crowd. His showman reputation gave him a chance to get up on stage in Quebec in 2008, and in Ireland the following year.
“M20”, the singer’s tenth album, came out at the end of 2009, featuring a couple of duets, one with the rapper Passi and the other with the West Indian singer Lynnsha. The album’s title is a reference to Meiway’s twenty years in the trade, marked by an anniversary celebration at the Parisian venue, Elysée-Montmatre, on 15 May 2010. A film of the concert was released as a DVD several months later.
With a collective of African artists, he sang the track “Free Lapiro” in defence of the imprisoned Cameroonian singer Lapiro de Mbanga. That year, he was also billed at the African festival in The Hague, Netherlands, and in Newcastle in the UK. “Docteur Folie” marked his screen début, playing the main character in a film by the Burkinabe, Michel Kamunanga.
In June 2011, he performed in Turin, Italy, then at the Stade de France in the Parisian suburbs with stars from his home continent at the Nuit Africaine event, before crossing the Atlantic for the Nuit d’Afrique festival in Montreal. Other concerts followed in the Netherlands and Benin. Congolese singer Barbara Kanam invited Meiway to join her at her tenth anniversary concert in November, and three months later, he was in Conkary helping the Guinean Sekouba Bambino celebrate twenty years of musical creation. He recorded a duet with the West Indian singer Eric Virgal on the compilation, "Les plus belles chansons de Serge Bilé vol. 2". He then performed live in Austria and Ghana.
The album “Professor”, released in October that year, alternates light-hearted numbers with more serious songs about the civil war tearing his country apart. The Martinican bass player Michel Alibo, who played for many African artists at the start of his career before founding Sixun, played on four of the tracks.
Accompanied by Tiken Jah Fakoly, Alpha Blondy and Magic System, Meiway took part in the national peace caravan travelling through Côte d’Ivoire from the end of October for a series of six concerts, the last of them in Abidjan on 3 November.
In December, he was invited to perform at the 17th Nuits Atypiques de Koudougou Festival (Burkina Faso).
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