For over 10 years, the famous radio host successfully translates messages of Africa’s fight for justice in music.
“As an African, I feel invested of a mission to civilise the French.” Between two bursts of laughter, Soro Solo’s warm and rocky voice narrates Africa, every week, at the microphone of France Inter. He does not relate the wars or dramas that are so often warmed up and served to the French listener, but speaks of Africa’s everyday life: creative, combative, and courageously militant.
A civilizing mission
Each week, he wanders through the labyrinthine corridors of Paris’ Maison de la Radio, alternating braces, bursts of laughter and friendly words for all those he meets, before settling down behind the microphone. In live conditions, this charismatic man with thin greying dreadlocks records a show in which he reveals the musical pearls of Africa during one hour. While the music plays, he dances frantically – “Wow, that’s good” – or carefully reworks his notes, keeping a serious face.
The roots of Soro’s success – his real name is Souleymane Coulibaly – are near the yam and corn fields of his childhood. In the 1950s, his father, a trader, buys a radio station in his native town of Korhogo, in the North of the Ivory Coast. Very quickly, it becomes “the new God” of the village. “I wanted to become like this wizard, this man who spoke so well on the radio. We moved the radio set ceremoniously outside and everyone listened religiously”.
Ivory Coast’s most renowned radio host
He is often called “the old man”, but he likes to trace the origins of his commitment. “I am still marked by my peasant origins. The contempt some urban Ivorians or Burkinabe display to the small people profoundly marked my childhood. What justifies so much condescension? » In his native Senufo culture ” spaces are reserved in a ritual context, where a young man can look the King straight in the eyes and tell him a few home truths”. Over the years and from his early Abidjan period onwards, this awareness strengthened his desire to become the Herald of oppressed citizens.
Back from his studies in Paris, he started his career as a young morning radio host and held his microphone out to the ‘nouchis’, these rappers flowering in Abidjan, and played the tunes of an awakening African continent. But his freedom of speech, which is still his trade mark today, eventually cost him his job. In 1989, among many daily hours on the air of Ivory coast’s national radio, he launched a programme called “Le Grognon” – “The Grouch” in which society’s poorest took the floor to denounce abuses by the authorities. It reached 17 million listeners and was the most popular broadcast of the country. But according to his Programme Director, “he played with fire”.
After ten years of disturbing those who abuse power, a microphone is no longer enough to stop the use of weapons. Upon the election of Gbagbo, in 2002, two of his cousins were shot in cold blood. He understood his fate was sealed. Soro fled to Paris and became a political refugee. Eleven years ago, with his partner Vladimir Cagnolari, he launched Enchanted Africa on France Inter. There he realised “that the average French knew nothing about Africa, except news of dramas, dictators and stereotypes, while we have a common history. From the outset, our show had a strong educational and political dimension”. The show hit, and the programme moved to last. On its Sunday time slot, it became the second most listened to in France.
For the past two seasons, Soro Solo is the only one in charge of L’Afrique en solo (Africa solo), produced on an unchanged recipe. “I’ll stay as long as you want me”, he says, his age still undeterminable. “In ten years, I think having planted a few good seeds of knowledge and discoveries of Africa among the French. I live it as a privilege”. Among the hundreds of new, sober and immaculate offices of the Maison de la Radio, the one of Soro Solo is an exception: catchy music is played continuously while posters of singers and drapes cover the door and all of the walls. Like an oasis, it’s his ‘little Africa’ in Paris.
Legend: Soro Solo’s programme L’Afrique en solo invites the listener to discover African music every week.