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Success story of premier Gaou

The Ivoiran Mega-Hit of Magic System


29/11/2002 - 

Three years after the release of Magic System's eponymous album, the group continue to weave their spell over the French airwaves. Indeed, the band of fun-lovers from Côte d'Ivoire have launched a veritable craze with their single Premier Gaou.

Since French media monitors Médiamétrie published their latest figures* designating NRJ as France's most listened-to radio station, the station has been pumping out messages of thanks to its listeners. Based on the catchy beat of Magic System's single 1er Gaou, the thankyou jingles have been broadcast on NRJ every hour on the hour. And this is just the latest instalment of the Magic System success story! While you wouldn't bet on the fact that people will still be talking about Magic System in ten years' time, one thing's for sure. And that is that 1er Gaou will go down in music history as the song that came rocketing out of the blue like a UFO - and took over the hearts and minds of music fans the length and breadth of France!

What matter if one well-known presenter on Fun Radio slipped Magic System's single onto his turntables, telling listeners the "zouk" number by the "Antillais" group was his record of the moment. (Geography is obviously not his strong point!) That does not stop the fact that - even wrongly back-announced - 1er Gaou has become one of the most frequently-played singles on French radio stations in recent months. Brushing aside Parisian media clichés that an African record hoping to cross over to the mainstream has to obey certain formatting laws, Magic System have smashed through the barriers and proved that their catchy, original – and purely unadulterated sound – can establish a cult following on France's "youth radio stations."

This is all the more impressive in an age where "groove and dance music" rule the airwaves – and songs recorded outside this strict musical structure have only the smallest chance of appealing to a mainstream public! Magic System's 1er Gaou has defied all the odds and thrown mainstream radios' programming systems totally into question. Indeed, Côte d'Ivoire's compulsive zouglou beat managed to pass all the programming test hurdles – even the most questionable ones such as the Yacast "phone test" which consists of playing extracts of singles down the phone line and getting a "sample group" of listeners to pick out the "broadcastable" ones! Incidentally, 1er Gaou came top of the "broadcastable list" in all the stations using this test.

From the dancefloor to the charts

The Magic System success story began back in February 2002 when leading French DJ Bob Sinclar released Le Bisou, an infectious dance remix of the group's original song. Commissioned by Next Music, the group's Parisian label, the Bob Sinclar remix was intended to sell a few extra singles of 1er Gaou which had already racked up sales of 90,000 after it was first broadcast on Claudy Siar's show on Radio France Internationale in December '99. (Sales of 90,000 were already an impressive record given that the single had hardly benefited from a solid distribution network!)

In October 2000 1er Gaou managed to get itself on the airwaves of popular French "youth station" Skyrock. Presenters failed to pick up on it and include it in regular programming, however. In other words, back at this stage, committed "Gaou-philes" were only to be found in the Ivoiran community living in France. What's more, Bob Sinclar's dance version of the single was rejected by purists.

In June 2002 1er Gaou re-emerged on the airwaves of Contact FM (a small radio station in Lille) where it was included in the regular programming schedule. But Magic System's single owes its current cult following to its erstwhile success on the dancefloor. For it was thanks to the club scene, which instantly embraced the techno version of the single, that 1er Gaou finally crossed over to the mainstream public. DJs slipped it onto their turntables in April 2002 and the dance remix managed to remain in the Top 5 of the most-played club tracks for several consecutive weeks.

This dancefloor success was enough to start the 1er Gaou buzz and radio programmers finally woke up to the single's potential. (After all, it has become common practice for programmers to keep an eye on what happens on club dancefloors over the summer months). And it just so happened that it was on the club scene that Pierre Lebrun, musical programmer on Fun Radio, picked up the African UFO on his radar! Lebrun was instantly convinced that 1er Gaou had mega-this-only-happens-once-in-ten-years-hit potential – that he had, in fact, discovered the next Yéké Yéké or Bisso na Bisso.

Thanks to continuing success on the dance floor, the original version of 1er Gaou (i.e. the one Magic System recorded in a studio in Abidjan) crossed over to the radio mainstream. And how! Within weeks the single was being played up to 117 times a week on ADO FM – a real first for an African single in France! By the end of August Fun Radio had got in touch with Magic System's label, Next Music, and offered to launch a joint marketing campaign on behalf of the single. And thus it was that the original version of 1er Gaou ended up being broadcast on Fun airwaves ten times a day! In other words, a lowly Côte d'Ivoire single had hit the jackpot, enjoying major airtime on the national airwaves. Meanwhile, Pierre Lebrun was taking one of the biggest risks of his programming career, including a track in his "Groove and dance" play-list that resolutely refused to fit any existing musical category.

Leading French station NRJ soon threw its own considerable weight behind 1er Gaou, pumping the Magic System hit out up to eight times a day. What's more, 23 out of the 33 stations who take part in the Yacast panel, have now included the single in their playlist. And the result is that for the past ten weeks 1er Gaou has been ranked at no. 6 in the Top 40 of the most broadcast singles in France – beating off stiff competition from the likes of American rapper Eminem and French superstar Jean-Jacques Goldman. Indeed, between 1 and 7 November 1er Gaou managed to rocket up to no.2 in the broadcast Top 40. (To give readers some idea of the 1er Gaou phenomenon, Salif Keita's album Moffou has only been broadcast on five French radio stations – and none of them are musical!) Meanwhile, over the past six weeks the new video clip for 1er Gaou has been hovering between no.3 and no.5 in the Video Top 60 (beating off stiff competition from Latin bombshell Jennifer Lopez!)

Ivoiran superstars

There's no doubt about it, within the space of four months the "musical magicians" from Côte d'Ivoire have become the darling of the French media. Prime-time radio and television programmes have come knocking at their door and popular TV presenters such as Arthur have signed up as committed "Gaou-philes". After presenting a programme on Fun Radio with the group, Arthur claimed to have been completely won over by their "capacity to adapt and improvise." And months before 1er Gaou began storming the French charts, the presenter insisted on including it in his end-of-year compilation, Planet Arthur (which, incidentally, has already attained gold disc status). What's more, Arthur also insisted on including an extract from Magic System's video in the promotional clip for the compilation on national television.

Media success has inevitably been reflected on the sales front. And, as we near the end of November, Magic System can pride themselves on having almost topped the 300,000 mark! Meanwhile, 1er Gaou is currently riding high at no.5 in the French singles chart, just behind Star Academy (the group manufactured by the reality TV show) and ahead of Craig David and Renaud & Axelle Red's single Manhattan-Kaboul. As for the new version of Magic System's album – which now includes Bob Sinclar's dance remix – sales have already topped the 100,000 mark, earning the group double gold disc status (for album and singles sales). This is the first time in music history that a record distributed on an independent French label has ever achieved such mega-hit status.

When they originally recorded their album in Abidjan, the "musical magicians" from Marcory (one of the Ivoiran capital's poorest neighbourhoods) dreamt of "singing on the radio airwaves morning, noon and night." These days, the success of 1er Gaou means that dream has been more than realised. As for the group's Parisian label, Next Music, they're already lining up a new Magic System hit for the beginning of next year, with plans to release Amoulanga (a track from the same album as 1er Gaou) in January 2003. In other words, the Magic System success saga continues apace, with the group's popularity boosted even further in recent weeks thanks to their collaboration on French teenage star Leslie's new single.

Meanwhile, committed "Gaou-philes" – and there are now hundreds of thousands of them, it seems! – can look forward to Magic System's concert at the legendary Olympia in Paris on 1 December. All eyes will be focused on audience turn-out. But given that Côte d'Ivoire's "musical magicians" have already packed out Le Zénith (a Parisian venue with a much larger capacity), looks like Magic System can rest assured that their magic touch is set to last! 

* (September – October 2002)

Magic System Premier Gaou (Next Music) 1999

Alex  Siewe

Translation : Julie  Street