Didier Lalaye, alias Croquemort, is an engaged slam artist from Chad. He is also a medical doctor in Chad and a PhD student at the University of Utrecht. Didier does not spend his life in one place but is often on the move. In recent years he has been living between N’Djaména, Cameroon, and the Netherlands. He is engaged to a Cameroonian lady who pursued her studies (baccalauréat and, later, a university BA in literature) in N’Djaména. They have two children. The family lives in Cameroon, while Didier travels constantly owing to his multiple activities and search for a place to finally settle.
The fourth child of nine, and the first son, Didier was born in January 1984 in Pala, the main town of the southern region of Mayo Kebbi, which Didier considers the place of his ‘roots’. The first years of his education were in Pala. Son of an education inspector, he was brought up in a family that valued study and language. During his childhood, Didier was stimulated to be attentive, and he constantly read. He was also a little absent-minded, or probably very thoughtful—his grandmother reported him as a child that draws in the sand, that does not talk but draws.
At the same time, Didier’s years at primary school were years of football, music, and being the best pupil in the class without needing to do much work. He would acquire a little more discipline at the lyceum (high school) when his father sent him to a boarding school, followed by two years of seminaire (Catholic school). But, as Didier said about this choice: ‘I would never become a priest; I already did not believe in God.’
For the last few years of the lyceum, he attended a private school in N’Djaména. His father worked in Pala as an inspector of schools, which brought him later to other parts of Chad; but the family was primarily based between Pala and the capital N’Djaména, where they lived in the quarter of Chagoua. He regularly went back to Pala for holidays, helping his aunt in the fields.
Writing and Music
It all began with language and writing. His younger brother still remembers how, when they were together in Pala as young boys, Didier was always in the school library. He took his little brother there and made him read. Didier’s father also remembers this and is still so proud of his eldest son. Didier’s first awards, after he finished school, were for his writings and essays.
For Didier, music is also a kind of text. He wrote the texts first and later began working on the rhythms. As a small boy he played rhythms on anything that could serve the sound, as his younger brother reported when we were in Pala in September 2014. Didier became increasingly aware of his capacity to write and sing lyrics, eventually becoming a rapper at school. He danced all the ‘impossible’ dances and quickly became a charismatic figure—in a word, a leader. Later he decided that his given name did not represent the person that was developing with his musical activity, so he decided to adopt the artist name Croquemort, which stands for the people in the past who were responsible for checking whether a person was really dead by biting the corpse’s little finger. During his university years, Croquemort matured and developed, eventually transforming into the slam poet that he still is today.
When he obtained his baccalauréat and was ready to enter university, it was not easy to make a choice. His primary choice would probably have been literature, but this was not the expectation of his social environment (his song Je voudrais devenir star is a reflection on this struggle between his own aspiration and social expectations). He would have loved to become a video-games developer, but such studies were too expensive. Pushed by conditioning from his social environment, he ended up in the first year of medicine at N’Djaména University. Many doubts arose along his path, even to the extent that he considered abandoning his studies for a position in an oil company. But the clever recruiter who interviewed him for the oil position made him change his mind, and Didier continued his studies to become a medical doctor. He graduated with felicitations du jury (honours) in January 2015.
Places of belonging
Didier is a Moundang from Pala, from his mother’s village Torrock and his father’s village Goin, situated in the Mayo-Kebbi. But for Didier this ethnic belonging should not be placed in front of who he is. After all, ethnicity is not the core of belonging (listen to the song Je suis du sud, je suis du nord). At the same time, it does play a role if only insofar as other people mention it—for instance, in Facebook conversations. When in 2016 Kalzeubé Pahimi became prime minister in Chad, Didier received several posts on social media to highlight the fact that this politician was related to him as a cousin and also as a Moundang. Didier tries to neutralize these remarks and turns to jokes and humour in his writings. For him, everybody is equal.
Didier spent a large part of his youth and as an adult outside Pala. He is a native of Chagoua, but since his early university years he has been awarded at many international competitions, which has brought him also out into the world. He travels a lot. He belongs to the world. And indeed, with his ways of dealing with the Internet and his wide network of friends, he is really a world citizen. Didier/Croquemort is at home everywhere.
He is now pursuing both his profession as a medical doctor and his music career. In Chad he works with the association Tchad Plus in an entrepreneurial project of m-health that aims to bring basic healthcare to rural southern Chad. As a medical doctor, he is a PhD candidate at the University of Utrecht (Netherlands), where he currently spends a large consistent part of his life. At the same time, the artist Croquemort is more alive than ever. With his concerts and festivals in N’Djaména and his international performances and events, he is a visible artist both on the Chadian and the international scene.
An itinerary in context
Didier/Croquemort’s life and music cannot be understood without taking into account the complicated contemporary history of Chad. The sore past and present of the country shapes the itineraries of its citizens and the Counter voices that raise from the society, promoting ideas of social and political change. Didier however, does not find it very pertinent to relate all problems of today to the history of the conflict. After all, conflict and war were not all over the country. His home region was never the scene of physical war. On the other hand, war does also have an effect indirectly. It creates an economy where money does not flow to development, but into arms (Debos 2013). It also creates tensions, feelings of fear and uncertainty (De bruijn & Van Dijk 2007). And the non-development leads to poverty. An important argument of Didier then is that this can be brought back to bad governance and that these leaders should be kept responsible. Giving them the ‘tool’ of explanation, i.e. the long history of war, would liberate them from that responsibility. This project gives a space to the Chadian context by exploring many aspects: the heritage of fear left by its history, the current financial crisis that is influencing the politics of the country in present days, the protest movement of the youth, the use of internet as a tool for participation and the issue of alcohol consumption. Take a look at the context section to know more about these themes!
Photo: Mirjam de Bruijn