The battle of Orly airport: When Booba met Kaaris

Two rappers went on trial in Paris this week for turning a duty-free shop into a battleground

French rappers Booba (L) and Kaaris (R) sitting with other defendants in a courtroom at the courthouse of Creteil, near Paris on September 6th following a brawl at the Orly airport  last August. Photograph:  Benoit Peyrucq/AFP/Getty Images

French rappers Booba (L) and Kaaris (R) sitting with other defendants in a courtroom at the courthouse of Creteil, near Paris on September 6th following a brawl at the Orly airport last August. Photograph: Benoit Peyrucq/AFP/Getty Images


Until August 2018, Booba and Kaaris were celebrities to youths in France’s immigrant banlieues and aficionados of Skyrock FM, the radio station favoured by fans of hardcore rap. It’s the style pioneered by Booba since the late 1990s, all about violence, prison, drug dealers, prostitution and money.

Booba spent a year in Detroit as a teenager and has lived in downtown Miami for the past decade. He has been strongly influenced by US rappers, whose feuds have sometimes been lethal.

By the time a French prosecutor completed his summing up in a courtroom in Créteil, outside Paris, around midnight on Thursday night, there was scarcely a French person who had not heard of the battle of Orly airport, between Booba and Kaaris and nine of their followers, in a departure lounge last August 1st.

The prosecutor asked for one-year suspended prison sentences for both of the rap musicians, suspended sentences of six to 12 months for seven hangers-on, and six to eight months in jail for two repeat-offenders. All were charged with gang violence and theft.

The men will be sentenced on October 9th. In the meantime, Booba, whose real name is Elie Yaffa, can return to Miami to see his children, Luna, aged 4, and Omar, 3. Plans can also move forward for his mega-concert for 40,000 people at La Défense on October 13th. Kaaris, whose real name is Okou Armand Gnakouri, can record a new album.

There was so much demand by media and rap fans that the one-day trial had to move to a room normally reserved for the high court. The judge forbade journalists from tweeting, to avoid inflaming public opinion.

Video-surveillance footage and videos posted by onlookers during the free-for-all in the departure lounge were the main sources of evidence. One video showed Booba setting down his bag and walking towards Kaaris. Kaaris stands up too, flanked by two friends and a cousin. Booba steps to one side, kicks Kaaris and the fight begins.

Kaaris was once Booba’s protégé. They recorded two hit songs together in 2011, Criminal League and Kalash. But Kaaris refused to side with Booba in his wars with the rapsters Rohff (Housni Mkouboi) and Fouine (Laouni Mouhid).

It was Kaaris who declared war on Booba, with his High Noon-style ultimatum back in March 2014, in an improvised rap on Skyrock. “So you’re number one. I don’t have a choice. I’m gonna wait for you when the sun is high enough in the sky for everyone to see me kill the king,” Kaaris chanted.

Same flight together

Tension had grown between the two rap stars in recent months. “I can’t forget the insults and treachery,” Booba told Inrockuptibles magazine last February. “He has talent and potential, but he’s raw and he was wrong to think he could overthrow me.” A few days before the fight at Orly, Booba posted a picture of Kaaris’s face on a monkey’s body. Both sides were spoiling for a fight.

By coincidence, the rappers were booked on the same flight to Barcelona, where they were to have performed in night clubs a few hundred metres from each other. Kaaris said he “would have changed planes” if he’d known.

The warring gangs turned the duty-free shop into their battleground, hurling perfume bottles and face cremes at each other. Air France, Aéroports de Paris and the shop owner were all civil plaintiffs. The boutique claimed €54,123 in damages, including €18,000 in lost revenue for being forced to close for four hours.

Seven flights were postponed for up to 90 minutes. All 400 passengers in hall four were transferred to hall one, leading to a huge back-up at security. In the queue, travellers showed each other videos of the fray on their smartphones.

The duty-free shop became an attraction where tourists take selfies of themselves to post on social media. The rapper Stomy Bugsy subsequently recorded his own video there, walking between aisles of perfume bottles and taunting sales women.

At their trial, both rappers pleaded self-defence. “I tried to avoid the group,” Booba said. “I was surrounded and that’s why I put my bag down. My first kick was a warning to keep him from attacking me.”

A video shot by a fan was used as evidence against Booba. “I’m gonna get arrested,” Booba said a few moments before the fight. “It was just a feeling,” Booba explained. “I saw him looking at me before I went through security. I smelled trouble.”

“I acted out of self-defence from beginning to end,” Kaaris swore. He said Booba confronted him in the departure lounge, saying “Get up, bitch!” It was, Kaaris admitted, a mistake. “I got up so he wouldn’t hit me sitting down. It’s worse to take blows sitting down.”

Fame and fortune

Proceedings had to be suspended for an hour to find an interpreter for a member of Booba’s entourage, the Haitain rap singer Gato da Bato, whose real name is Daniel Toussaint.

Booba also goes by B2O, indicating the first three letters of his pseudonym. Booba is short for Boubacar, the name of one of Booba’s Senegalese cousins. Booba’s mother, a former cleaning lady, is white. His African father abandoned him as an infant. Booba calls himself the “Duke of Boulogne,” after Boulogne-Billancourt, the Paris suburb where he grew up.

Booba’s detractors claim his real name, Elie Yaffa, proves he is Jewish. “I get messages all the time calling me ‘dirty Jew’ and ‘dirty Zionist’. I get threats saying, ‘We’re gonna put your little girl in an oven!’,” Booba told Le Monde newspaper in a four-hour interview in Miami at the end of June. “These stories about background, it’s a way to discredit me.”

Kaaris is also known as K2A. His family emigrated from Ivory Coast when he was three and settled in the Paris suburb of Sevran. “My first memory is of biting the teacher,” he told Libération newspaper in 2014. “I didn’t speak French. I didn’t understand what she was saying. I’d never seen white people and I was afraid of them.”

Two dreams promise fame and fortune for youths in the banlieues: becoming a football player or a rap star. For the latter, a prison record can help establish street cred. When the rival rappers Rohff and Fouine wanted to discredit Booba, they claimed he had embellished his police record. He served 18 months in the late 1990s, for assaulting a taxi driver.

If the judge follows the prosecutor’s recommendation, Booba will not return to prison. It was a prospect he dreaded. “When they lock your cell door, you feel like shit,” he told Le Monde in June, before the battle of Orly. “You feel helpless. You realise what power is, and that it’s on top of you. You’re nothing… It’s failure. You know? One day, I’ll tell my children about it.”