The 2 Congos Seek to have the Rumba Recognized as a World Treasure

Putumayo cover of African Rumba disc (Source: Putumayo)

There is no doubt that the Rumba has gone global, or that it has influenced other musical types throughout the world. To those who do not know, Rumba is a music style that originates from Kongo … and here I mean the whole area that is encompassed by both Congos, the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and in the olden days it was even bigger including areas of Angola, Central African Republic and Gabon. The rumba was born in Cuba from the enslaved Africans who had been taken there from the Kongo.

Flag of the Republic of Congo

Today, authorities in both Kinshasa and Brazzaville, the capitals of the DRC and the Republic of Congo, have submitted a joint bid to add Congolese Rumba to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Don’t you wish both countries could join together more often on other topics as well?

Flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo

The submission will help showcase the diversity of the heritage and raise awareness about its importance. If Congolese rumba were to be added, it would join the Budima dance of Zambia, hawker food of Singapore, sauna culture of Finland, handmade weaving in Upper Egypt, traditional pomegranate festivity and culture of Azerbaidjan, Traditional Thai massage, and traditional irrigation systems in the United Arab Emirates, among countless other customs on the list.

Papa Wemba, the king of Congolese Rumba, on his cover of Emotion

The word Rumba derives from “nkumba,” meaning belly button in the local Kikongo language, a dance originating in the ancient kingdom of Kongo.

The music style was born of the melting pot of 19th century Cuba, from the enslaved Africans, combining their drumming and dancing with their melodies and those of the Spanish colonizers. The African slaves who were taken to the Americas created the rumba as a way to stay connected to their inner beings, their histories, cultures, and probably also as a way to escape the daily grind of slavery, the inhumane practice that ripped them of their dignity of human beings.

It was re-exported to Africa in the early 20th century on vinyl, where it found a ready audience in the two Congos who recognized the rhythms as their own.

Catherine Kathungu Furaha, the DRC’s minister of art and culture, said, “when our ancestors who were taken abroad wanted to remember their history, their origin, their memory, they danced the navel dance.”… “We want rumba to be recognized as ours. It is our identity.”

Cuban rumba has been inscribed in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2016. It only makes sense that its counterpart, the mother-source, the origin, the Congolese Rumba be inscribed in the list as well. We will know in November when the committee will decide.

Happy Mother’s Day 2021

Papa Wemba
Papa Wemba

To celebrate all the mothers out there… I thought of sharing this beautiful song by the legendary Papa Wemba “Mama,” from his album Nouvelle Ecriture 1997 dedicated to his mother. I dedicate it to all the mothers out there, and future mothers. Papa Wemba was the King of Rumba and King of La SAPE, and an African Planetary Star. Of his mother who was a professional ‘wailing woman,’ he said: “My mother was my first teacher and my first public. … I grew up with my mother’s melancholic singing. … When I will sing, she will say “my son, block here, and now project your voice“… when I did well, she will clap for me“(source: Tv5 – Africanité). For his mother, he composed Mama and Maria Valencia. Enjoy! Happy Mothers’s Day.

“Souffrance d’Amour” / “Love Suffering” by Ben Decca

Ben Decca (Source: KamerLyrics.net)

For this year’s Valentine, we will introduce you to “Souffrance d’Amour” by the Cameroonian singer Ben Decca. The song, “Souffrance d’Amour” translated as “Love suffering” tells of a love so deep, so strong between two people, but which does not work. So it is, in the words of Ben Decca himself, “proof that two people can go their separate ways and remain in love despite everything. “Souffrance d’Amour” is a shout-out to people who give themselves entirely to the other with sincerity and loyalty, but unfortunately, in general they receive the opposite of what they put in… sad reality…” [“Souffrance d’Amour” est la preuve que deux personnes peuvent se quitter et demeurer amoureuses l’une de l’autre malgré tout. Souffrance d’Amour” est une dédicace aux personnes qui se donnent à l’autre entièrement avec sincérité et loyauté, hélas en général ils reçoivent l’opposé de ce qu’ils ont misé… triste réalité…]. “To love is to forget oneself and to think only of the one we love” [Aimer c’est s’oublier soi-meme, et ne penser qu’a celui qu’on aime…”]

For those who do not know him, Ben Decca, he is the ultimate crooner of Cameroon… You could think of a Luther Vandross type… His career spans over 40 years of constantly amazing music. He is a pure talent, and hails from a family of musicians, with 3 younger siblings who are also renowned singers  Grâce Decca, Dora Decca, and Isaac Decca, and nephew to the great Cameroonian legend Eboa Lotin, and great grandson to Lobe Lobe Rameau one of the pioneers of Makossa in Cameroon. His work has been the legendary, and he has lightened to lives of so many of us lovers of life, given life to our feelings of joy, pain, grace, hurt,…. Kudos to the great, and only Ben Decca.

Mory Kante : So long to an Electrifying Griot

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Mory Kante with his kora (Source: RadioKing.com)

I remember dancing to the tunes of “Yé ké yé ké” as a child… I also have fond memories of seeing Mory Kante play his kora, and being amazed by his dexterity, finesse, and charisma. Every note transported me to different horizons. It did not matter that I did not understand his language, I could feel the emotions he conveyed with his voice and kora… it was like magic: one could travel all the way to Guinea and back within the confines of one’s room.

On May 22, 2020, an honorable member of the Griot (Djeli) family, Mory Kante, moved to the land of his ancestors. In reality, he just changed dimensions, and left us with the electricity of his music. Born in 1950 in a small town near Kissidougou in Guinea, Mory Kante came from a long family tradition of griots (Djeli). Both of his parents were griots, his father was from Guinea and his mother from Mali  Mory absorbed the singing of his parents and as a child learned to play the balafon. As a child, his family sent him to Mali to study the kora and other griot traditions. 

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Mory Kante with some of the instruments he played including the balafon, kora, and djembe (Source: Express.co.uk)

Mory Kante is often known as the “electronic griot” because he modernized local traditional instruments such as his kora which he electrified, and fused African music with styles and instruments from Western pop. Kante’s 1987 single “Ye Ke Ye Ke” was a hit, first in Africa and then across Europe. It became the first African single to sell more than a million copies and has been licensed frequently for commercials and film soundtracks. It has even been reworked by other musicians into German techno, Bollywood film music and Chinese Cantopop.

If you ever come across a kora, or listen to Ye Ke Ye Ke remember this great man who modernized the ancient ways to share with us his love of the music of his forefathers. His music has inspired countless singers from the new generation. The New York Times , BBC, and Guardian have written articles about this great man.

Francis Bebey introducing us to the Communication System of Pygmy People

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Francis Bebey

As we saw on Monday, Francis Bebey’s poem ‘Je suis venu chercher du travail’ / ‘I Came to Look for Work’ is the story of many immigrants, living their homes, families, friends and countries, to journey to far-away lands in search of a better living.

More than a writer, Francis Bebey was also a musician. Below is a video where Francis Bebey introduces the viewer to the one-note flute, and the communication system invented by the pygmy peoples of Central Africa to converse with each other using that instrument. As I told you earlier, Francis Bebey headed the music department at the UNESCO‘s office in Paris, where he focused on researching and documenting African traditional music. Enjoy a lesson from the maestro!

 

So Long Manu Dibango: Your Saxophone will Enlighten our Lives

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Manu Dibango (Source: JacarandaFM)

For me, Manu Dibango is like a person with whom I grew up… well because his song “Bienvenu, Welcome to Cameroon” was played on national television endlessly when growing up. It was a special song, and it made everybody know what a beautiful country he came from, and how welcoming the people of that land were. He also had a thunderous and contagious laughter.

Emmanuel N’Djoké Dibango was born in DoualaCameroon, on 12 December 1933. He was an outstanding saxophone and vibraphone player. He was sent early to France for high school. I remember an interview he gave about his first time in Europe. As a kid, he had never seen snow, and he was in such awe of the snow that he wanted his mother back home to see it; so he mailed her some snow… but as you might have guessed, all his mother received was a wet, all dried up, empty envelope! While in France, his studies got derailed by music, as he got introduced to the saxophone and as a results he failed his high school exams (Baccalauréat) to his father’s disappointment. However, this launched him in what became an internationally acclaimed career.

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Flag of Cameroon

In the late 50s and in the 60s, Dibango was a member of the seminal Congolese rumba group African Jazz with the great “Grand Kalle” and recorded many African hits such as “Independence Cha-Cha.” He collaborated with many other musicians, including Fania All StarsFela KutiHerbie HancockBill LaswellBernie WorrellLadysmith Black MambazoKing Sunny AdéDon Cherry, and Sly and Robbie.

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Manu Dibango’s album “Soul Makossa”

His hit song, “Soul Makossa,” came out in 1972, and propelled him to international fame. His fusion of African rhythm and sounds on the saxophone created a sort of fusion that was new, modern, and hip. The song “Soul Makossa” on the record of the same name contains the lyrics “makossa“, which means “(I) dance” in his native tongue Duala language. The song has influenced popular music hits, including Kool and the Gang‘s “Jungle Boogie.” In 1982, Michael Jackson picked up a version of a line that Dibango sang on “Soul Makossa” — which Jackson sang as “mama-se, mama-sa, ma-makossa” — on his song “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ ” from the album Thriller. Dibango sued the American megastar; Jackson settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money. In 2007, Rihanna sampled Jackson‘s version of the “Soul Makossa” line on her song “Don’t Stop the Music,” as Jackson had given her permission, but not Dibango. Two years later, Dibango sued Jackson again, as well as Rihanna in France; that time, his case failed, due to the earlier settlement.

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Manu Dibango’s album “Wakafrica” (Source: Amazon)

In recent years, he collaborated on his album Wakafrika (which I have in my collection) with the then new guard of African singers: Youssou N’dour, Angélique Kidjo, Salif KeïtaPapa Wemba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and King Sunny Adé.

So long to the artist… like Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango has influenced countless singers around the world, and has brought in a new generation of African saxophone players. Your saxophone filled with soulful tunes from Cameroon and Africa, will continue to fill our souls. Enjoy these very good articles on The Guardian and NPR.

Kenyan Music Teacher Makes His own Trombones!

Kenya_flag
Flag of Kenya

Meet Dan Abisi, a Kenyan music teacher who makes his own trombones from scratch. I was moved by his love and passion for music which has made him consider cheaper alternatives such as building his own trombone, and thus making it widely available in Kenya. Given that in Kenya, and probably in many African countries, there are very few shops selling these brass instruments (and they are not cheap!), manufacturing it locally is definitely a winner. I don’t know what it takes to manufacture a musical instrument, but I bet spending hours trying to make it sound right is important. Kudos to Dan Abisi who has been making his own trombones and sharing his love of music and the instrument with local Kenyan children!

Enjoy his interview with the BBC!

Happy Valentine’s Day 2020

A box of Valentine's day chocolate
A box of Valentine’s day chocolate

Given that we talked about Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Joseph Shabalala, I thought it befitting to celebrate this year’s valentine’s day, by introducing you to “Hello My Baby” by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. I particularly love the beginning of the song, the harmony, and the message. When the singer says ‘come along, come along, come along, to kiss me,‘ one can clearly hear the sound of the kisses… amazing! Impressive when you think that this is all done a cappella! So for this Valentine’s day, ring up your baby… and send them those kisses you can hear so loudly in the song … and if there are no Valentine one… send kisses out to the world, plenty of them!

Even though I love the original version better, which I have included here, I have also added the recent re-make Ladysmith Black Mambazo did with the late giant Oliver Mtukudzi which is also outstanding.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Joseph Shabalala

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Ladysmith Black Mambazo with its leader Joseph Shabalala at the center (Source: US.Napster.com)

A few years ago, I had the privilege to attend a concert offered by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. To say that I am a fan is an understatement… I have always danced to the tunes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It was special in so many ways because I saw the entire group including their leader Joseph Shabalala, I heard their harmony which had been part of my life, and I also danced to some South African music (extra, extra bonus)… For those who are not familiar with the group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo is an a capella group of male vocalists founded in the early 1960s by Joseph Shabalala in South Africa. The group fuses indigenous Zulu songs and dances with South African isicathamiya, an a capella tradition that is frequently accompanied by a soft, shuffling style of dance. The name of the group can be broken down as: Ladysmith for the city where they grew up in KwaZulu-NatalSouth Africa; Black for the black oxen who is the strongest animal on the farm; and Mambazo which is Zulu for an axe which represents the ability for the group to cut down competition.

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Poster of the movie Michael Jackson Moonwalker (Wikipedia)

They were introduced to the global stage by Paul Simon with their collaboration on his 1986 Graceland album. They are seen dancing and singing in the last scene of Michael Jackson‘s movie ‘Moonwalker,’ where their entrancing song goes as, “Come and see. The moon is dancing.”  Not to be in awe of their amazing songs, the harmony, their voices, is truly not possible.

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Ladysmith Black Mambazo in a move (Source: Timeslive.co.za)

It is with great sadness that I heard of the passing of the founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Joseph Shabalala. I am just so glad that his legacy, the Ladysmith Black Mambazo, leaves on, and that his voice will still serenade countless people around the globe. Long Live Joseph Shabalala’s legacy! Long Live Ladysmith Black Mambazo!

Quote by Miriam Makeba on the Misrepresentation of Africa in the Media

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Miriam Makeba

People in the United States [the West] still have a ‘Tarzan’ movie view of Africa. That’s because in the movies all you see are jungles and animals . . . We [too] watch television and listen to the radio and go to dances and fall in love.” Miriam Makeba