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 MaliMory 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.
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.
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!
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 Douala, Cameroon, 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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: Ladysmithfor the city where they grew up in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa; Blackfor the black oxen who is the strongest animal on the farm; and Mambazowhich is Zulu for an axe which represents the ability for the group to cut down competition.
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.
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!
“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
Today, Oliver Mtukudzi, one of Zimbabwe’s most renowned musicians, has changed his plane of existence. He passed away to join his ancestors, after over a four-decade career. He, like Bra Hugh, Hugh Masekela, was a giant of African music, particularly Afro-Jazz. Just like Bra Hugh, he passed away on the same day, a year later.
To his fans he was affectionately known as Tuku. With his deep voice, he came to prominence in the 1970s as one of the voices of the revolution fighting white-minority rule.
The singer and guitarist mixed several different styles to create his own distinctive Afro-jazz sound, known to his fans as “Tuku Music“.
In 2018, Mtukudzi spoke to Eyewitness News about why he chose to stay in the music business: “My music is about touching the hearts… never mind how old. If a baby is born today, she/he must be able to relate to my music.”
I live you here with one of my favorite from Tuku: Neria.
I recently heard about a speech of Emperor Haile Selassie I incorporated into a song by none other than the great Sir Bob Marley. I was astonished as, somehow in my ‘young’ mind, I had thought it a new occurrence with the likes of Beyoncé who incorporated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s speech into her song. In this song, WAR, Bob Marley adapted the speech given by Emperor Haile Selassie I at the United Nations. It is deep, and it is revolutionary. So today when you see other singers doing it, know that Sir Marley had done it before them.
Here is the part of Haile Selassie’s speech put to music by Marley in his original song “War” (Bob Marley slightly modified the original words, changing each “that until” to “until” and added the word “war” several times):
That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.– Haile Selassie I
Here are the lyrics from the Bob Marley and the Wailers on the album Rastaman Vibration:
Until the philosophy which hold one race superior / And another / Inferior / Is finally / And permanently / Discredited / And abandoned / -Everywhere is war – / Me say war.
That until there no longer / First class and second class citizens of any nation / Until the colour of a man’s skin / Is of no more significance / than the colour of his eyes / – Me say war.
That until the basic human rights / Are equally guaranteed to all, / Without regard to race / – Dis a war.
That until that day / The dream of lasting peace, / World citizenship / Rule of international morality / Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, / But never attained / – Now everywhere is war – / War.
And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes / that hold our brothers in Angola, / In Mozambique, / South Africa / Sub-human bondage / Have been toppled, / Utterly destroyed / – Well, everywhere is war – / Me say war.
War in the east, / War in the west, / War up north, / War down south – / War – war – / Rumours of war. / And until that day, / The African continent / Will not know peace, / We Africans will fight – we find it necessary / – And we know we shall win / As we are confident / In the victory
Of good over evil -/ Good over evil, yeah! / Good over evil – / Good over evil, yeah! / Good over evil – / Good over evil, yeah!
Emperor Selassie I gave the “War” speech on October 4, 1963, calling for world peace at the 1963U.N. Conference in New York City. This historical speech was spoken a few weeks after the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded in the Ethiopian capital city Addis Ababa where Selassie chaired a summit meeting gathering almost every African head of state (The King of Morocco had declined the invitation).
This U.N. speech resounded even louder as Haile Selassie I had made a name for himself on the international scene in 1936, when he spoke at The League of Nations in Geneva. It was there that Selassie warned the world that if member state Ethiopia was not militarily supported by other member states to fight the fascist Italian invasion of his country then taking place, as the League of Nations statute guaranteed, the League would then cease to exist as a matter of fact and the rest of the member states were to suffer the same fate as his country. Three years later World War II broke out. This visionary speech granted Selassie much respect around the world, eventually leading to British military support, which helped freeing his country in 1941. Addressing the world again in 1963, Selassie’s words bore full weight. In picking this utterance for lyrics, Bob Marley thus projected two dimensions of the Ethiopian Emperor: the head of state as well as the Living God Rastafarians see with him.
Sadly today many developing countries feel that the UN, the descendant of the League of Nations, is a puppet organization, an instrument used by developed countries to bully, and plunder developing countries. So Selassie’s speech and Marley’s song still ring true today!