29 January 2012

Who is afraid of the black man



Some time ago, two years from now, an organization contacts me and asks if I would be interested in participating in a project regarding immigration for primary schools.

Their intention was to produce a cartoon book of almost 100 pages which would talk about immigration “but the true one, because not everybody is a delinquent” says the voice on the telephone. OK, I say but give me a day or two to think about it. I think that producing a comics books of 100 pages or more is a long and hard work, especially for who reads and especially when the reader is in primary school. So what to do? Why not take the culture that is purposely excluded directly into the classes ? Why not take in the classes directly the voice and the music of this culture? But how can one have the children participate actively without have them listen to someone talking? Well, the idea came. I am concentrated and am setting up a completely different project. Initially I need to structure everything just like in a course, a course divided in two parts. In the first part we will talk about the African culture, and specifically of the mandengue culture. In the second part the children will be introduced to the fantastic world of the cartoon and with the acquired techniques they will illustrate the stories that they have listened to. For a total of 12 meetings. The introduction to the projects closed this way: “The course aims at stimulating the knowledge and the interest towards other cultures and at taking children closer to a specific narrative technique close to them like that of the cartoon language. “ Title of the course “Who is afraid of the Black Man”. Happy with it I sent my project via mail.

Time passed and the Province accepts the proposal and more than one year later the same voice on the phone calls me in Feb 2011 to say let’s get going. Well, while I think of how to do it.

I call Sekou and Madya to give them the news and to ask them to meet up to talk about this. While we drink quantities of tea and within a brainstorming situation we find ourselves ready.

First day, introduction with the kids. After the ritual presentations, the exposition of what the course will be, the first words come out slightly uncertain. “Hello . . . we are here to talk to you about the differences, ehm … for example do you know the difference between me and him?” pointing at Sekou who had just put on a pair of glasses.

Children are of course small but not stupid and to say that he is black and I am white is of course not nice. With a stupid smile on my face I carry on “well, I will tell you… he is wearing glasses and I am not” and there goes everyone laughing. OK the ice is broken. We are clear now that they can laugh at us, so they can trust us. Mainly that the differences are not in the colour of the skin but in the ways in which these people of different colours see, built and talk about the world around them.

We had prepared a table made up of musical listening with various stories to tell and small tests. But the children’s curiosity required, like in the best jazz clubs, improvisation and discipline. Madya with his kora would play and sing what Sekou was telling. I would comment here and there on the stories that Sekou would close up with proverbs. Immigration and immigrants were just so distant. We were there instead, present in flesh and blood and in music and stories. Mamma Africa from the geographic map hanging on the wall in the class was smiling.

Our winning horse was a proverb Sekou pulled out of his hat unexpectedly, like magic. A proverb that wanted to show that on this land we are not alone and that we cannot give a damn of who lives close and around us, unless paying the price of remaining alone.
“Who chooses the way of who gives a damn, will find himself in a country of ah if I only knew!”.

I don’t know what translation Sekou used to give a voice to this small wise pearl. The children immediately made this into something applicable to the class and to the whole world. How could one contradict this, they are small that they are not stupid and to understand that we live in a world made up of egoism, hypocrisy and falseness is not that difficult for them either. (*)

We had decided to establish a couple of points to be followed. One was mostly the respect towards oneself just like for the other. Abused rhetoric of course, but with the weapons and the eloquence of the griot this would become fresh running water.

“There are things that one is unable to say without smiling. One of those is your own name. Let’s see if someone wants to try to say his own name without smiling…”.

The most tenacious would not last more than 6 seconds, then they would burst into a laugh.
Others would say their names smiling openly.
“Your name is important, it is an important word, strong, it is a word that will accompany you throughout your lives and it is for this reason that one cannot pronounce it without smiling.”

Like good griots we passed onto the importance of the word.
“What do you think foreigner means?”
“That he is not of our country!”
All together the class proudly replies.

“Well, do you think the word foreigner can be applied only to people or also to things?”
“Also to things!”
“So also things are foreign. Look at your shoes, your t-shirts, you pencils, you bags and find out where they come from.”
“Cina again!”
“Well apparently we are surrounded by a world of foreign things. But thinking about it, are we scared of foreign things? We don’t trust them although we take them with us?”
“nooo” all together even more proudly.
“So why then do we have to be scared of foreign people?”

Looks and satisfied smiles accompany this small little discovery. The discovery of a word that has been abused that has been removed from its usual meaning, it was acquiring a new meaning. Foreigner was loosing it’s aurea of unreliability and consequently of distrust.
A child with his hand up and a little polemic: “but foreigner is also what we don’t know”. Sekou with a big smile says “in fact , we are here so we can get to know each other!”
Score! One – Zero for us!. Ball in the centre.

The kids started to understand that all this was going to take them towards unknown paths, that the game, the joke, the story and the music would have become instruments that would help them out during the trip and that the trip itself would be and instrument of knowledge.
To experiment collectively through playing trying to shed some light on complex matters seemed to be the winning weapon.

Unfortunately it was not this way for the second part of the course. The established meetings had been cut and I found myself cutting and speeding up just on the cartoon lessons. Here we need to specify something. Our intention was to give the children the tools to make up a story, not to teach them how to draw, but how does one imagine a story.

In the few time left, together with the technic things which I had to explain, the framing, the subject, the scenery, the story board ecce cc the issue I cared mostly about was the building of the story, how to put together a series of events and to give them a meaning.

“Observing, questioning yourself and answering yourself. It’s all here. Whatever you look at and that surprises you ask yourselves why. Always.” Looking out of the window and inviting the kids to do so too: “you see? There is a man still on the sidewalk. Ask yourselves why. Why is that man still on the sidewalk? Is he waiting for someone? And who is that someone? What is he gone to do?
“Ask yourselves always why. Write down whatever comes to your mind without a chronological order. Then put in place the various answers and you will have a rough copy of your story on which you can work on. “I would end the lesson by fixing an appointment: “ At six this afternoon, prepare yourselves with the pen and notebook and look out of your windows. “Ask yourselves why. (**)

The children were very happy about the cartoons but they didn’t quite catch the link between the first part of the course. Mainly the collective experience on what they had learned was missing, we had to rush to make up some stories, news stories. We had learned to digest without having eaten and now it was time to chew.

Talking to the children I realized that my enemy was the external language. The mass media information, the cascade of images coming from the tv with its chaotic world and its’ irrationality to deconstruct to be read and then told.

In fact the stories that the children wanted to tell were in some cases very complex and articulated to be solved quickly with the little time we had left.

So the complexity of the stories was such that even an expert would have needed time to find a good way and the right narrative chords that they had figured out. This again explains that the children are small but not stupid. And not only.

The exclusion of the children from the active and participative adult life seemed to be a question of language. True. Once the language was acquired (in this case that of the cartoon), the stories to tell were becoming rich. As if to say that the children had been quite for too long and that now they had to tell the story. Doing this they would enter the adults’ world. Telling it in fact.

Partly is was about re-elaborating stories that we had told in class but updated and readapted with new actors chosen amongst the class and also between us. In fact some of the stories were about Sekou and or Madya trying to solve everyday problems like the staying permit, work and the afar families.

Or also fantastic stories in which Madya would become the inventor of the kora, naming it this way because he fell in love with a girl called Kora, or Sekou and Madya that would become healers and with their songs and stories they would heal a child who was in hospital because he didn’t give a damn about the red light and was hit by a car.

Stories that would tell the friendship that was established between them, white children, Sekou and Madya; the black men. Those children were proud of this friendship and when leaving school in front of their parents they would say goodbye to us with a well evidenced hand. We would watch them leave while they were explaining to mummy or daddy who we were and what we were doing. So : who was afraid of the black man?

Since the beginning of the course I had difficulty feeling at ease in the right place at the right moment. Yes, because to work with children I thought they would not have the capability of understanding fully what we wanted to demonstrate that if there were differences between us those would be jewels and as such should be treated. I didn’t see that the children were concerned about the differences or at least they did not perceive them as such. In fact they understood it was something that belongs to the “adult world” and that it doesn’t concern them at all.
They would perceive themselves as children. They felt children and they identified themselves as children and this was enough. A childish humanity. The distances were mostly between us and them, the adult world and the children’s world. A gap that we tried filling in by taking off our adult mask, trying to give meaning and dignity to the children’s humanity by providing elements of a different culture.
If one could separate within integrity and within the conservation of childrens’ worlds, we could hope for a better world. We have worked with this idea in mind. We have worked so that in the future there will be no need for us.

Marginal thoughts:

(*) the children feel lonely. They are lonely. Children are waiting to learn the rules of an already made up world, not in the process but already made, a world that will reach them too late, when they will not be children enough to change it.

(**) during one of these lessons a little girl tells me that she cannot make up stories, that she cannot imagine them, that nothing comes to her mind. The little girl had two big eyes framed inside an adult expression, her serious and direct look does not miss the confrontation. I think to myself that it is not nice that a 9 years old baby has such a look in her face. The look of who has and will not have surprises in this world. No, it’s not fair. I am very emotional and I ask her to wait till the end of the lesson. Then we can talk about it. When the lessons was over I ask her “what do you think . . . . can we have an idea for a story now”. “Yes now we can”.

A heartfelt thanks to:

Franci for the photos
Daniela who is wonderful teacher but she doesn’t know;
Sekou Diabate and Madya Diebate without whom this project could not have been possible’
And to all the kids we have met and to all that they have taught us.

Project implemented in the schools listed below:

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18 May 2011

Orlando Julius, Seun and Nigerian Elections

LISTEN: (Look at "Listen Tracks")

Nigeria is a place full of people and goods, of heroes and bandits, of spirits and soldiers, of drums and music. While I write, also half of my heart is there.

This time again the elections in Nigeria have not been easy. All Nigerians know that the day of the elections, gangs start gathering, there is tension in the souls and someone might even die. For this reason everybody closes themselves inside their homes. But Saturday 16 April it was decided to go numerous to tick the cross, twice the people compared to the usual times, so the outsider Jonathan Goodluck won, with his funny hat.

“Good luck, Mr. Goodluck…” the young people and students from the south wish him. To rule Nigeria is a tough job, but young Goodluck is not like his father, although the old and dangerous rival, general Buhari pushed on him the anger of the people from the north, where violence is killing people. Goodluck’s followers answer but nobody should say it is a war between Christians and muslims.

“It would be nice for us” sings an old funky of Afro Sounders of Orlando Julius Ekemode, another godfather of afro-soul. Everyone thought he had disappeared since the times of Asiko, the dance bomb composed by young OJ in the Boys Doin’it of Hugh Masekela. Today he lives in California, but the afrobeat long wave is bringing him back high, and our friend Frank “Voodoo Funk” Gossner has found him and published him in a dated recording made by ARC Studio on 24 tracks by Ginger Baker in Lagos.

Take it, the record I mean. Intoxicated music, repetitive and hypnotic. There was the talking drum of Ayan Ayan, the farfisa organ and Moses Akambi on drum, and who said that Tony Allen was number one? I say this with respect, big brother.

Those were the early seventies, Nigeria was the light of its revolutionary infective music and the shadow of its inflated petrol-dollars presidents, Obasanjo and Buhari. During the nineties there was Abacha, the assassin of Ken Saro Wiwa and of thousands of other Nigerians.

He was an Ogoni of the Delta of Niger, Ken Saro Wiwa. “Excellence, my salary is miserable”. “Don’t accumulate goods on earth”. “Excellence I have a family to sustain”. “Thank God he gave you one”. Excellence, during the last six month I was not paid a salary”. “ You are only paying the unlucky consequences of our poor country”. “Excellence, in Church people were well paid and received their salaries regularly”. Said Daniel while watching the shiny car that was attracting everybody’s attention in the village. Daniel is one of the simple people of the stories of Saro Wiwa in the Forest of Flowers.

He was hung. His battle today is fought by MEND, Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta, a conscious fighting group of ljaw ethnic, the same as Jonathan Goodluck. What is a ljaw doing as president in Nigeria? That Government has always taken money from Chevron and our ENI and Shell to keep the ljaw quiet, to leave them in their stinky petrol marshes while hell’s gas fire is burning the sky. Is the sky turning up side down? Two days after the elections MEND declared that they would defend Johnathan Ebele Goodluck’s mandate.

Goodluck was a harmless naturalist. He took care of plants and tropical fish, when the governor of Bayelsa State called him to become his vice. It was 1999. But what story is this? Listen to it carefully because it is unbelievable. The Governor died, and he happened to take his place without looking for it. In 2008 Omaru Yar’Adua, new Nigeria’s president, called him to be his vice. Why … it is not easy to understand, Yar’Adua was Hausa and came after Obasanjo, who was Yoruba. In Nigeria since independence there is a succession of one Hausa president, then one Yoruba, then a Hausa. Well, I bet that you already know but don’t dare say it. Yes, even Yar’Adua died and Goodluck found himself president of the entire Nigerian giant without looking for it. It was May 2010, a little less than one year ago. He was practically unknown as politician and at international level everyone would ask themselves: but who is Jonathan Goodluck?

Also in Anikulapo Kuti’s family everyone was asking themselves this as it was the first time that Nigeria had a president who in the past had not persecuted Fela, who died before Goodluck entered politics. By the way it has nothing to do with it, during those days the afro american musical on Fela Kuti’s life is programmed at the Shrine of Lagos. Shit, it would be nice to be at the Shrine, with Postivie Force and all the rest.

Last record of Seun Kuti, From Africa with Fury: Rise has not even one peace dedicated to Goodluck. But there is a track indirectly dedicated to general Buhari, it is called African Soldier. Right, but what is happening in Nigeria? It is the first time that it has a president who is not a soldier. There is also Big Thief, but it doesn’t seem for him. It is about petrol and corruption and for Goodluck it is too early. Not Mr. Big Thief, it is still for Obasanjo and all politicians who shared the goods of the Nigerian for 50 years.

“Our ears are full of your words, but our bellies are still empty”. The front cover is by Ghariokwu Lemi, who used to draw for Fela.The music seems to go beyond Many Things, it has developed into an acid and modern orgy of Fire Dance, at the time arranged by Godwin Logie, here again present amongst producers like John Reynolds and Brian Eno. Already Brian Eno, who plays also, finally achieves his unforgotten dream since the times of Afrodisiac; to play with Egypt 80. You can hear Eno, the groove of the old Nigerian orchestra lines up as a human gear with invisible schizophrenia just like the time of the bush of ghosts with Byrne.

Since May 2010 Goodluck has done new things. He enrolled into Facebook like Obama, and started writing his ideas and asking citizens not to be afraid to criticize and to propose. Me too I am one of his fans, even if initially I had to overcome the trauma of clicking on “I like” for a Nigerian president. I was encouraged by the presence of friends like Comb & Razor and Latoya Ekemode.

He declared that after one year he would hold the elections and he did it. He won, two thirds of the states with almost twice the votes of Buhari! His rival, who was convinced that it would have been his turn because it was the Hausa’s turn. He immediately denounced fraud. But how could Goodluck manage to place 10 million voting cards under the nose of the international observers?

The journalist Ken Wiwa – the name reminds us of someone? He is the son, lives in Toronto and writes for Globe and Mail and supports Goodluck – he sais interesting things about him. “ We are used to the military style of the distant and hard presidents. Many people are also afraid of going close to him. He (Goodluck) is trying to cancel all this, to show that he is not an autocrat. We are demystifying the president, we are cancelling his cult. He is a shy man and kind and found himself in a position which he would never had thought to reach, but I am watching him grow and grow. Nigeria is a collective compromise, people need a President who puts them at ease. The ethnic tensions are not so deeply rooted, we need someone who simply listens”.

Now Goodluck calls Nigeria to the border of the abyss to unity with simple words. “In Nigeria there are only two kinds of people, the good and the bad, and not those from north and from south”. This says something to me, and also to many Nigerians who look at him with faith, with hope for not having to think back, for not having to find themselves sold to oyimbo, to the white men.


Listen Tracks:
1. Yio Si Da Miliki Beat (OJ)
2. Aseni (OJ)
3. Slave Masters (Seun)
4. Rise (Seun)

Author: Orlando Julius and the Afro Sounders
Title: Orlando Julius and the Afro Sounders
Year: 2011
Label: Voodoo Funk

Author: Seun Kuti & Egypt 80
Title: From Africa with Frury: Rise
Year: 2011
Label: Because Music

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23 April 2011

Tabu Ley Rochereau - The Voice of Lightness 1 & 2

LISTEN (Look at "Listent Tracks")

Lagos, 1977. It is the year of the second international festival of African Arts and Culture, great event to which artists coming from all Africa and from the African world diaspora, took part. On the festivals’ stage hundreds of musicians like Miriam Makeba, les Ballets Africains, Osibisa, King Sunny Ade, Bembeya Jazz, TP Orchestre Polyrythmo, Steve Wonder, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Donald Byrd e Sun Ra Arkestra.

Zaire – todays’ Democratic Republic of Congo – was represented by Orchestra National du Zaire, wanted by president Mobutu Sese Seko and set up for the occasion by the band-leader, singer and composer Tabu Ley Rochereau starting from the well known rumba orchestra Afrisa International, with the participation of some singers from the group Zaiko Langa-Langa and the same ballets corps of Leyettes.

The moment Tabu Ley held the microphone and started singing, a persisting Lagos soukouss enthusiasm exploded. The public did not want them to leave and the Zaire orchestra’s performance lasted longer than expected, while women and men were wildly dancing on stage. This show impressed deeply the spectators and the Festival organizers like the Nigerian President Obasanjo who asked Tabu Ley to have another concert at the Governments house, to entertain a public made up of ministries, business men, dignitaries and foreign famous guests.


Tabu Ley Rochereau, the only one in his country able to compete with the Congolese rumba of Franco Luambo, winner of Festac 77, at the time in which his Afrisa International were in the best of their shape and success. But let us go back to the beginning of the story, which we will here tell as Sterns has just published the second volume in two CDs of a splendid monograph dedicated to Tabu Ley entitled The Voice of Lightness. What better occasion to go through the life and the music of this extraordinary Congolese artist, protagonist of a period so enthusiast, like the one immediately after independence.

Pascal Emmanuel Sinamoyi Tabou born in 1940 at Banningville, at the time Belgian Congo, but transferred with his family to the capital, Léopoldville when he was still a child. His father, hoping he would become a priest, sent him to study in a catholic institute, when soon he entered the chorus as singer. Pascal was good in school, and his knowledge of European history named him Rochereau, one of the French heroes during the Franco-Prussian war.

At sixteen Rochereau proposed some compositions to Joseph Kabsele, known as Grand Kallè, leader of African Jazz. The turn of his life happened two years later, in 1958. In the meantime he became singer of the group Rock-a-Mambo, but Kabesele decided to insert him in his band, which at the time was the most important rumba orchestra in Leopoldville.

African Jazz

The young guy took part in the African Jazz for five years, close to artists whom would have made the African history like the guitar player Nicolas Kasanda, who then became known as Dr. Nico, and the Cameroonese saxophone player Manu Dibango. His talent was not limited only singing, but also included the compositions and arrangements. Many of the songs written by him became the bands’ successes, but Rochereau was hardly given the role of solo singer. When this would happen the public would be astonished, caressed by the unmistakable melodic and warm voice. The mix of the vocals of Kabasele’s band soon became one of the Congolese capitals’ sweetness, and thanks to them the young Tabu Ley became a star.

The Voice of Lightness vol. 1 begins with those precious songs composed by Rochereau – Kelya, K.J: and Succès African Jazz – sang together with Grand Kallè, with Manu Dibango on sax and Dr. Nico Kasanda on guitar. Delicacy and elegance of those melodies and arrangements were since the beginning the distinctive characteristics of Rochereau’s sound, well distinct from the energy, raw and desecrating of the Ok Jazz of Franco.

In addition to the music, Gran Kallè – the father of Congolese rumba – was an intellectual and charismatic leader. He was known for his involvement in the war for liberation, as follower of Patrice Lumumba, the first Congolese president made free. He also participated together with Congolese and Belgian politicians to the encounters which took place in Brussels in 1960, where independence was agreed to be established on 30 June of the same year. The famous song Independence Cha Cha was composed for this occasion.

Joseph Kabaselé "Gran Kallé"

t was due to his political explicit deployment that the assassination of Lumumba – in January 1961, few months after his election – pushed Gran Kallè in the position of political dissident towards the new ruling class – amongst whom Tshombè, Kasavubu, Ileo and Mobutu – and soon provoked the splitting up of African Jazz. The end of the historical orchestra happened in 1963 and coincided with the birth of a new band lead by Rochereau, the African Fiesta, where guitar players like Nico Kassanda and Dechaud Mwanba, the singer Roger Izeidi, the trumpet player Willy Kuntima and drum player Depuissant Kaya all participated, all coming from the African Jazz.

The African Fiesta was a wonderful union of "Seigneur" Rochereau and of "Docteur Nico", considered by everyone, then just like today, one of the greatest master of modern Congolese guitar. Two personalities which were too strong and ambitious for one single band, for this reason this combination didn’t last more than two years. After the separation, Dr. Nico nominated his new band African Fiesta Sukisa, while Rochereau called African Fiesta 66, later became National.

It was difficult to replace the melodic guitar of Kasandra but Tabu Ley’s art was growing together with his fame and Congolese talents were competing to play with him. The rumba was evolving in the footsteps of Ok Jazz and Fiesta of Rochereau. In 1967 the Fiesta National represented Congo at the Expo of Montreal. Upon his return, the band enlarged, strengthening the winds section and hiring Seskain Molenga as full time drum player. Soukouss – a changed word which comes from English word shake – was growing. Tabu Ley started recording songs that would last two sides of a 45, of which half song was a sebene – solo – on guitar introducing a change in rhythm to start the dances.An example of this new way of arranging rumba was represented by the song Mokitani ya Wendo. It was not Rochereau who invented soukouss, but he was certainly on the most enthusiastic interprets.

doctor Nico Kasanda

At the beginning of the 70ies, after the end of the civil war, Congo was living one of its most florid periods, both economically and culturally. Hundreds of rumba bands were crowding up the Kinshasa nights – the name give to Leopoldville by Mobutu – playing in bars where beer was served. Rochereau was a known star, he had various night clubs and a local discography label which produced young artists – amongst which the young band of Zaiko Langa-Langa, and he would often go play in Europe and USA.

In 1972, Mobutu changed the name of Congo to Zaire, and asked his compatriots to find themselves an African name. Rochereau made himself be called Tabu Ley, and renamed also his band, which at the time was Afrisa International. Success seemed never ending, and the competition with Franco became a game of continuous fugues and chases.

During the first half of the 70ies, the musicians who passed from Afisa International of Tabu Ley – some who were coming from or going to become Ok Jazz – were many, and the line-up of the orchestra was always changing. We must remember amongst those guitar player Lokossa Ya Mbongo, Dino Vangu, Bopol Mansiamina, Dizzy Madjeku and Michelino Mavatiku Visi, and the sax players Empompo Loway and Moder Mekanisi, the last one became director of the orchestra Afrisa starting in 1975. Mbanda Nayei was a model acoustic song of those years, where the mixing of the guitar of Michelino and the sax of Mekanisi brings music to become abstract, a level of perfection difficult to reach by other rumba ensembles.

In 1974 Afrisa played in the occasion of Rumble in the Jungle, the great concert that accompanied the meeting for the world title of heavy weight between Cassius Clay and George Foreman in Kinshasa. The other musicians who showed in this occasion were Franco, Zaiko Langa Langa, Miriam Makeba, Celia Cruz with Fania All Stars, B.B. King and James Brown. In 1977 arrived the success of the Festac of Lagos.

One of the songs that was played at Festac was Likambo ya Mokanda, with it’s powerful sound supported by the crazy riffs and winds by an unusual rhythms, almost afrobeat, played to homage Fela Kuti. The songs starts like a hymn to African unity and continues telling the story of a letter that was by mistake given to the wrong recipient, revealing a secret and giving scandal.

The listeners interpret it as a political allegory. Another song played at the Festac was Ekeseni, that in the Voice of Lightness is played in an original and acoustic version, with the fantastic guitars of Mandjeku and Mbongo and the sax of Mekenisi.

Afisa were in best shape, Tabu Ley would compose fluidly without comparison and would arrange his songs naturally. Rumba has taken an exotic taste of the origins together with it’s Cuban characteristics and had then become absolutely Congolese music, taking inspiration not only from the Latin rhythms and harmonies, but also from highlife, funk and traditional rhythms. Mere Ando – for example – proposes a traditional rhythm in 6/8 of the ethnic belonging to the region of low Congo.

Tabu Ley was shining while Mobutu’s Zaire’s was turning off. At the end of the 70ies the economic crisis was serious and the local disco production disappeared. But Afrisa were one of the shining stars of the African firmament and it could not leave without leaving behind an imprint on vinyl. During those years he recorded in Abidjan, Leopoldville and also in Cotonou. Sonodisc in France refused to produce him because he was not enough African and to help him an independent American label arrived, the Makossa.

It was in those difficult economically more than artistically years that Ley knew and launched the lady who would then be defined as one the great African music divas, who at that time was a dancer and chorus singer of 22 years: Mbilia Bel Dalla. Her first appearance with Afrisa, Bel was the star of the show, while her first song in duet with Tabu Ley obtained the first place in the top hits of the four countries.

Thanks to the success obtained with Mbilia Bel, Tabu Ley managed to sign off a contract with a label from Paris which worked together with the patronage of Sonodisc, Genidia with which the Afrisa recorded with for many years. In the same period also Franco and OK Jazz were in Paris, and it was then that a project was born between them, a project that nobody would hope for and which sounded rather incredible. Franco and Tabu Ley the two rivals would join to play together. Lisanga ya Banganga – healers Associations – the name of the group, which saw also Michelino on solo guitar, recorded four albums for a total of six LPs.

On 11 February of 1983 died in Kinshasa at the age of 53, Joseph Gan Kallè Kabaselè, master of Tabu Ley and father of modern Congolese rumba. Franco and Tabu Ley’s Lisanga recorded at the time Kabasele in Memoriam. “He never told us he was sick” cries Franco “If we would have known we would have left that place to be close to him.” “How will I ever pay back my debt to him?” echoes Tabu Ley “My tears will never be enough”.

Franco & Tabu Ley

Soon, the World Music phenomena exploded and together with it the interest of European and American listeners for African music. Tabu Ley was on tour in the US together with Afrisa and Mbilia Bel when the Shanacie proposed to publish his music. Soon after Bel gave birth to his daughter and Tabu Ley divorced from his wife Sarah. Afrisa’s show made of music and sensual dances charmed the whole world and gave Congolese soukouss the image of seducing and sensual music which is still today associated to.

Tabu Ley returned to Zaire. Until the fall of Mobutu, which was in 1997. Contrary to Franco’s ambivalence, he was always more explicitly distant from Mobutu’s politics, especially in the darkest moments of his tyranny and until his end. He felt exiled and in 1993 he published the album Exil-Ley where we find his political songs. Amongst those Le Glas a Sonnè, where Tabu Ley nominates one by one the Congolese politics and musicians from Patrice Lumumba to Joseph Kabsele from Franco Luambo to Moise Tsombe but he avoids mentioning the tyran Mobutu. In the song he expresses his disappointment for the lost occasion of the African leaders, once freed by the European tyranny, instead of serving Africa they fought against each other. This was happening in Congo and not only.

After Exil-Ley Tabu Ley has continued producing records professionally but without the energy of his best years. He returned to Kinshasa to rebuild the new Democratic Republic of Congo. He was parliamentarian, vice governor of Kinshasa and minister. In 2008 an ictus and a year of cures had definitely forced him to leave the scene and had signed the end of his public history.

We have said, Tabu Ley Rochereau was the only Congolese artist that had the courage to compete with the Giant Franco Luambo and his TPOK Jazz. If Franco was the one who best represented the heart and feelings of the Congolese people, Tabu Ley was the most creative amongst the composers and the most elegant to arrange music. If Franco was loved because of his absurd stories and satirical lyrics, funny and allusive, Tabu Ley inflamed the international music scene with his extraordinary show with his ballets and his orchestra.

But the comparison between the two giants of the Congolese rumba is a game that does not need to obscure the greatness of both of the artists and the role they played in rebuilding a Congolese independent identity. Both are part of the history of contemporary Africa and also for this reason, not only for their art, they deserve being listened and celebrated.

LISTEN Tracks:
1. Keliya (African Jazz, 1962)
2. Tabalissimo /African Fiesta 1965)
3. Lily Mwana ya Quartier (African Fiesta 66, 1966)
4. Mokitani ya Wendo (African Fiesta National, 1968)
5. Mbanda Nayei (Afrisa International, 1975)
6. Likambo ya Mokanda (Orchestra National du Zaire, 1977)
7. Ekeseni (Afrisa International, 1977)
8. Mère Ando (Afrisa International, 1978)
9. Monsieur Malonga (Afrisa International, 1982)
10. Kabasele in Memoriam (con Franco, Lisanga ya Banganga, 1983)
11. Loyenghe(Afrisa international, 1884)
12. Le Glass a Sonné (Afrisa International, 1993)

Author: Tabu Ley Rochereau
Title: The Voice of Lightness
Year: 2007
Label: Sterns

1. Kelya
2. K.J.
3. Succès African Jazz
4. Pesa Le Tout
5. Nalembi Nalembi
6. N'daya paradis
7. Tabalissimo
8. Mama Ida
9. Mireille Mwana
10. Mokolo Nakokufa
11. Savon Omo
12. Lily Mwana Ya Quartier
13. Kasala
14. Monano
15. Ana Mokoy
16. Mokitani Ya Wendo
17. Christine
18. Songo+Songo = Songi-Songi

1. Aon Aon
2. Kimakango Mpe Libala
3. Mongali
4. Omanga
5. Nzale
6. Kaful Mayay
7. Karibou Ya Bintou
8. Mbanda Nayei
9. Adeito (1 & 2)
10. Yombe
11. Likambo Ya Mokanda

Author: Tabu Ley Rochereau
Title: The Voice of Lightness Vol. 2
Year: 2010
Label: Sterns


1. Ekseni
2. Mere ando
3. Ponce pilate
4. Monument
5. Ohambe
6. Ma nono
7. Tanga tanga
8. Monsieur malonga

1. Kabasele in memoriam
2. Lisanga ya banganga
3. Michelle marina
4. Loyenghe
5. Sarah
6. Tu as dit que ...
7. Sacramento
8. Exil-ley
9. Le glas a sonne

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08 March 2011

Ivory Coast Soul

LISTEN: (Look at "Listen Tracks")

The situation in Ivory Coast is terribly nervous. On 28 November of last year, the opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, originating from Burkina Faso and of dioula ethnic, won the presidential elections but the ex president Laurent Gbabgo, of bête ethnic, said that this was the result of serious electoral frauds that took place in the north, where the minority of the ethnics - malinke, mossi, dioula, senoufo – predominate. This is why Gbagbo asked the intervention of the Constitutional Counsel, to him favorable, which considered illegal the elections in several northern regions, and has sanctioned Gbagbo’s victory with 51% of votes.

Since then the tension in the country has reached very high peaks. The rebels in the north and all Ouattara’s sustainers will not give up and the protest is loud but the army controlled by Gbagbo maintains control of the situation suing if necessary it’s power. Hundreds of deaths caused by the military repression. Thousands of Ivorians are leaving the country to seek refuge in Liberia while Youssoufou Bamba, the new UN ambassador, nominated by Ouattara but not recognized by Gbagbo, announced to the Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki.Moon that “Ivory Coast is close to the border of genocide. The situation is very serious. The homes have been marked based on the tribal belonging. What will happen next? Something needs to be done”.

In reality the regional and ethnic tension in Ivory Coast are present since end of the 80ies, when the politics of Fèlix Houphouet-Boigny ended, he was baoulè, the main ethnic group of the country. In mid 90ies, the ethnic differences became the main cause of internal tensions, following the institution of discriminatory laws based on the concept of “ivorianity”, established by the second president Bediè – also baoulè. It is curious that Bediè promoter of those laws that in the past excluded Ouattara from the possibility of presenting himself for the elections is now in favor of Ouattara, in the name of the common participation to the first government Boigny, and has actually made him win.

What will happen in Ivory Coast? Gbagbo will accept to leave power to Ouattara, like the international community is asking? In the hope that the situation that could explode into a civil war will instead find a right and peaceful solution, we present here Ivory Coast Soul, a fantastic collection of Ivorian soul-funk recorded in the 70ies, while the music industry in Abidjan was in Africa second only to that of Lagos.

At that time Ivory Coast’s economy was doing well thanks mostly to the production and exportation of cacao – of which the country is the first producer world wide – coffee, ananas, cotton, sugar, caucciu and palm oil. Boigny’s government worried about favoring the economic boom, for example ensuring adequate prices to farmers of their own products. Abidjan, although being the capital it is also the biggest and important city of the country which counts 7 million people, became during the 70ies the center of music production in the French speaking Africa, thanks to the presence of labels like SID, Safie Deen, Sacodisc, Badmos and many others.

Many musicians transferred to Abidjan to produce their records and staying there for some years or moving from their country to Abidjan every day. We will remember Mory Kante and Manfila Kante from Guinea, Laba Sosseh from Senegal, Sam Mangwana and Tshala Muana from Congo, Amadou Ballakde from Burkina Faso, Salif Keita, Sory Bamba and Boncana Maiga from Mali, Manu Dibango from Cameroon. At the same time Ivorian musicians had developed their music from local rhythms, mainly bête, giving birth to genres like Ziglibithy, whose most famous interpret is Ernest Djedjè.

The richness of foreign presence on the Ivorian music scene has somehow blocked the development of local genres, favoring instead the diffusion – and also excessively influence – of Congolese soukouss and zouk from the Antilles, which arrived during the 90ies first in Paris and then in French speaking Africa. Today the landscape of the mixed dance music, Ivorian genres like Zouglou and the Coupè Decalè are stars of international level. Parallel to the dancing genres, Ivory Coast also become the center of African reggae, thanks to artists like Alpha Blondy and Tiken Jah Fakoly.

In the space of Lagos Disco Inferno, Ivory Coast Soul is a selection of songs from DJ and collector Dijamel Hammadi, aka Afrobraziliero and is concentrated over the decade 72 – 82 choosing funky and disco pushy sounds which can be appreciated also by who doesn’t know African music. The Ivorian and African origin of this music is highlighted mainly for the use of the language and local idioms and for the influence of Nigerian afro beat.

The cover notes talk about the difficulty in finding vinyl in an unstable country. “12 beautiful and dangerous trips throughout Ivory Coast, dealing with political unstableness, deep economic crisis, malaria, police road blocks and fear of scorpions each time that I was searching through old vinyl”. Very appreciated, the songs are all licensed and each one has it’s original cover and some notes from the artist, which is very important seeing that the majority of the artists are unknown and have not left traces on the net.

With it’s light personality Ivory Coast Soul represents somehow the soul of a nation born without unitary ethnic and cultural basis – seeing the presence of numerous ethnics without any prevailing over the other – and subject to further un-personalization while the economic boom became the aim of the migratory fluxes for citizens coming for all over west Africa.

In his music we recognize not only funky and afro beat but also afar echoes of Ghanaian highlife, mande-dance from Mali and Guinea, mbalax from Senegal, Zaire rumba and makossa from Cameroon. Due to this, listening to Ivory Coast Soul seems also like a nice way to fly over Africa in the beginning of this new year, a useful act to remember to keep the attention over what is happening down in Ivory Coast, over people who believe to be more split than they really are, run into and for which we hope they don’t find themselves united in a civil war and violence.

Listen Tracks:
1. Okoi Seka Athanase - Melokon Mebun Ou
2. Ernesto Djedje - Zadie Bobo
3. Moussa Doumbia - Unite

Author: AAVV
Title: Ivory Coast Soul
Year: 2010
Label: Hotcasa Records

1. Pierre Antoine - Kalabuley women
2. Okoi Seka Athanase - Melokon Mebun Ou
3. Jimmy Hiacynthe - Yatchiminou
4. Santa Nguessan - Manny Nia
5. Gougoumangou - Wazi Doble
6. Ernesto Djedje - Zadie Bobo
7. K Assale - Adoue Pla Moussoue
8. Moussa Doumbia - Unite
9. Soro N Gana - Mon Falou Nan
10. Jean Guehi - Essemon Moupoh
11. Prince Dgibs - Ogningwe
12. Ali Ibrahim - La Ilaha Illalahou
13. Rato Venance - True Love

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22 February 2011

Collins Oke Elaiho & His Odoligie Nobles

LISTEN: (Look at "Listen Tracks")

Our exploration of Bini music from Nigeria continues, but this time purchased close to home, in one of the numerous African stores hiding in the folds of our periphery, external to the capital.

There are many good reasons to write about Edo – or Bini – music, most important is because the Edo community is one of the most numerous represented amongst the Africans residing in Italy.

The second reason is due to the Benin Empire and it’s ancient civilization, the most complex and refined of the whole African continent, but at the same time about it’s history, richness and traditional culture there is little information found outside the specialized circuits. One of the reasons for Bini culture for being not known beyond the borders of the Edo State is due to the small dimensions of it’s diaspora, due to the fact that during the centuries the Benin Empire acted actively in order to limit the sale to the close Portuguese populations of it’s own people as slaves, and subsequently their transfer to a new world. It in fact seems that the physical markers; Iwu, who sign off the Bini ethny was represented by cuts on the faces and bodies, was instituted by Oba Ehengbuda – king warrior of Edo who lived in the XVI century – also with the aim of making the Bini recognizable to the slave merchants, so they knew what danger they were facing by buying them. The empire’s army and the population were encouraged to favor and organize the liberation of the Bini slaves who were still in African lands.

il re del Benin

The Oba of Benin - print '800

But this and other ancient stories will be subject to further and future in depth writings. Here we only want to simply share fragments of music of one of the great Nigerian musicians of Bini ethnic who contributed to the extraordinary musical highlife scene during the 70ies, which was the period of African cultures and history which we will never celebrate enough. The musician is called Collins Oke Elaiho & His Odoligie Nobles.

The geographic position of Edo State – exactly halfway between Lagos and the great Yoruba cities west of the Delta of Niger, where the Igbo influence begins – allows their modern music to space into their traditional musical forms represented by long suites for voices and percussions, the highlife sonorities mixed together with the urban Lagos music, from juju to afro beat.

The genius of the modern Bini music is Sir Victor Uwaifo, who created an extraordinary synthesis between highlife, afro beat and traditional Edo rhythms which he called Ekassa. Thanks to his music today we have an idea, although vague, of the courts’ rhythms that were played during the imperial festivities starting from the palace of the Oba up to Benin City, and by the vocal compositions which told stories of people and explained a correct way of living, organized by a big tolerance around ancient harmonies.

About Collins Oke – one of his tracks is contained inside the first compilation of the Nigeria Special series by Soundway – we know he was a Bini star since the beginning of the 70ies, just soon after Victor Uwaifo, with whom he competed for art and fame. Uwaifo’s fans would say that Oke copied his Ekassa Sound, but notwithstanding the similarities it seems to us that Odoligie Nobles had all the numbers to propose brilliant music which was also originally played.

Collins Oke Elaiho

Two of Collins Oke’s records happened to end up in our hands. Produced by Supreme Disk of Benin City they are both of the beginning of the 80ies period. Yabomwen (originally Ekimogun Sounds, EKLP 138) is dated 82, while Oke’ 83 (SDP 044) dates the following year. In both those albums the line up is of the Nobles and it is the classic of the highlife band, made up of two guitars, bass, drums, two or three percussions and a wind section made up of saxophone, trumpet and naturally the solo voice of Oke and the choir.

But Oke’s sound cannot be defined highlife, notwithstanding its influence which is present is the light melodies of the guitar and the trumpet solos, which has always been the queen instrument of this genre both in Nigeria and Ghana. The grove that comes out is acid, due to the rough digitalization low-fi of the old vinyl, schizophrenic and exalted, a sort of afro beat dominated by the two guitar lines – the rhythmic and the tenor guitar– and by the voices of the high and uncertain registries of Oke, a sort of Nigerian Byrne – concentrated on the fascinating laments of a language full of vocals and sweet consonants slightly accented.

Those who know more than superficially Nigerian music can discover that Oke’s music is an original mix of the many musical trends of the country at that time, with its funk marked accents and a strong Bini imprint, especially in the singing and lyrics. For those who cannot distinguish the ingredients, the dirty music of the Nobles can sound anyway stimulating and the songs we propose here can be listened like a story, of people and of a past time but certainly not gone, as demonstrated by the fact that this music is sold and listened to by adults and young Nigerians today.

Listen Tracks
1. Yabomwen
2. Oubiobu
3. Odo-Oruyi
4. Nomiemila

Author: Collins Oke & His Odoligie Nobles
Title: Yabomwen
Year: 1982
Label: Ekimogun Sounds

1. Ken
2. Yabomwen
3. Eguo
4. Oubiobu
5. Omonomose

Author: Collins Oke-Elaiho
Title: Oke '83
Year: 1983
Label: Supreme Disk

1. Oririmu
2. Ubonakere
3. Odo-Oruyi
4. Nomiemila

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