Travel in music: Chapter 2 - 1973-76, D.R. Congo
2020, the world is in confinement because of a corona virus. I have used this time to reminisce on my past through a musical blog series. They will take you through my peregrinations on this tiny, unique earth, in chronological order. Click on the song, use it as soundtrack, and enjoy!
1973-1976 - Chapter 2 | I spent the first few years of my life in the D.R. Congo. My father was a young stagiaire-diplomat in the Belgian consulate in Lubumbashi, the 2nd biggest city of what was still known as Zaire back then. I am told that because I was looked after by a Lingala-speaking nanny, the first words I pronounced were in that language. My parents affectionately called my older brother and I the "Shaba biloulous" (Shaba is nowadays Lualaba, the Southern-most province of Congo bordering Zambia and a "biloulou" is a slang name for a small insect).
Still, I have no direct memories of that period. My limited knowledge of this giant country has been obtained through 2nd-hand accounts, pictures, books and, of course, music. I have devoured "Heart of Darkness", "King Leopold's Ghost", "Congo" and "In The Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz" and I cannot deny harboring a burning curiosity to one day return and visit. The closest I came to it was a vague plan to drift downriver on a trading barge, from Kisangani to Kinshasa but I never found the right window of opportunity to undertake the trip. One day, I shall.
For now, I'll let you enjoy the clip. This is a modern adaptation of "Independence Cha Cha". Joseph Athanase Tshamala Kabasele, known as Grand Kallé, was one of the fathers of Congolese rumba, the musical style born in Congo but heavily influenced by Cuban son. He composed this anthem at the dawn of Congolese independence. It inspired everyone in the early 60s, as rumba spread through the continent like wildfire (in Lusaka, Cha Cha road is even named after this song, which inspired Kenneth Kaunda's own liberation movement). The cultural renaissance that accompanied independence symbolized the promise of freedom. Rid of the colonialist's nefarious yoke, the country would prosper, the population thrive and move on to new beginnings.
50 years later, a new generation of artists wakes up with a heavy hangover. It pays homage to the musical heritage but shines a more nuanced light on this 'naive' early hope. This song called "Le jour d'après" (the day after) bemoans the stolen dream of independence, abused by poor governance, ethnic division, conflict and pillage. Of course, in proper Congolese style, the sadness and ire are still expressed through joyous guitar strings and melodies that get your feet shuffling.