Celebrating Africa Month with the continent's music legends
In celebration of Africa Month, "_This is Africa" _with Richard Nwamba will feature 10 of the continent’s legendary names.
Today, the 23rd of May, the show will showcase the first five: South Africa’s Miriam Makeba, Franco from the DRC, Fela from Nigeria, Cameroon’s Manu Dibango and Akendengué from Gabon.
This is Africa on 702 for the curious!
Dubbed Mama Africa, the late great Miriam Makeba epitomised the African spirit -hospitality, fellow-feeling and human solidarity. Her ability to speak and sing in so many African and non-African languages endeared her to so many lovers of music both in Africa and beyond.
Her courage to speak up about the excesses of the apartheid regime cost her dear. Banned from even returning to bury her mother, she spent decades in exile, always dreaming of returning to a free South Africa. It was Nelson Mandela himself who begged her to return shortly after he was set free in 1990. Like all the great stars of this and the past century, even though she died on 9 November 2008, she will stay immortal in the hearts of millions of music lovers the world over!
FRANCO **LUAMBO MAKIADI**
Very few musicians in Africa can boast of receiving so many sobriquets like Franco. Born François Pene Yandju Luambo Makiadi, he came to be called “The Sorcerer of the Guitar, the Balzac of African Music, the Godfather of African Music, even the prostitutes of the capital Kinshasa had a nickname for him - Franco de Mi Amour” (Franco of My Love).
For a former street child that was barely literate, Franco’s achievements in African music is even more remarkable. He is the only one who could claim to have recorded more than a thousand songs in his lifetime. Indeed, when he died on 12 October 1989, the government of Mobutu sese Seko ordered all radio stations in the then Zaire to play only Franco & le Tout Puissant OK Jazz’s music for three days non-stop and not a single song was repeated! Yes, this colossus of African has also earned his immortality!
FELA **ANIKULAPO KUTI**
This Nigerian genius is to Africa what Che Guevara was to the world. Born into a wealthy Yoruba family, Fela Anikulapo Kuti chose to throw his lot with the suffering masses of Nigeria than to enjoy the good life that the rest of his highly educated and well-off siblings lived. Sent to England by his Reverend father to either study law or medicine, he went to Trinity College in London to study music instead. Together with the recently deceased drummer, Tony Allen, he created a genre that was to articulate and chronicle the life of suffering Africans both on the African continent and its Diaspora, Afrobeat.
The bane of many successive military juntas in the 1970s and 80s Nigeria, he labeled the soldiers that the generals used to oppress the long-suffering masses as zombies in one of his famous songs. For that Fela was beaten up, thrown in jail on trumped-up charges and his house that he called Kalakuta Republic burned to the ground by the very same irate soldiers that he parodied and satirised in many of his songs.
When he died on 2 August 1997 more than a million mourners turned up bid him farewell. The relatives of millionaire Moshood Abiola, General Shehu Shagari and General Olusegun Obasanjo, people he mentioned by name in his songs, must have celebrated the death of their nemesis, but to the millions of Afrobeat aficionados around the world Fela is very much alive and still mocking them!
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Manu Dibango was responsible for single-handedly popularising African music in the Western World. Stars, like Michael Jackson and Rihanna plagiarised his hit “Soul Makossa” in their attempt at affirming their African roots. His various collaborations with African stars such as le Grand Kalle (Joseph Kabassele), Tabu Ley Rochereau, Fela Kuti, Ray Phiri, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Moreira Chonguiça and other non-African musicians enhanced his reputation as a go-to-person if you want your song to have a world-music appeal.
The French and the Belgians did not mind him making either of their countries his base, opening the way for other African musicians to ply their trade in Europe as well. His death from COVID-19 this year reminded everybody that this inimitable Cameroonian star is very much alive!
PIERRE **CLAVER AKENDENGUÉ**
African musicians are usually celebrated more after their death than when still alive. The exception has been Pierre Claver Akendengué or just Akendengué. Ivorian star, Meiway, decided to honour this Gabonese music icon with a song called “PCA”. Yes, you guessed it, it stands for Pierre Claver Akendengué.
Akendengué’s compatriots too did not wait for their hero to die before showering him with praise. Books and plays have already been written about his life and music. French musician and arranger, Hughes Courson, thought it a good idea to rope in the talents of Akendengué in his seminal work “Lambarena - Bach to Africa”. Nobody thought that it was possible to fuse the cantatas of JS Bach with the chants of the pygmies (sorry, I meant to write the Baka people) of the Gabonese forest. Indeed, it would have been impossible had it not been for the genius of Akendengué.
This living legend of African music is the reason the Gabonese say there is more to their oil-rich country than mountain gorillas. There is PCA!