Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Keba, Mama, Keba!*

(*Watch out, mama, watch out!)

In the 1950s, Lipopo (aka Leopoldville, now Kinshasa) saw its population swell to 400,000. More than half were under 18. There were already few economic opportunities for them and, with rebellion and war in the interior, even more youth ventured to the capital.

At the end of the 1950s, several movie theatres opened up in the popular neighborhoods and youth flocked to them. Westerns, especially those with the adventures of Buffalo Bill and Pecos Bill, were wildly successful. So much so that youth gangs popped up, taking on American names like Bills or Yankees of Ngiri-Ngiri and riding bicycle-horses through the streets and chanting Bill-Oyee! Young delinquents found their culture hero in the buffalo hunter Bill. This phenomenon of the Bills who spoke Hindoubill had a wide impact: the late Mzee Kabila was also known as Sheriff and favored Stetson hats (and, in the past weeks, you may have seen Raila Odinga with a cowboy hat in Kenya).

At about the same time, Jef De Laet, a Belgian Scheutist, arrived in Lipopo. After teaching in Matete, he became the parish priest of Ngiri-Ngiri where the Bills roamed and started working with the youth. Father Jef quickly became known as 'Pere Buffalo' through his work of channeling youth energies into a positive and more organized movement, following the example of the Flemish 'Catholic Worker Youth'. In the latter half of the 1960s, he helped start Minzoto Ya Zaire (and its successors), The Stars of Zaire, as well as a cultural centre, Cabaret Liyoto, which featured a recording studio.

Out of the Bills, with Minzoto as one example, arose a new generation of musicians and bands, like Zaiko and Bozi Boziana, livening up the Kinshasa scene. Pere Buffalo continued to work in Zaire/Congo into the 1980s, had to leave a while because of troubles with Mobutu, and returned in the 1990s to the Equatorial forest. Health problems caused his return to Belgium where he lives today, as a parish priest, and once again he started up a multicultural centre, Nganda (The Bills used to hang out in houses, first called 'ranches' or 'temples', then 'nganda', a hang-out near a bar or restaurant).

The Minzoto sound is much different from the Congolese 'rumba' most people know. There's much inspiration and borrowing from folklore, traditional music, and reworkings of religious hymns like Kyrie Eleison.

Below are 4 tracks from two albums, the self-titled Minzoto Ya Zaire and Zaire Folk Pop.

Pictures are by Depara, Angolan-born photographer, who set up his 'Jean Whisky Depara Studio in Kinshasa in the 1950s. The official photographer of Franco (who also showed some Bill-traits in early shots with checkered shirts), Depara became the chronicler of Kin's nightlife. He passed away in 1997. Check Gallery51 or Contemporary African Art Collection for more information.

To read more on the Bills:
Filip De Boeck & Marie-Francoise Plissart's Kinshasa: Tales of the Invisible City. Read/download the last chapter here.
Ch. Didier Gondola, 1997. Villes Miroirs: migrations et identites urbaines a Brazzaville et Kinshasa, 1930-1970.

Minzoto ya Zaire - Ilunga
"The girl is called Ilunga. We know each other since the days we sat on the school benches. Be careful now that you are grown up. The love we had for each other from childhood days on cannot get lost, but let it grow and blossom into a happy marriage. (Soul rhythm)"
Minzoto ya Zaire - Kayamba
"Be good to strangers. Look at them as people without skin and bones. (from Kasai region)"
Minzoto ya Zaire - Koni Vuka
"A song from a legend. Ivuka has been murdered of jealousy. His wife chants the glory of her murdered husband. (from the Bandundu region)"
Minzoto ya Zaire - Male Male
"Twins bring happiness to the village, if all prescriptions are followed. It is a great honour for parents to have twins. Let us celebrate them. (Folklore from Bandundu: Transition to modern jazz)"


Pieter said...

For those who speak/read Flemish, here's a link to Pere Buffalo's celebration of 50 years priesthood...

zim said...

great post. I had heard a little bit about the bills but didn't know the history of them, nor of the involvement of 'Pere Buffalo'. Thanks also for the pictures from Depara, who I also knew little about.

The story of the bills reminds a little of a story in Chris Abani's book Graceland, set in Lagos - he recounts how folks would go see american westerns and all hero characters, regardless of who was playing the role, were referred to as "John Wayne" and all the villains as "Actor"

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post Pieter!
I'm a big fan of this blog and this post is one of your best!

jon said...

Fascinating. I had no idea about the Bills at all. I shall seek out some more info. I love this sort of cross cultural appropriation and myth swapping if you can call it that. It shows our similarities at a basic level and rejoices in our differences at a more trivial one if that makes any sense at all. . . Great post. many thanks.

Unknown said...

Hi Sea Never Dry

Sorry for posting this in comments, but I can't get hold of an email for you??

Thought this might be right up your street. A new Fansite just set up to celebrate the release of Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues 1970-76 on Soundway Records. - Try it out for widgets galore all on Nigerian groove!

Cheers and real nice blog site!

Timjim (Fansite creator)

PS. There's a full length track online at /ekosound/celestine%20ukwu /track1.mp3

Anonymous said...

That nigeria Special comp rules, by the way.

But to the subject at hand:

Excellent, excellent information in this post--this is the kind of stuff you can't learn from mainstream sources. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hello everybody,

I am Nicolas Moncadas and maybe you heard of me on Voodfunk last post (Beware mp3).

Her my link on Youtube

Best regards.



You have a most interesting blog.

Stay on groovin' safari,

Comb & Razor said...

interesting... i was familiar with Depara's work, but i never fully grasped the context for the photos of guys dressed like cowboys!

i'm gonna read up more on this... thanks!

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