Last week’s positive Earworm response to Diblo Diala sent me off to the vinyl archive to sort through my Congolese collection, consequently I spent quite a few hours digitizing vinyl. Lovely way to spend a day. [or two]
Sometime in the early ’80’s I saw an ad for a concert by M’Bila Bel to be held in west LA: of course I was going to go plus I invited my friend Sean, the son of a friend, to come with me; he was about 10-12 years old, Jamaican and black and with no experience of African music. I thought he’d enjoy it.
It turned out to be held in a municipal auditorium and whoever the organizers were they had no idea how to present an African concert. The hall was filled solid with rows of very uncomfortable folding metal chairs, whoever heard of an African audience sitting and listening to a Zairian performer on metal chairs?
Everybody should be on their feet and dancing, and they were, but sadly between rows of seats!
We got there early enough to get front row center seats, right in front of the main microphone. The program started. Almost all Zairian bands of that era comprised 4-5 guitarists including 1 ‘superstar’ plus a bass gtr, a horn section comprising several saxes and trumpets, several drummers including one with a traditional drumkit and 3 female backup singers and 3 male singers; the male singers typically sang the lead and performed dances throughout. And of course the star of the event, in this case M’Bilia Bel, one of the most popular female singers in Africa, she’d been the lead singer with the Afrisa International orchestra.
At some point when the entire room was rocking M’Bilia, in the middle of a song where she was also dancing, pointed directly at me and said “Come and dance with me!” I gave her every verbal and non-verbal response that there wasn’t a chance in hell that I was going to embarrass myself before several hundred Africans by going on that stage but she wouldn’t take no for an answer, she insisted and so did I. I sat tight.
She was wearing white elbow length gloves, she removed one, rolled it up and hurled it at me, Sean caught it and immediately held it to his nose, he was in ecstasy, I copped a smell and it was wet, saturated with perfume, Sean took that home and tacked it to his bedroom wall, it was his prize erotic possession!
Over the years I’ve accumulated quite a collection of Congolese music and specifically that of M’Bilia Bel, she sang for years with the most popular band in Africa, Tabu Ley Rochereau’s Afrisa International in Kinshasa and they toured extensively.
This one’s called Belle a Terre, the lead guitarist is Rigo Star.
OK, for the addicts, here’s another: Franco with Sam Mangwana,