rumba on the river

Coda: For Dechaud, 7 December 1993
I didn't forget the request Dechaud made of me during our interview [18 June 1993]. I had promised to send him a guitar, so upon returning home to Washington, D.C., I set out to make good on my word. I purchased a nice Yamaha acoustic and took it to my friend Leo Sarkisian at the Voice of America. Leo arranged to have it shipped to Kinshasa through diplomatic channels, and the staff at the U.S. embassy took it from there. The following account first appeared in The Beat, vol. 13, no. 2, 1994.

Two men, separated by geography and nationality but united by their common humanity and love of music, stilled for a brief December moment the swirl of political chaos and economic desperation that soils the happiness of daily life in Zaire. Their lives had only touched each other in muted broadcasting studios of Washington, D.C., where the stylus of a Voice of America turntable met the black vinyl grooves of Congo music. There and in the pages of The Beat [vol. 12, no. 6, 1993] where the great guitar accompanist of African Jazz told a visiting journalist he didn’t even have a guitar to play anymore.

Still physically miles apart, the Voice of America’s “music man for Africa,” Leo Sarkisian, and Mwamba Dechaud, the guitarist “who made Lucifer and his 500,000 devils dance,” met in spirit in Kinshasa’s Centre Culturel Americain when a shiny, sleek acoustic guitar was presented to the guitarless musician.

Sarkisian, whose exquisite programs of African music and culture have graced the international airwaves for nearly 30 years, arranged for the new guitar to be shipped to Kinshasa through diplomatic channels. His colleague, Mary Carlin Yates, director of the American Cultural Center, together with the Zairean musicians union president, Moniania ma Muluma, better known as Roitelet, organized the ceremony which brought together the remnants of Kinshasa’s music establishment, Zairean television, and the local press to honor the great Dechaud.

“Humor, joie de vivre, love of pleasing the public, ­Mwamba Charles Dechaud is all of this at once when he picks up his guitar,” said Chargé d’Affaires, John M. Yates, currently the highest ranking American diplomat in Zaire, who made the official presentation. “He has produced," Yates continued, "a fabulous collection of 150 Zairean songs that Zairean men and women continue to dance to today.” One of them, “Africa Mokili Mobimba” (Africa and the whole world), is perhaps the best-known song ever to come out of the continent. Had Dechaud received his just rewards from this one song alone, he would be a wealthy man. But what the music business gives with the hand of adulation and celebrity, it crushes with the boot of corruption and deceit. Too many musicians have recorded Dechaud’s work but credited themselves or others to avoid making royalty payments. What money is legitimately paid vanishes in the sordid dealings among the bureaucracies that collect such fees. Dechaud and many of the older Zairean musicians receive virtually nothing for their creations, many of which, like “Africa Mokili Mobimba,” sell almost as briskly today as they did thirty years ago.

For Dechaud, the Voice of America guitar award marked the beginning of his fifth decade in the music business. He started as a teenager in the early 1950s singing with the celebrated guitarist, Jhimmy. He moved on to join with his brother, solo guitarist Docteur Nico, and singer Joseph Kabasele to form the group African Jazz where he developed his reputation as a splendid rhythm guitarist. Dechaud and Nico created African Fiesta Sukisa in the mid-sixties and played together until Nico’s death in 1985.

Dechaud keeps active today playing with a group of old-timers called Afric’Ambiance. After accepting his new guitar, Dechaud and Afric’Ambiance wrested the ceremony from the speakers' grip with a short set that featured “Africa Mokili Mobimba” and “Biantondi Kasanda” with Docteur Nico’s son sitting in on lead guitar.

In length, at least, the career of Leo Sarkisian corresponds closely to Dechaud’s. Born in Massachusetts to parents who escaped the Turkish massacres of Armenians in the 1890s, he developed a love of music and language in surroundings that encouraged exploration of American culture and the Middle Eastern heritage of his parents. A paper he wrote called "World Music," perhaps one of the first coinages of the term, drew Sarkisian from his Greenwich Village studio, where he worked as a commercial artist, to the studios of Radio Recorders in Hollywood. Radio Recorders, one of the main recording companies for the record and film industries, was planning to expand its library of music from around the world, and Sarkisian looked like a promising recruit.

In 1953, about the time Dechaud was joining African Jazz, Sarkisian shipped out to Pakistan with a vehicle and the best recording equipment he could find. For a year in Pakistan and three more in Afghanistan, he systematically recorded the folk music of different regions of the two countries.

With Ghana's independence in 1957 followed by that of Guinea a year later, Africa became Sarkisian’s next assignment. He worked with renowned musicologist Atta Mensah at Radio Ghana in 1958 and produced an album of local music called New Sounds from a New Nation. In 1959, when Dechaud and African Jazz were playing “Independence Cha Cha” for the participants in the Brussels Round Table Conference on Belgian Congo independence, Sarkisian packed his vehicle and drove north to Guinea. During the next three years he worked with Guinea’s national radio and made field recordings from around the country. As many as 15 albums were eventually produced from his tapes.

Sarkisian joined the Voice of America in 1963 at the urging of Edward R. Murrow, President Kennedy’s director of the U.S. Information Agency. He became the music director of the VOA’s new African programming center in Monrovia, Liberia. A year and a half later, his highly acclaimed program Music Time in Africa made its debut. At first the show featured strictly traditional music from Sarkisian’ s bulging library of field recordings. Even after production moved to Washington, D.C., following the Monrovia center’s closing in 1969, Sarkisian spent as many as eight months a year, up to the mid-eighties, making field recordings in Africa. “This gave me an opportunity to travel to every country on the continent,” he says, except for Zimbabwe and Mozambique, which were off limits to U.S. diplomats until they gained independence. “Ironically, I still get letters now from a radio station or ministry of information from one of these governments saying that, ‘We just heard some traditional music from our country. Where did you get it? We don’t have it, and we would like some.’ And of course I usually try to send the music back to them.”

Today Sarkisian produces two half-hour shows, one for traditional music, the other for pop. Since 1978 Rita Rochelle, who came to VOA from commercial radio and television work in St. Louis, Houston, and Los Angeles, has hosted the program. Together they are better known in Africa than most of the musicians whose works they feature. Passport to World Band Radio, a guide to short wave radio programming, selected Music Time in Africa as one of the 10 best entertainment programs for 1994. Listeners vote with pen and paper showering Sarkisian and Rochelle with some 4-5 thousand letters a month.

Thirty years after “Independence Cha Cha,” external broadcasters like the VOA and BBC have become increasingly important to Africa. The continent’s collapsing economic and political structures have ushered many of its radio stations down the path of destruction. “We are the life line. We are the conduit,” says Rochelle. The importance of music in Africa is enormous, and its loss would be tragic, she says, “I would compare it to trying to exist without oxygen or blood in your system.”

More and more in Africa the blood flows through the speakers of short wave radios. And from time to time through small human gestures like sending a guitar to a musician in Zaire.

Click HERE to view video footage of the presentation.

30 June 1993
It's our last day in Brazzaville. Time to tidy up a few loose ends around town before checking out of our room at the Catholic Mission and saying good-bye to Armand the caretaker. Then we taxi over to the N'soko to stow our bags with Essous until our flight out this evening. Now that the barricades in Bacongo have come down, Essous can get through to the studio again. He has been working night and day to mix the band’s new album, so we haven’t seen much of him lately. Nevertheless, he's waiting for us at the hotel.

Essous accepts our gift and profuse thanks for all he has done. The briefcase is "right on target," he tells us. We mention that we'd like to go out to the Kronenbourg brewery to buy some Ngok' (crocodile, the local beer) stuff as souvenirs. He says he wants to send a letter with us, which he'll write while we go have breakfast. We take our last croissants at the croissant place down the street. The waiter tells us he wants to give us a gift, and we should come back in the evening to collect it.

Out at Kronenbourg we meet Essous's friend, the Directeur Technique M. Léon Quenard. He opens the letter we have brought. It seems Essous has written to him to ask that he help us. "You want some Ngok' items?" he says rhetorically as he sends a guy out to fetch them. Then he takes us out into the brewery to introduce us to the brew master, who gives us a quick and very interesting tour of the brewing and bottling operations. Back at Quenard's office, he presents us with a box of goodies—t-shirts, beer glasses, bottle openers, a couple of trays, and a few yards of Ngok'-print cloth.

We need to bid farewell to Madame Essous and find her at home in the afternoon. We chat awhile and take her photograph. She says she might come visit us one day; since she used to work for Air Afrique she gets a reduced rate on airfare.

Over at the croissant place our waiter friend presents us with a hand-carved miniature table and chair set. He seems like such a sweet guy, and it is a very nice thing for him to do. We exchange addresses and promise to write.

In the evening at the N’Soko we finally get to interview Nino Malapet. He talks for an hour about his career and role in the band. Then we say goodbyes all around and get some rest up in Essous’s room. After a last dinner of rice and sauce in the hotel garden, it’s time to leave. Many thanks and hugs to Essous, and we're off to the airport.
Check-in is unbelievably smooth. No chaos, no bribes. Interview tapes get a reprieve from the X-ray machine thanks to Beth’s eloquent pleas. We are on our way to Paris.

29 June 1993
Back downtown at the U.S. Embassy this morning I find the woman I had been looking for yesterday, the one who could change money. She is a Zimbabwean named Tsitsi, who is buying dollars to pay for a trip home with her son. I get CFA70,000 for $280. That should see us through the rest of the trip.

After breakfast at La Marquise we pick out a nice, black briefcase as our gift for Essous. It's CFA 11,700 but the shop owner knocks off 700 for us. Over at Aujourd'hui we call on Dr. Fylla to see if he can arrange for us to meet Guy-Léon Fylla. Before we leave, we are ushered into the editorial office where the editor and two reporters interview us and take our pictures for publication in the next edition. Then we pile into a cab with a reporter and some other guy for the drive to Guy-Léon Fylla's house in Mongali.

Fylla talks for two very interesting hours about the music’s birth and growth. Now 65, Fylla was something of a mentor to younger musicians coming up in the ‘50s. These days he is better known for his marvelous paintings. Our session is occasionally interrupted by the cries of a mother sheep looking for her kid. In closing, Fylla treats us to a drink while we show him some of the old photos we've collected.

Back at the N'soko we're way late for our rendezvous with Bantous drummer Rikky Siméon. We find Rikky, his wife, and a friend waiting in the garden. Lucky for us, they only arrived a few minutes earlier. We get an hour on tape.

Around 7:00 we call up to Essous's room so that we can take him out for a farewell dinner. When he appears it's obvious he's been sleeping. They worked late last night mixing, then it took a long time to get a ride in from the studio. Once in his room he couldn't sleep, so he made up for it this afternoon.

Dinner at Chez Thiam [see 2 June 1993] isn't much good tonight, and it comes in at over CFA6,300. Still, the guitarist is there as usual, and he and Essous, tears welling in his eyes, do a final chorus of "Essous Spiritou."

28 June 1993
Breakfast in town at La Marquise, then we split up to do chores. Beth goes to Air France to confirm our reservations (they're okay) while I go to the US Embassy to see a contact there about changing money (no luck). We can't change money at the bank either; it seems the woman who does foreign transactions is out. Searching for a thank you gift for Essous, we spot a nice briefcase—CFA 11,500, about $46. Maybe tomorrow if we're able to change money.

We drop in on Dr. Fylla to chat and check out the production of his newspaper, Aujourd'hui. The bi-monthly is put together with top-of-the-line desktop publishing equipment. The whole thing is composed and laid out in the Aujourd'hui offices and then taken to a printer in another location. Dr. Fylla offers to take us to meet the distinguished painter and musician Guy-Léon Fylla. Maybe tomorrow if there's time.

After omelets at Ophelia's near the Plateau Market we taxi over to Pamelo's again, this time to give him a copy of The Beat and the address of a music distributor in Paris that he wanted. He's sitting in the parlor eating rice when we arrive. He accepts the things we have brought and gives us the address of an attorney in Paris, who won a judgment for back royalties from Eddy Gustave on his behalf.

Later, at Pandi's house, I photograph old record jackets and photos from his collection. He also brings out an old publicity brochure from Esengo that includes great photos of many of the studio's stars like Dr. Nico and Kabasele. Pandi presents me with a record album, Les Bantous De La Capitale Bakolo M'Boka, the last with Edo, Pamelo, Kosmos, and three guys, Théo Bitsikou, Samba Mascott, and a drummer called Du Pool, who have all since died.
I tell Pandi I'll try to send him a decent storage box to hold some of the more precious items of his archive. He wants a new pair of glasses too and says he'll send along the prescription. We say our good-byes. He seems genuinely sad to see us go.

At La Centrale for dinner we encounter the usual cacophonous mixture of Brazzavillois, expatriates, hookers, and gaggles of traders, who sell everything from carvings to clothes. It's a non-stop circus, but Essous can't join us for this one. He's still at the studio mixing the new album.

27 June 1993
We still haven't interviewed Nino Malapet, but it's such a nice morning resting in bed. At last we breakfast at La Marquise in centre ville then head over to Nino's to try to make an appointment. He's not home, but a little farther on Pandi is at his house. He shows us some old record jackets he's dug up. We make an appointment for tomorrow afternoon to come back to copy some of his old photos.

At the N'soko Hotel we check for Essous. It turns out he is down at the M'bamou Palace Hotel taping a segment for a television program that he has been working on. After the M'bamou, they'll come back and finish up at the N'soko. We find Nino and some of the other musicians gathering out in the hotel garden.

We have a lunch date just down the road at the home of Madame Essous. We arrive a little early, but she already has everything ready—two kinds of fish, manioc, salad, bread, oranges, plus some wine we bought on the way. Good food and interesting conversation that doesn't lack for gossip. Madame Essous is quite a character. After lunch and a bit more talk, she falls asleep on the sofa. We take the hint and leave.

Back at the N'soko we find that Essous has returned, the day's taping having been completed. All that's left are some voice-overs for the singers, Essous tells us. The show will be on TV in two weeks. Tomorrow the band will be going to the studio to mix the new album. Their "spectacle" has been delayed yet again, however, because of the political turmoil. They'll have to crank up the publicity machine all over again.

We tell Essous about seeing Pamelo and about his feet. Diabetes is nasty he says; both Pamelo's parents died from it. He says one of the presidents—I'm not sure which one—gave Pamelo money to get treatment in Paris, and Essous visited him in the hospital there. He says Pamelo had arrived at the hospital on crutches but could walk without them after receiving medical treatment. Unfortunately, he left before the course of treatment had been completed and used the balance of the money for something else.

26 June 1993
We'll be interviewing Pamelo Mounk'a today, but first Beth and I walk into town to try breakfast at the Black & White Salon de Thé. As we seat ourselves I notice a dead cockroach belly-up on the floor. Another giant one makes a run for the chair next to me. I squish it in mid-course. A few baby roaches scamper along the edge of the table. Not a good first impression. A Congolese man dressed in a modified tux takes our order. He says he is the patron. The croissants are good, coffee not bad, but it's all very expensive, over CFA2000 for the two of us.

After breakfast we check out another bookstore or two then catch a taxi for ONLP. They are open this morning and actually know the book I'm looking for, La Chanson Congolaise, a book ONLP published. A clerk picks up a dusty copy from a display table and hands it to me.  Another clerk has a couple copies stuffed in a desk drawer, CFA2000 for another addition to my library. Up the street at Papyrus, Beth uncovers a comic book about Papa Wemba; I buy it for CFA2600. As our time here is running out, we continue on to the artists market to pick up a few souvenirs for friends back home.

At the Centrale for lunch of rice and sauce, Beth notices a large man at the bar playing cozy with a woman who looks very much like a hooker. He's Fylla Saint-Eudes whom we met in Paris [see 4 September 1991]. It turns out he came home a year or so ago and is now editor of a newspaper called Aujourd'hui, using the name Dr. Fylla Di Fua Di Sassa. He says he's working on a short biography of the musician Paul Kamba. He suggests we drop by his office.

After lunch we taxi out toward Pamelo's house. We drop at the new French Cultural center, reasoning that since the soldiers don't seem to check pedestrians we'll walk into Bacongo to avoid being hassled about the camera and tape recorder. But it turns out the soldiers aren't even there today; we took precautions for nothing.

Pamelo is sitting in his parlor chatting with another man when we arrive. We join the conversation, which meanders through current political problems, colonialism, and the splitting of the old kingdom of the Kongo. When the other man leaves, I suggest we go outside to take pictures before we loose the light. Pamelo makes his way to the door with great diffi­culty. His feet are swollen to at least twice their normal size, and his toes are splayed and disfigured. It’s a symptom of his diabetes, he tells us. He was hospitalized in Paris in the late ‘80s, but they couldn’t do much for him, he says. He is being treated in Brazzaville by a local herbalist. He fears if he returns to Paris for treatment, the doctors will want to amputate his feet.

Pamelo wants to continue in the music busi­ness but more on the production side and less as a performer. He remains a pillar of Bantous Monument, a breakaway faction of Les Bantous de la Capitale. But he finds it difficult to operate from Brazzaville, because no reliable distribu­tion system exists to market music outside the country. It’s a complaint we’ve heard many times.

25 June 1993
We hope to see Pamelo Mounk'a today, but first we spend the morning catching up with errands. I change money at the bank while Beth re-registers us with the American embassy. We run into Madame Essous in the street; she invites us for lunch at her house on Sunday. We check out a few bookstores but can't find the Congolese music book Pandi has shown us.

Around 3:00 we walk up toward the Plateau market to check the ONLP bookshop. It's closed. Farther along Papyrus bookshop is closed too. People are selling in the artists market, but everything else is shut down except for a small alimentation shop.

Finally we give up the book hunt and catch a taxi for Pamelo Mounk'a's house in Bacongo. This is an area that was barricaded during the crisis, but it's open now. The only signs of tension remaining are a couple of checkpoints on the main road where soldiers stop and search everyone for weapons. Traffic is considerably backed up while busses and other vehicles are unloaded and people and their bags searched. The soldiers seem to be taking their work seriously instead of merely harassing people for money.

We're in luck this trip; Pamelo is home. We're seated in the parlor as someone knocks on the door of the bedroom to get the big man. A few minutes later he limps slowly out into the parlor. Pamelo is a large, portly, bear of a man who seems robust and healthy except for his limp. He says he got the letter that Essous wrote last time, and he would be pleased to give us an interview. We make an appointment for tomorrow at 3:00.

We decide to walk all the way back to our room at the mission. ONLP still isn't open as we pass. Dreadful dinner at the mission: warmed corned beef from a can, two fish heads, and frozen bread. We'll try to avoid eating here again.

24 June 1993
We leave for Brazzaville today. The Chantilly is closed. We find out today is some sort of holiday, so most businesses are shuttered. It's a holiday left over from some previous regime; no one seems to recall what it's for. Fortunately CAP is serving breakfast—good and much cheaper. Even the coffee tastes good.

Nobody is at Kutula's place when we drop by to bid adieu. We leave letters for him and Roitelet then catch a taxi for the beach. We're in luck; ferries are running today. We pass through an absurd series of checkpoints. First the soldiers guarding the port check our passports. Then people call us over to a side building where they register our passport information. We declare what currency we're carrying, and they collect a "fee" of 2 million zaires each. Next we have to buy a ticket. Both the Congolese and Zairean ferries are running, so we have to figure out which will be first. ONANTRA (Zaire) wins out, and they will take dollars in payment. The cost is 67 million zaires for the two of us. We give them $35.

Roitelet shows up and ushers us through still more formalities. We have to show tickets and passports again. Then we need another slip of paper. That entails going to yet another office to show passports in return for the slip. We have to declare currency again. The official sees our previous declaration, okays that, but says he needs beer money. Good-bye to another 2 million.

Back at the departure gate the mysterious slip of paper gets us through. We show tickets once again then scramble down the ramp onto a large boat that we think is the ferry. But no, a smaller boat just pulling away from the larger boat is the actual ferry. We missed it.

A Congolese ferry comes next, but our tickets are for the Zairean one. We have to wait until it comes back. We strike up a conversation with a man named John, a tall, skinny British missionary who's lived in the bush for 25 years. He's going home for about 3 months but will come back. He has no desire to leave Zaire permanently. He speaks Lingala and even preaches in it. We ride together on the next ONANTRA ferry.

In Brazzaville soldiers stop us on the way out of the port, but otherwise no problem. We don't even go through customs. A little beer money gets rid of the soldiers.

The city appears to be returning to normal. There is gas to fuel taxis again, and shops and government offices are opening up. The barricades came down last night, we are told.

Essous greets us warmly at the Nsoko. He seems genuinely happy to see us. We tell him of our travels in Kinshasa and give him Roitelet's letter. We suggest we should stay at the Catholic Mission (at our expense) this time. He agrees.

Armand, the man who takes care of business at the mission, fixes us up with a room for CFA5,000 ($20) a night. It's about as nice as the Stadium Hostel in Freetown, which costs a mere $2. Anyway it's shelter and the cheapest we can find. There's a big jug of water under the sink; the piped water doesn’t always work. In fact it's not working right now. It'll be a bucket bath on our first night back. Still, it's a relief to have a room and be settled into a nearly normal Brazzaville.

23 June 1993
We plan to return to Brazzaville today. We’re running low on money and remain frightened by the possibilities of more violence as the politicians battle it out on both sides of the river. We haven’t heard anything about condi­tions in Brazzaville since we left. If things haven’t improved there, closing of the border is still a real possibility.
We breakfast at Chantilly and say good-bye to our room at CAP. We meet Roitelet at Kutula's. Kuktula gives us a bunch of letters to mail for him in the States. He wants to write even more. He looks like he's been working all night. Roitelet tells us he's been listening to radio reports from Brazza; things are still bad there. He wants us to wait another day or two. Also we haven't done our interview with him yet. Beth's ready to go, but she agrees we should stay one more day to at least interview Roitelet.

We reclaim our room at CAP then grab a taxi for Matonge to see if we can catch Verckys by surprise. He left at 7:30 this morning we are told.

Over at the Greek Cultural Center we tell Madame Krissoula of our reception at the Greek embassy. She gives us another name, a Mr. Matamos who can be found down the street in the Shell building. She suggests he might be able to help us.

We figure Matamos must work there, but it turns out to be his apartment—a posh one at that. A servant greets us at the door and shows us into a long, rectangular living room that looks like something out of House Beautiful. At one end there's a grand piano with four chairs sitting in front of it. Leaning against each is an instrument, guitars at two, a viola, and a violin. This guy is into more than Congo Music.

The servant tells us Matamos is in the bathroom. When he finally emerges, he looks like he's just finished his morning shower, even though it's nearly noon. Matamos understands what we want, but he says he lived in the bush in those days (the 1950s and 60s, heyday of Congolese music and the Greek-run recording studios). He takes my card and promises to ask around.

At last we interview Monsieur Roitelet, for nearly three hours. He has lots to tell us of his life and the music business. We agree to meet him tomorrow at Kutula's so he can escort us to the beach for our return to Brazzaville.
Kinshasa has made a big impression on us. This vast city—said to be more than 40 miles from end to end and jammed with ever-increas­ing millions of people—resembles an animal carcass being picked clean by buzzards. Pillag­ing and neglect have pushed the city to the edge of collapse. Zaire’s politicians learned well the lessons of their colonial mentors. With a generous assist from Western cold warriors, they appropriated the country’s labor and re­sources even more boldly than the foreign occupiers. In a just world, the Kissingers and Crockers of America and the Europeans who preceded them would be herded onto a Congo River ferry and dropped off at the Kinshasa wharf to cope on their own with the nightmare they helped create in Central Africa.

22 June 1993
Gerry Dialungana drops by the hostel this morning. He goes along with Beth and me to check out the Greek embassy for leads to Papadimitriou and the other Greek owners of Kinshasa's old recording studios. Inside they tell us they can't give out any information—even if they had it and they don't think they do—because the Greek embassy is only for Greeks.

Over at the Un-Deux-Trois Roitelet is on the way out to try to find Verckys to set up a new appointment, so Gerry takes us on a walking tour of Matonge. We visit a couple of record shops which sell only cassettes now, except for a few used vinyl LPs. Cassettes can be bought for the equivalent of around five or six dollars, but most shops don’t have much of a selection. What they do have comes from Mr. N’Daiye over in Brazzaville. It seems he has the cassette market sewn up. One reason stocks are so low, I suspect, is that dealers have to buy with CFA or another scarce foreign currency, since the zaire is worthless. I buy 3 tapes for 60 million total, about $5 apiece.

Matonge is crowded with lots of shops and little bars, but a goodly number of storefronts stand empty. We are told that this area got hit hard during the pillages, and it appears quite a few were wiped out. We wander through the Rond Point Victoire, a large traffic circle in the center of Matonge, to the famous Vis-à-Vis nightclub. It has gone out of business. The building remains, but it’s empty inside, except for a few piles of sand apparently meant for some future renovation. Gerry tells us the Maison Blanche is out of business too. Suzanella, its owner, died several months ago. Franco’s former manager, Manzenza, and a partner tried to run it for a while but quit, leaving a pile of debts.

Some new clubs, including the Zenith where OK Jazz rehearses, have sprung up to replace the dying veterans, but in general the club scene has declined in direct proportion to the rest of the music business. Only five major bands make their homes in Kinshasa today: OK Jazz, Empire Bakuba, two factions of Zaiko Langa Langa, and Wenge Musica. Zaire’s hottest star, Koffi Olomide, also spends part of his year in Kinshasa. A couple of newer groups, Les As and Equinox, struggle for recognition but haven’t yet built much of a reputation. Studios, too, have declined in number and quality. Verckys still operates his, but most artists seldom record there because he demands too much control. The venerable Studio Star still has only two tracks. OK Jazz crossed the river to lAD in Brazzaville to record their next release.

Back on the Rond Point we pause at a monu­ment to musicians who have died, a statue of uplifted hands rising from a tall, rectangular base around which small plaques containing the names of the honorees should be mounted. But most of the plaques are missing now. They were stolen in the pillaging. The monument itself was controversial because its design was selected without a competition (an arts professor close to power was chosen as designer). Many musicians didn't want to be associated with it.

We are supposed to interview Simaro at 2 o’clock, but he has called a meeting with the band. Gathering outside the Un-Deux-Trois I see Madilu, Josky, Gerry of course, and Flavien among several others I don't readily recognize. Around 5:00 Simaro is ready to see us, up in a parlor off Franco’s old office. He is very courteous and well-spoken, short and to the point. The fifth floor has no electricity, and as the sun sets in the window behind Simaro, he gets harder and harder to see. I have to strain to make out my notes. After an hour the room is pitch black. We decide to call it quits. People light matches in the stairwell as we feel our way down. Finally around the second floor the lights are on. Perhaps the church pays its electric bills but OK Jazz doesn’t.

From the Un-Deux-Trois we follow Roitelet along some back streets to Verckys's place. He has promised to meet us for sure at 7:00. He stands us up again.

21 June 1993
Today’s the day we’re supposed to meet both Wendo and Verckys, but after breakfast at Chantilly I first go back to the Greek Community Center to see Mr. Mimis and Madame Krissoula. After trying several sources, they manage to come up with a telephone number in Athens for Basile Papadimitriou's sister. They suggest I also check at the Greek embassy.

Beth and I had left it that we'd go find Roitelet at his office this morning, but when I return from the Greeks, tireless Roitelet comes to pick us up. He says he went out Sunday (yesterday) and made appointments. We've got an 11 o'clock with Wendo, lunch at 1:30 with his friend Mr. Kutula, and a 4 o'clock with Verckys.
So far there’s no trouble from the soldiers; we wonder if they’ve been paid on time. It’s a rough morning for transportation, however. Fewer and fewer taxis are on the road. Petrol queues go on for blocks. Those who are driving must have connections, or they deal with the Qaddafies. Roitelet, the expert, manages to find a guy who’ll take us to Wendo’s for a reason­ably inflated fare.

Wendo is a tall, courtly gentleman with a shiny, bald head. He meets us at the gate of his compound dressed in a crisp, brown suit and wearing a medal around his neck. His yard is covered, it appears on purpose, with broken tile fragments. He ushers us into his parlor where we give him a copy of The Beat and show him the old photos. He seems quite captivated with them as he helps us identify more musicians.

Wendo is one of the more prominent transitional figures in Congo music, one that bridges the gap between traditional and pop styles. As we sit in his parlor, Wendo politely answers my questions then goes outside to pose for pictures.

When we're finished Wendo sends out for drinks and plays us an unmixed portion of a new recording he did for a European filmmaker who has just completed a documentary film about him. The CD is a remake of some of his old songs plus some new ones too. But curiously, Wendo doesn’t play the guitar on it; the producer only wanted him to sing. In fact the version we hear is mostly synthesizer and drum machine. He asks what I think. I don't like the synth, I tell him. He says not to worry. Dizzy Mandjeku and Papa Noel are overdubbing guitar tracks in Brussels. I hope so. But why not let Wendo play his own guitar?

From Wendo's Roitelet gets us a taxi to Kutula's to keep our lunch date. It turns out that Kutula's request for a U.S. visa was turned down this morning. He'd just been to the U.S. in April; it's too soon to go back, the American consul told him. Here's a guy with money, who wants to buy American aircraft and develop trading links, and they won't give him a visa. No wonder there are few American products in Africa. Europeans and Japanese know how to do business and encourage it. Foreigners wanting to trade with the U.S. can't even get past the American embassy.
We pile into Kutula's BMW for the ride to a restaurant near the embassy. It's a fairly fancy place and quite expensive. The owner, an African woman, greets us at the door and ushers us to a table. Everyone who comes in knows Kutula; he often gets up to go to another table to chat. In between he tells us of his interest in the music business and asks us about investors.

Later, while we're eating, Kutula tells a bizarre tale about his new church and the guy who's behind it. According to his story, God dictated nine books to the guy while he, the guy, was under water for three days. Before that the guy had healed a child who was thought to be dead and about to be buried. Oh yeah, and at one point the guy was also set upon by soldiers who tried to kill him, but their bullets and bayonets had no effect. They dropped them and fled. It's a fantastic story, a hodgepodge of stale religious myths whose "good news" Kutula wants to spread. Whoa! Maybe it's a good thing he wasn't issued a visa after all.

From Kutula's office we catch a taxi to Verckys's place, a large, four-story building containing shops and offices in Matonge. Verckys's office sits at one end of the top floor. But Verckys turns out to be as elusive as Wendo is accessible. There’s a lot of muttering and whisper­ing among his staff when we tell them we have a 4 o’clock appointment. They usher us into his office and serve us drinks, but it turns out that, like Elvis, Verckys has left the building.

His office is an impressive space, the walls and ceiling paneled with dark tropical wood. A sultan’s sofa and two matching chairs flank a wooden coffee table at one end of the room. Opposite them a television tuned to CFI, a French overseas service, competes for atten­tion with loudspeakers from across the street. Verckys’s large semicircular desk dominates one end of the office. An overstuffed executive’s chair sits empty behind it, and two smaller versions for guests sit in front. On the wall above the sofa hang two photos of Verckys receiving awards from President Mobutu.

While we wait Franco's old manager, Manzenza, walks in. He is working for Verckys these days. He seems to remember me from our encounter in Washington during the 1989 OK Jazz tour. We talk a bit about that time and the subsequent deaths of band members; he estimates about eleven have died. The subject of Madilu's difficulty getting back in the band also comes up. Manzenza claims that Madilu was the only band member to return to Kinshasa with Franco's body. Roitelet says the others didn't have tickets, but Manzenza says they did.

Eventually he has to go, so we resume our boring wait. We have been told that Verckys was pil­laged, but there is no sign of it here. Apparently his recording studio and record pressing fac­tory still operate, and he now publishes two newspapers that are laid out on sophisticated computers just outside his office door. He has also become heavily involved in a new political party. Many irons in the fire and apparently no time for us. We give up after nearly two hours of waiting.

20 June 1993
We go back to the Chantilly for breakfast. An omelet with a basket of bread and croissants and coffee goes for 32 million, about $8. It's expensive but really good. Lots of Europeans and wealthy Zaireans come here. Fancy cars park out front. There are more mobile phones per square foot here than any other place on earth. Zaire's phone system works only sporadically, so to fill the void some enterprising businessmen set up a cellular system to bypass it. Everyone with money has a "telecell," for security if nothing else.

The Chantilly's owner is a Canadian of Pakistani origin. He speaks English and French and is carrying on a family tradition of doing business in Zaire. We ask if he has any ideas about how we can meet some Greek business people in order to trace the old Greeks who owned the early recording studios. He says there's a Greek church and social club not far away on Avenue 30 Juin. Sunday would be a good time for us to find people.

Around 1:00 we leave our room at CAP to go in search of the church. It really is close and beautifully kept up, clean and white with religious paintings on the walls, stained glass windows, and shiny wooden pews. Next door is the social club, containing a bar, restaurant, basketball court with courtside seating, and an exercise room. A number of men (mostly) are sitting around drinking and dining. There aren't more women and children, it turns out, because they've gone to stay in Greece to avoid the dangerous political situation here.

We introduce ourselves to a guy named Nico who introduces us to the manager, a Mr. Mimis. We tell them who we're looking for and ask why so many Greeks ended up here. They seem to think it's a silly question. "They were commerçants. They wanted to make money," they tell us. It's as simple as that. The two of them buy us drinks, then lunch. We're their novelty for the day. They're especially taken with Beth and her excellent French.

Nico and Mimis definitely know of Papadimitriou and Benetar and the others involved in the music business. They think only Papadimitriou is still alive, in Greece. Mr. Mimis says come back tomorrow. Madame Krissoula, a woman who works in the office, will try to help us find more information.

These men, too, warn us that there might be trouble in the city; they think tomorrow, the 21st. The Pakistani guy at Chantilly predicted problems on the 27th or 30th because there is a big political meeting coming up. There are lots of rumors flying around, but clearly nobody really knows much for sure. Meanwhile petrol is getting scarcer and scarcer as gas station owners attempt to drive up prices by refusing to sell. Fewer taxis ply the streets as petrol queues grow longer.

19 June 1993 (Part Two)
Roitelet has told us that Mwanga Paul is still alive, and he wants to take us out to Ndjili to interview him. We catch another dilapidated taxi and drive and drive and drive. Finally we come down at an intersection in Ndjili, but we have to catch another taxi down to Mwanga's street. Roitelet hasn't been out here for ten years, but he manages to find the right place. It's in a fairly well-to-do area with many fancy houses. Mwanga was one of the first to build here.

We leave the taxi and walk a couple hundred yards down the street to find Mwanga in his front yard. A small, rectangular house sits to the rear of the compound; the rest is yard, garden, and chicken coop. Mwanga has been working in the garden. He's dressed only in shorts and is still sweating from his labor. Roitelet introduces us in Lingala as Mwanga sends for chairs and a table so we can sit and talk under a tree. He seems to understand and speak French, but he and Roitelet speak mostly in Lingala.

Understandably, Mwanga seems somewhat annoyed by being dropped in on and pressured into an interview. At Roitelet's urging he appears to relent for the moment. It doesn't seem right, but reluctantly I set up the tape and begin to record. Immediately, Mwanga tells me to stop. He explains that he can't take a photo in the condition he's in, and he doesn't want to do an interview without a photo. He wants to make an appointment for another day. Beth and I are exhausted and not all that crazy to do the interview anyway. We say we'll try again another day. The whole thing is kind of embarrassing for everyone.

We walk back up Mwanga's street to the main road and flag down an old Renault taxi, the kind with the gearshift that slides in and out of the dash. The driver takes us down to the main Ndjili road, following a large truck much too closely. He seems more intent on watching the action alongside the road than he is paying attention to traffic. Suddenly the truck stops, but the driver is looking over at a petrol station to see if they're selling gas. Attention!, we yell. He slams on the brakes; the taxi slides forward into the truck's rear end. Crunch! Traffic begins to move again, and the truck pulls away. Nobody even bothers to get out to look at the damage or make palaver. It's just another battle scar on a taxi that should have retired from the fight years ago.

On the main thoroughfare we flag down another taxi for the trip into town. This is the worst yet. The engine deposits its exhaust directly into the passenger compartment, which is blue with acrid smoke. And we have a long way to go. The driver takes the industrial road along the river, past the docks and the Kinshasa-Matadi railroad. Along the road a kid jumps in front of the taxi. The driver jams on his brakes, and the kid jumps back just in time. He scares us badly. With our heads hanging out the window for fresh air, we chug on into the city past the "beach" and the American embassy.

We haven't eaten all day, so we walk up to the corner near our hostel to try the Chantilly, an ice cream parlor, bakery, and sandwich shop that seems so out of place here. Anyhow, it's great. I have a ham and cheese on delicious French bread.

19 June 1993 (Part One)
We’ve spent our last night in Kintambo and this morning pack for our move to the hostel downtown. A priest who’s going into town agrees to take us along. On the way, we meet a huge petrol queue outside a Mobil station. We’ve been seeing these at every gas station for the last two days. The station owners want to raise prices, but Mobutu’s government won’t let them, so they ration gas or simply refuse to sell altogether. The priest needs gas. He pulls off to one side of the queue in front of a soldier who’s surveying the chaotic scene before him. Our car is immediately besieged by guys with plastic containers of gas. They call them “Qaddafies” here. They sell petrol when the stations don’t. The cost: 15 million zaires (about $3.40) for five liters, well above the regulation price. It’s the parallel market in action right under the nose of the law who couldn’t care less. The priest buys from a young kid, then we gently work our way through the throngs waiting for transportation and out into traffic. Farther along we meet more people waiting for a ride. The priest stops and picks up two elderly white women. Nuns I suspect.

Roitelet meets us at the CAP hostel. We check in, unpack, and ready a bag for the day's work. We walk over to the offices of Roitelet's businessman friend, a Mr. Kutula, who has headquarters at the rear of a nearby mini-mall on Avenue 30 Juin. One of Kutula's lieutenants speaks good English. We chat a bit, the lieutenant explaining that he and Kutula are going to the U.S. next month to look for used aircraft in Texas. Kutula changes money for us, 4.4 million zaires for 1 dollar. Meanwhile Roitelet has reached Roger Izeidi using Kutula's phone. Roger says come on out to his place.

We wander along Avenue 30 Juin in search of transportation. Many of Kinshasa's taxis ply a fixed route disgorging and picking up passengers like a bus. Others call themselves “taxi express” and for a price will take you anywhere you want to go. We have been told to be very cau­tious about taxis and not to board one with male passengers. The unwary are often kidnapped by groups of men, driven to an out-of-the-way spot, and relieved of all their valuables.

We catch an express out to Limete near Franco’s house and turn off the main road, to the left this time. Down a paved side street past ware­houses and various other commercial concerns, we get out near yet another walled compound. Inside the gate a large, very comfortable looking house sits on the right. On the left there’s a long low building sectioned off and rented out to small businesses. Behind that is the office of Roger Izeidi. Roger, a veteran of Kabasele’s African Jazz and a longtime pro­ducer, is quite recognizable although he’s now 30 years older than the pictures I’ve seen. He is a short man, still slim and spry, and as full of energy as I’d imagined. He still works in the music business although he has left the pop side to produce tra­ditional groups.

Roger invites us to sit under a tree on the lawn of the big house, which turns out to be his. He sends out for drinks while we look over the old photos I've brought. He’s amazed to hear that Bill Alexandre is still alive. "Ah, Bill. He' our father," he and Roitelet exclaim over and over. Both help us identify more people in the photos, then we do the interview. Very informative—in contrast to Dechaud—it ties up lots of loose ends.

Afterward Roger invites me inside. His whole compound was looted by rampaging soldiers during one of the pillages. The TV, phone, some fixtures, all were stolen. Roger was shot in the foot and needed surgery to repair the damage.

Roger points out that MAZADIS is next door and asks if we'd like to see it. Of course. MAZADIS signs, the paint flaking badly, still adorn the walls on either side of the main gate. This is the stu­dio and pressing plant that Willy Pelgrims built in the late ‘50s, where many classic Congo music record­ings were made. The building is constructed in three sections, maybe 30 feet high, 30 feet wide, and as long as half a football field. The left hand section contains offices and the mastering equipment; the middle houses the studio and other miscellaneous offices. The right hand section contains the manufacturing equipment, including hand-operated record pressing machines for 45 and 33 r.p.m. discs. Fol­lowing Zaireanization of foreign-owned busi­nesses in 1973, the gov­ernment turned the whole complex over to Franco. Now it sits idle. During the week some­one comes in to open the doors. Today only a watchman looks on. Franco’s old equipment truck sits forlornly off to one side. The tires are flat; it isn’t used any more.

18 June 1993
A search for Roitelet and Dechaud is on our docket for today. Beth was recuperating yesterday, so we stayed in our tranquil Kintambo compound. She started eating again and generally feeling better, so today we decide to venture downtown. On the way we see a guy selling newspapers. The headline on one says that Qaddafi has retaliated against Congo for kill­ing his ambassador by killing the Congolese ambassador in Tripoli (this, like much of what appears in the Zairean press, later proves to be untrue).

Over at the U.S. embassy we meet with Donna Anderson, the consul. Just as we are gaining confidence that things are normal and we’ll be okay, she tells us terrifying stories about the second pil­lage that happened this past January. A lot of killing took place in the square across the street from her office two blocks away from the main embassy building. She says she narrowly es­caped being shot as she fled the scene in her car. A guy pointed a gun at her, but she ducked and tromped on the accelerator. He didn't fire. She doesn’t think we should even be in Zaire, but especially not in Kintambo. There’s lots of crime there, she tells us—robbery, car hijackings, and the like. Soldiers are supposed to be paid on the 20th, she adds for good measure. That’s two days from now. When they don’t get paid, they get nasty.

We ride with Ms. Anderson to her office where we officially register our presence in case of emergency. A Zairean named Andrew, who has retired after 30 years working for the embassy, helps us find a taxi to go in search of Roitelet. He haggles with a driver for a fare of 8,000,000 zaires. The two of them seem agreed as to where Roitelet lives. Some distance away, on Rue Kitega in a poor area of Kin, we decide to proceed on foot. Andrew and the driver tell us the address is farther down toward Avenue Kasavubu. They were right. We find we must walk through several blocks of sewage-soaked, garbage-strewn back streets. Housing here is similar to that of other African cities I've visited, but clearly sanitation services no longer function. Nevertheless, everyone we encounter seems friendly, and several warmly greet us.

Finally, near the corner of Kitega and Kasavubu, we find number 118, Roitelet's family compound. He has moved back to his parents' place after his own house was ransacked in January. He's not at home his daughter tells us. She says he has two offices, one at Soneca downtown and one at the Un-Deux-Trois, Franco's old club. He's at the Un-Deux-Trois today, so for another 8m zaires we taxi over there.

The Un-Deux-Trois is a mess. With its faded paint and broken windows, it looks aban­doned. Inside, the main club is still intact, a combination indoor/outdoor configuration. The structure's four or five stories are built around an open-air courtyard. A covered pavilion with benches to seat maybe 200 people sits in the center of the courtyard facing a stage attached to one side of the building (presumably this was once the main club's dance floor). Additional seats on the first floor of the tallest portion of the building look out at the courtyard and stage. Second floor balconies offer a similar view of the action.

These days the club no longer functions. Instead, it’s being rented for use as an evangelic church (thus the benches on the dance floor). A preacher’s pulpit and a five-piece band playing religious music sit on the stage where Franco once performed. The pavilion and stage seem to be in good shape, but the farther we wander, the worse the condition. Bathrooms don't work, and there's a goat tethered in an outer entryway. Some fixtures are missing and wiring disconnected or pulled out of the wall. The auxiliary bars upstairs that once offered high rollers a more intimate space in which to carouse, are completely abandoned. OK Jazz has to re­hearse at the Zenith, a new club down the street. Upper floors of one wing of the building still house the band’s offices, however, along with one for the musicians’ union (UMUZA).

Upstairs we find the band's secretary typing something on OK Jazz letterhead. He says Roitelet isn't around, but Simaro is. We climb another flight or two to the top floor and walk through a dim anteroom into a nicely furnished parlor with carpet on the floor and comfortable chairs. Simaro is sitting there chatting with a woman when we walk in. He rises to greet us as we introduce ourselves. He agrees to an interview next Tuesday.

After a short wait in the UMUZA office, Roitelet comes up the stairs. We give him Essous’s letters and tell him what we’re up to. With great interest he examines some of the old photos we've brought. He's amazed to learn that Bill Alexandre is still alive. We ask about security in town and the soldiers' impending payday. He agrees that we should move out of Kintambo but says we needn’t worry about the soldiers. He doesn’t think there will be any trouble. Gerry Dialungana, a guitarist I met when OK Jazz came to the U.S., wan­ders in. He’s very sur­prised to see me again. He agrees with Roitelet that we should move, so it’s decided that we will go to a Protestant hostel—known locally as CAP—near the center of town to arrange for lodging.

On the way downstairs, we meet Madilu System, le grand ninja of OK Jazz, coming up. Outside we see Simaro again, leaning up against his Mercedes. We walk down the street toward the Zenith where Gerry gives us a brief tour. The club is basically three walls with a roof that covers a seating area. The walls extend beyond the roof to enclose an open area for dancing. Beyond that, against a fourth wall, another covered area serves as stage for the performers. A bar stretches out along the left wall under the seating area's roof. Gerry calls Flavien over to say hello. He's the bass player who came to Washington with the band.

Back outside we continue along in search of an empty taxi. "The transportation situation is difficult," says Roitelet. "They steal cars in Zaire and sell them in Angola. They steal cars in Zambia and sell them in Zaire." Those that run in Kinshasa are in very poor condition. The state of the economy makes it harder and harder to get spare parts. Two out of every three cars belch acrid smoke as they sputter about the city. Our eyes burn as if we were in Los Angeles or Mexico City. Almost anywhere else most of these vehicles would be in a junkyard.

Gerry calls out, “Josky!” We look over, and sure enough there’s Josky Kiambukuta leaning against a wall talking to someone. “Here,” says Roitelet, “we don’t separate ourselves from the public like they do in America. We like to be with the people.” The musicians, he says, “see what’s going on in people’s lives and put it into the songs."

Eventually we find a taxi to take us to CAP. The four of us pile into yet another vehicle with no suspension. The impact of every bump—potholes are rampant—reverberates directly to the tail bone. The driver is a nice guy who gets us safely to the hostel. He waits while we register. According to the home church in Kentucky (we contacted them before we left the States) this place is closed, yet here we are, and it's open for business. The woman at the desk says it'll cost $15 per night. We tell her we're Presbyterians. That's different she says, it's half price for us. She shows us a room. The toilet has an actual toilet seat. I'm sold right there. We tell her we'll take it starting tomorrow.

Once we secure lodging, we taxi out to Limite, an industrial area of Kinshasa where many of the city’s wealthy live. During colonial times this was home for Europeans. The taxi leaves the main road and gently rolls down an increasingly narrow and rocky street. On the right sits Franco’s house, a walled compound containing what appears to be three, two-story buildings—a large center house flanked by two smaller ones. If not architecturally remarkable, it’s at least ostentatious enough for a great star like Franco.

Finally the road is too bad for the taxi to continue. We get out and walk down the rocky lane toward the former home of Docteur Nico. Beth looks at me and exclaims, “Where’s your bag?” My heart jumps. I turn and yell at the taxi that’s starting back up the road. The driver hears and stops. I’d put my bag with my tape recorder, camera, money, everything in his trunk and in my state of euphoria had forgotten all about it. A few more seconds and my entire trip would have gone down the drain. The driver realizes why we yelled. He apologizes and says he would have come back for us when he discovered what had happened. Whew!

Down at the end of the lane, we come to Nico’s walled compound—walls are big here. Inside sits a well-kept main house that Nico’s children, we are told, now rent out. Behind the house is a large grassy area overgrown with weeds. “This is where his body was laid out for viewing,” Roitelet tells us. Be­yond, in the rear corner of the compound, sits a small two-room house. Here Nico’s brother and collaborator, Mwamba Dechaud, the great guitar accompanist, now spends his last days. Thin and frail, Dechaud rarely goes out any more. Roitelet calls out greetings and ushers us in to meet a 60-year-old man who looks more like 80.

Dechaud's small parlor is dimly lit by two open windows and the cloth-draped door open­ing. Dechaud gets up from the chair where he’s been sitting with his ear cocked against a large radio-tape player. Old records and photos of Nico and their mother hang on the wall oppo­site the door. On the wall next to the bedroom door hand-painted, black letters proclaim, "Mwamba Mongala qui à l'epoque a fait danser Lucifer et ses 500.000 diables" (Mwamba Mongala who in the old days made Lucifer and his 500,000 devils dance).

Dechaud seems to understand French but prefers to speak Lingala, so Roitelet translates. Dechaud doesn’t talk very much. Often he’ll answer with a simple yes or no; some things he won't even talk about. Roitelet often ends up interjecting his own answers to questions I've posed. It doesn’t make for a very satisfactory interview, but it is an incredible experience just meeting the man. Dechaud doesn’t even have a guitar to play any more. He asks if we can send one from the States. I tell him I’ll try my best. He puts on a suit jacket to pose for photos, then it’s time to leave. He walks us to the compound gate. “Don’t forget the guitar,” he says earnestly with a piercing, almost desperate look in his eyes. I assure him I won’t.

16 June 1993
Beth is sick this morning. Maybe it was last night’s food (never eat raw vegetables in the tropics unless you wash them yourself), maybe the tension. By 8:00 a.m. she's feeling a little better, so we decide to try it. Out in the city it’s still a quasi ville morte. Apparently trains still can't get to Brazza, so there's no gas at the petrol stations. Heading for the beach down Avenue de la Paix, our taxi weaves through remnants of barricades that had been thrown up to block traffic. The barricades plus some burned spots on the road and a couple of stripped vehicles suggest there was trouble here last night. Closer to the center of town we begin to see armed soldiers at street intersections. We get stopped and searched at the junction where gunfire scared us half to death yesterday.

It looks like things are happening at the beach. Lots of travelers gather around lots of luggage. ONATRA, the Zairean maritime com­pany, is open and selling one-way ferry tickets for CFA6,500. As I leave the ticket window, the official we got information from yesterday comes up and re-introduces himself. He takes our passports and leads us past the guard who's supposed to check them and through the gate to the ferry landing. "Do they have bombs?" asks the guard as we pass by. "Les grands terroristes," smirks our man. He does whatever he does in his office with our passports then takes us to the mobbed immigration window. "Wait," he says and goes into the office avoiding the clamor at the window. A few minutes later he emerges, hands us our passports, and says everything's okay. We thank him profusely for saving us all the bureaucratic hoops. I shake his hand and slip him a CFA1,000 note. (Later it dawns on me that this easy passage may have been the work of Essous. He seems to have connections everywhere.)

Beth is really feeling horrible. She lies down on a large heavy-equipment tire in an effort to appease her stomach. A white woman with a small baby and a U.S. Embassy I.D. badge walks over. She's Dr. Julia Weeks of the Zaire-American Clinic in Kintambo (a district of Kinshasa). She tells us to come to the clinic if Beth doesn't begin to feel better.

Around 10:30 or so we see the ferry steaming toward us from Kinshasa. It’s really two ferries bound together somehow. Why?, we wonder. It’s hard to tell. The ferry nestles up to the dock and disgorges its cargo. Our queue begins to inch forward. The little shelter with curtained openings marked hommes and femmes that I thought housed toilets for our traveling convenience turns out to be yet another hurdle between us and the ferry. Apparently we are to be individually questioned and searched. The line inches forward, the women moving much faster than the men. Beth disappears inside, but I'm a dozen or so men away from the door. Sud­denly our savior from previous formalities appears. He takes our passports and tickets, flashes them appropriately as we slalom through the remaining officials, and leads us into an air-conditioned cabin on board the ferry where Beth can lie down. More thank-yous and we promise to come see him when we get back. Right now I’ve got to save some bribe money for the other side.

While we wait for departure, an American guy we met in line comes in to see how Beth is doing. He's a pilot with an aviation service run by missionaries in Zaire. The border is currently closed to light aircraft, and, since he lives in Brazza and flies in Zaire, he and his family are forced to commute by ferry. After some minutes, a loud cheer from outside interrupts our conversation as a small motorboat speeds away in the direction of Kinshasa. We are told that it carries Monseigneur Laurent Mosengwo, chairman of the High Council of the Republic, a parallel government formed in opposition to Zaire’s president Mobutu.

Finally the ferry sounds a couple of blasts on its horn and slowly slips away from the dock. Clumps of green vegetation float past as we chug along on our 20-minute crossing. From time to time a large white bird surfs by on one of these grassy vessels. What a life! A man comes into the cabin carrying a five- or six-month-old baby girl. I slide over to make room for him to sit down. Soon he gets up, plops the baby down beside me, and leaves the cabin. Moments later, a young woman, the baby's mother, comes in and sits with the little girl. She's a Zairean traveling home from Montreal to introduce her new daughter to the rest of the family. She and Beth have a good conversation in French. The woman says to wait for her when the ferry reaches Kinshasa so we can all disembark together. She says she has people meeting her at the landing.

It’s bedlam as we dock at the Kinshasa wharf. Passengers struggle up the ramp with their bags while blue-suited cargo handlers race down into their midst trying to get first crack at the ferry’s cache of bags and cartons. We follow the man and woman with the baby. They have promised to help us navi­gate the formalities. True to their word, they adroitly maneuver us through with only a mini­mum of hassle. One official gestures to us as if to say “buy us some beer.” I give him CFA1,000 and tell him to split it with his two co-workers. That seems to be satisfactory.

Outside we meet a taxi driver named Willy who, for 30 million zaires, will take us to a seminary near Matonge, the heart of Kinshasa’s night life, where we are told we can find cheap lodging. The zaire, Zaire’s currency, is on a headlong free fall that must be unparalleled in modern times. One dollar, which couldn’t pur­chase one zaire when the money was first issued back in the ‘60s, now buys 4,400,000 of them. Willy’s 30-million-zaire taxi ride is costing us about seven bucks.

As we drive along we see many abandoned shops, perhaps victims of one or another "pillage." Events here are now marked by their relationship to the "premier pillage" or the "deuxième pillage," or some other catastrophe that has occurred in the last three years. But despite its incredible problems the city still seems to function, as much from necessity as design. There are even cops out directing traffic.

Unfortunately the seminary can’t house us. The rector directs us to the Mission Catholique Nganda in the Kintambo district. It’s quite a distance from the center of town and will make getting around more difficult. But they have rooms and food at affordable prices in a clean, tranquil setting. It's perfect for us. Who needs the Intercontinental?

15 June 1993
We're not quite as tense as we were yesterday. We go off to the patisserie, but it's closed today. Petit dejeuner consists of bread and cheese from a small shop that dares to open across the street. We are edging closer to deciding to go to Kinshasa, despite the horror stories. We share a taxi into town to make one final assessment of the situation. For the first time we see armed soldiers at major intersections along the way.

We stop first at Air France. The office is open today and has lots of customers. Apparently a number of people are getting out of town because of the political crisis. I leave Beth to deal with our reservations and head over to the US embassy to try to talk to Cedric, the doctor who knows about the ferry. After a few minutes he comes down to the lobby to see what I want. He seems nervous and distracted. We had tried to phone him earlier and were told he'd gone over to the Swiss Air office. Maybe he's trying to get his family out of the country. He tells me that the Congolese ferry isn't running now because of the trouble. He doesn't know about the Zairean one. Go to the beach (local shorthand for the ferry terminal) to find out for sure, he suggests. He doesn't seem to want to talk much, and when he says good-bye he heads out the door and across the street instead of returning to his office. I imagine him going back to Swiss Air.

At Air France I find Beth just getting her turn at the counter. The attendant tells us there's no problem changing reservations as long as there are seats available. Our tickets are good until September. Great! We can stay for Essous's "spectacle" if it happens.

At this point we've pretty much decided to go to Kinshasa, if we can get a ferry; we go to the dock to check. Along the way we pass the treasury and the round office building, Tour Nabemba (also known as Elf Tower, for the French petroleum company), something of a skyscraper at more than 300 feet. Both are closed, presumably due to the troubles. Farther on we pass the posh Hotel Cosmos and the Russian Embassy, what looks to be an old colonial era building set back from the road behind a park-like expanse of lush lawn and tree-lined driveway.

Down at the junction leading to the "beach" armed soldiers search cars and harass pedestrians. One of them sits in a chair on the corner getting his shoes shined. We make the mistake of asking him if this is the correct road to the ferry terminal. He jumps up and demands to know where we're going. He wants to see passports and search our bags. Eventually he lets us pass, and we go on down to the terminal. An official there tells us the Zairean ferry is still operating. He assures us we can cross tomorrow if we want to.

We head back toward the town center, but as we approach the soldiers at the junction shots ring out. Everybody scatters. We scramble up an embankment and hug the ground behind some bushes near a wall. Cars squeal past us in reverse as the firing of automatic rifles continues. We can’t see what’s happening, but gather they’re firing in the air to scare someone. They have succeeded with us.

After several tense moments, cars begin to edge forward again, and people begin to pick themselves up off the ground. It’s not clear what happened, but nobody bothers us as we walk away. The same soldier is still sitting in a chair getting his shoes shined.

After coffee and a rest we walk up to the Catholic Mission to keep our appointment with David's Zairean friend, Abbot Claude Ngoma. We're about an hour late, but Claude is there to greet us. We're on African time, we tell him. Claude is very cordial. He tells us he's already sent a letter on our behalf to the seminary in Matonge (a district of Kinshasa) where he works. He gives us other letters to take with us, along with directions for how to find the place. He assures us we can stay there and probably use the seminary's car and driver too. His assurances pretty much seal our decision to go.

Upstairs we chat with David for a few minutes. He shows us a laptop computer that he uses in his work. It's an unusual sight in these parts. Beth borrows a book to read in Kin, then the three of us walk up to the Villa Washington, a club for Embassy and Peace Corps staff, to get something to eat and perhaps go for a swim. They have hamburgers and pizza and French fries on the menu. We run into James Kuklinski, the Peace Corps director. He tells us that they are evacuating volunteers to a third country, perhaps Cameroon or Kenya. Word has already gone out to them to leave their posts and gather at pickup points. He says the embassy is close to a decision to evacuate non-essential personnel and dependents. It seems the situation in Congo is worse than we thought. David wonders what to do. He can't carry out his AIDS research under these conditions. A Peace Corps volunteer suggests he fly to Pointe Noire to wait out the crisis. Things are better there, she says, and they have an airport so one can fly out to Gabon or Cameroon if things get really bad.

Back at the hotel Essous agrees that we should try to make the crossing tomorrow. He assures us we'll be okay; we just have to remember to pay small bribes along the way. Last week he sent an emissary to Roitelet in an effort to smooth the way for us. Now he gets busy writing other letters for us to carry along to help make introductions. He'll keep our suitcases in his room for us until we get back. We plan to travel light to Kinshasa.

After packing, we eat our last dinner of sardines and bread over placemats made of pages torn from an Air Afrique in-flight magazine. A white fashion model peers from behind the black pleated collar of an absurd Paris fashion creation to tout Ystais perfume from Givenchy. A go-getter type in crisp business suit boards a welcoming van for the ride to his $150-a-night room at the Novotel. He’s a jeune cadre dynamique (in essence, a yuppie).Maybe I’ll use that line on Zairean immigration au­thorities tomorrow. Occupation? Jeune cadre dynamique.

14 June 1993
Things don't appear to be back to normal, but at least the neighborhood patisserie has opened up. It's a mob scene in front of the counter as customers clamor for service while a beleaguered, substitute counter attendant (the regular apparently couldn't make it in) tries to contend with complex orders and a shortage of change. The unflappable waiter is his usual steady self, however, so those of us sitting at tables get the good service to which we've become accustomed.

Outside there aren't many taxis running. We hear that there isn't any more petrol in town. Word is the train tracks have been sabotaged in some manner, so supplies from the refinery at Pointe Noire and food from the port there can't get to Brazzaville. We meet another couple looking for a taxi to centre ville, and when one finally comes along we share. The fare is up to CFA1,000 now, double the normal cost. Downtown looks like a quasi ville morte; many businesses and most offices are closed. At the American Embassy, the counselor tells us that Kinshasa is much more dangerous than Brazzaville because of crime, but politically Kin is calmer at the moment. She feels the political tension in Brazza is getting worse, and she's not sure how it will play out. U.S. authorities are considering evacuating non-essential embassy personnel and Peace Corps volunteers from Congo in the coming days.

As for Kinshasa, the Intercontinental is the only place she can really recommend for security, "anywhere else you are taking a risk." At $160 a night we'll blow our budget for the entire trip across the river in four nights. Her advice about the ferry and customs: just go there and try your luck. Cedric, the embassy doctor, goes every Wednesday on the 8:00 a.m. boat, but she doesn't offer to let us talk to him. "Take the 8:00 a.m. boat," she says, "you can talk to him during the crossing."

From the embassy we cross the street and walk down to the office of Air France to see how difficult it will be to change our reservations if we have to. The place is locked; apparently people were afraid to come to work. We also wanted to check for a book on Congo music that Pandi showed us, but no bookstores are open either.

Back at the hotel, the tension and uncertainty start to get to us. Kinshasa stories are scary enough, but now Brazzaville seems to be falling apart too. What if we go to Kinshasa and then Congo closes the border? How will we get home? Maybe we should just pack it in and go home now. But we're so close to all the musicians I've wanted to meet, I feel I've got to at least try to see them. I offer Beth the option of going back to Paris, but she says she doesn't want to leave me here. For now, we put off making any decisions.

13 June 1993
There is some activity in the streets, so it looks like it’s safe to go out. Nino Malapet is supposed to come for an interview this morning. Outside, our favorite corner shop is closed. Down on the main road the patisserie is closed too. One of the shops run by Mauritanian merchants has opened, however, so we buy some cheese and a jar of strawberry jam for our petit dejeuner.

Morning wears into afternoon and Nino still hasn't shown up. Essous thinks he's probably afraid to go out. We call a new acquaintance, David Eaton, a Ph.D. candidate from Berkeley who's here doing AIDs research, and he agrees to come pay us a visit. We sit around the N'Soko Hotel garden sipping drinks and talking music, AIDs, and politics. We're all getting hungry, so we decide to go to the restaurant at Club Washington, an American enclave near the Peace Corps office. The kitchen is closed; the cook couldn't get to work because of the current situation.

Now we're really hungry, so we press on into the center of the deserted city in hopes of finding an open café (along the way we pass several roads barricaded with tree limbs and boards). Le Centrale doesn't let us down. This Lebanese-run bar and its competitor across the street are the only things going. Few people are out; there are only three tables occupied in the whole place. Two Lebanese women who appear to run the place are sitting outside with the customers. We ask if they can make us food. They say omelets and fries are about it, no rice or other more complicated stuff. We each have an omelet, sodas, and share a plate of fries. Total: CFA6,100, about $24. This place is expensive!

After eating we walk to the Catholic Mission near Peace Corps where David is staying to look for a Zairean guy who might be able to update us about Kinshasa. He's not in, so we catch a taxi back to the hotel, saying goodbye to David. In parting he gives me a couple of newspapers with articles about Guy-Leon Fylla and Franklin Boukaka. He knows a lot of Zairean music, having lived in Zaire for a while. He was evacuated during the premier pillage.

Back near our hotel everything is closed up. People seem to be expecting trouble. In the evening Beth and I lie in bed chatting about plans for our crossing into Kinshasa. Around 9 o'clock the crackle of gunfire sends us scrambling out of bed and onto the floor. It sounds like it's right outside the hotel, but downstairs nobody seems too alarmed. The night watchman says it came from a couple blocks away. We log another restless night.

12 June 1993
This is the day for our visit to Musée Pandi. Our appointment is in the afternoon, so there's not much to do but sit around and wait. Essous is busy in the early afternoon which makes us a bit late for out 3:00 p.m. appointment. When we finally arrive, Pandi is ready and waiting for us. He tells us he didn’t sleep much last night because he was going through old photos and other things, preparing for us. He starts to pass around the packages he has put together. They are full of won­derful old photos and documents, including statio­nery from the early recording houses of Esengo and Papadimitriou and a letter from chef d'orchestre Essous firing Michel Boybanda for not conforming to the band's regulations. Photos show a teenage Essous and his pal Rossignol (who would later collaborate in the formation of Rock'a Mambo), Groupe Diaboua from around 1954, an early formation of OK Jazz, plus several shots of Les Bantous.

Essous tells a story about one time in the early sixties when the group wanted to go to Abidjan to play some dates. They had no money for tickets, but Essous got all dressed up and went to see the director general of Air France in Brazzaville, who was an acquaintance. He told the man he needed ten round-trip tickets to Abidjan, but he didn't even have one franc in his pocket. He assured the man he was credit-worthy and would pay for the tickets when they came back. The director general got up from his desk and paced around the room. He took out his handkerchief and dabbed at the sweat that had beaded up on his brow and the back of his neck. If he gave Essous the tickets and didn't get the money later, he would have to pay from his own pocket in order to protect his job. Eventually he agreed to trust Essous.

The band flew off to Abidjan. Arriving late at night with no money, they found a nightclub open. When the featured band quit playing, the members of Les Bantous slept sitting at tables in the empty club. The next day they managed to get an audience with President Houphouët-Boigny who recognized them from a previous trip. When the president heard of their plight he gave them money and put them up in a hotel at his expense. The tour, which included a performance for Houphouët, went on successfully. Back in Brazzaville Essous paid for the ten air fares to the great relief of the director general.

Around 5:00 or so we've looked at all the photos and documents. It's too late to copy anything now because it's getting dark. We decide to just do an interview today. Two hours later, we emerge into the settling dusk. Pandi walks us down to the main road where we can find a taxi. It looks like there’s more political trouble brewing. Someone has cut down a huge tree, and it's blocking traffic. A few vehicles skirt through the sand around it, but there are not many taxis running now and all are occupied. Things changed abruptly during our five hours with Pandi. We walk around the tree and down the road, eventually managing to flag down an occupied taxi. Essous negotiates with the driver and his passenger to share a ride back to the Plateau. The normal CFA500 price has jumped to CFA700.

As we leave Ouenzé we notice that the electricity has gone off all around us. Shops are closed and few people remain on the streets. It’s getting a little spooky. We get off at the Hotel Pama thinking we'll get some dinner, but there's no electricity and the place is closed. Beth buys bread and sardines from sellers at the small roadside tables that remain, and we return to our darkened hotel. For some reason no electricity means no water either, so we can't even wash up. The hotel clerk gives us a candle, and I have my flashlight, so at least we can see to eat. Eventually the lights come on—we breathe a little easier—but radio and TV aren't broadcasting, so we can't really find out what's going on. It's not easy to sleep tonight.

11 June 1993
Essous, his assistant Canta, and I head off to Nino Malapet’s house today to try to set up an interview time. Nino lives in a white-walled compound on one of Brazzaville’s main streets, Avenue des Trois Martyrs, in the Ouenzé section. Nino greets us at the door to the compound’s main house. He’s having a beer with Rikky, the drummer, and another guy. He calls to someone for a couple of Ngoks for us, then he and Essous begin to swap stories. It’s a nice, relaxing time during which I’m told that at one time Rikky played with Franklin Boukaka in the group Cercul Jazz. Nino says he’ll come to the hotel Sunday morning for an interview.

Next we catch a taxi to go to Pandi’s house off the main road in the same Ouenzé section. Pandi ushers us into the parlor, and we sit down for a chat. Almost immediately he jumps up and goes into another room. He returns with a small booklet, a souvenir of the Esengo recording studio. It has thick, ornate covers, long and narrow, about 4 ¼ by 11, with gold leaf printing and bound with cord through holes at the top like an old-style scrapbook. Inside, the printed pages, separated by thin leaves of tissue, feature photos and biographies of the stars of Esengo, including African Jazz and Rock’ a Mambo. I’ve never seen anything like this before. All the photos are new to me. It’s a real treasure.

Pandi tells me “the soul of Les Bantous is in this house.” He goes into another room and returns with a washbasin. There was a period, he explains, when the band members—Nino, Pamelo, Edo, Kosmos, Célestin, et al—weren’t getting along very well. We came together, Pandi says, and cleansed our hands in this basin. Then we carried it outside, dug a hole near the corner of the house, and poured the dirty water into it. Then we came back in the house and each man poured a cup of palm wine. We each poured a libation on the ground and drank wine together. That was how we resolved our differences.

Essous describes another incident that shows how their lives are tied together. He says that one day Pandi and his wife were involved in a serious auto accident near the Marien Ngouabi Memorial. Less than a minute later Essous happened upon the scene. He helped extract Pandi and his wife from the wreckage and rushed them to the hospital in a taxi. When others saw the condition of Pandi’s car—that it was destroyed—rumors quickly spread that he was dead. Meanwhile x-rays at the hospital showed nothing wrong, so Essous took the two home. When Pandi emerged in public, people thought they were seeing a ghost.

Later, Essous and I re-join Beth for dinner. Essous tells us of a newspaper article that reports Koffi Olomide saying unkind things about Franco. Essous is clearly upset, and he condemns Koffi at length. He says he’ll show us the paper at the hotel.

10 June 1993
Roitelet was supposed to come over from Kinshasa today to discuss our pending visit there. By afternoon he hasn't shown up, so we finally decide to stop waiting around the hotel. We’ve met a young music promoter named Alain Lascony-Balloux, who claims to work for Koffi Olomide, Zaiko Langa Langa, Pepe Kalle, and various other artists. This afternoon he takes us to meet some music business people over on rue M’Bakas near Espace Faignond.

First stop is the shop of a Senegalese named Amadou N’Daiye, who is the main cassette dealer in town. N’Daiye conducts business from behind a counter stacked with taped offerings from Congolese, Zairean, and other African artists. Off to one side, a TV plays African music videos. N’Daiye hedges his bets. He deals in clothing, shoes, and other merchandise to insulate himself from fluctuations in the music market.

Lascony tells us that when a tape first comes out it sells for around CFA1500 ($6), but as its popularity declines it can sink as low as CFA500. Most releases have a shelf life of about three months. Artists often bring out three or four albums a year, so the market is nearly always saturated with new product. Pirates often undercut the legitimate issues thus making pricing all the more tenuous. We run into Dindo Yogo, a former Zaiko member gone solo. He gives us his new cassette. I give him a copy of The Beat.

From N’Daiye’s, Lascony escorts us over to Espace Faignond to meet another music operator, one Norbert Bokilo. We follow a narrow pas­sageway alongside the building, then climb a winding set of stairs into a dark, noisy, and very crowded L-shaped room. The building is the old Chez Faignond, formerly Brazza’s premier nightclub. It has been partitioned into several spaces, so the club, where we now stand, is only a fraction of its former grand self. It’s hard to imagine Essous’s Negro Jazz and Kabasele’s African Jazz playing here. Lascony tells us that Congolese like the ambience of a smaller space.

The club’s sound booth sits on the left as we enter. We greet Bokilo, who spins the records inside. A long bar extends along the left wall beyond the booth, pointing to a small dance floor surrounded by tables full of partying Brazzavilleans. It’s only about 5:30 in the evening and the place is jammed. They open around noon and play until four or five in the morning every day of the week. After a quick drink courtesy of Bokilo, he tells us to meet him at his shop across the street where it is easier to talk.

The shop turns out to be Bono-Music, one of the best-stocked music stores I’ve ever seen in Africa. It carries a large selection of vinyl and hundreds of CD titles, both African and American, but only a few cassettes. Bokilo aims for the high end of the market. CDs sell for CFA10,000. That’s $40! He says they sell plenty. Bokilo is also a producer, and he shows us a couple of Zaiko Langa Langa vinyl LPs sporting the Bono-Music label to prove it. Lascony says vinyl still sells, something in the neighborhood of 300 copies of each release just in Brazzaville.

Back at the hotel there is still no word from Roitelet. Lascony has already scared us with tales from Kinshasa, now Essous fills us in on the day’s political developments on this side of the river. The opposition is con­testing the election results that have been filtering out. It seems the presidential movement has won seven of the 11 seats, giving it a clear majority in the legislature. Essous fears there may be more trouble.

9 June 1993
Kosmos comes to the hotel for an interview. We get an hour of tape and some photos before he rushes off. He says he has lots of new music on tape that he's been working on with Freddy. He's on his way to Paris tomorrow to take care of some business.

Célestin Kouka is due at 3:00 p.m., but he never shows up. He lives in Bacongo, an opposition stronghold, so maybe he couldn’t get out. The vote, it seems, has not gone well for the opposition party. Its leader, Bernard Kolelas, went on television last night to call for a campaign of “civil disobedience” to force President Lissouba to hold new elections. Everyone we meet is talking politics and seems genuinely worried.

8 June 1993
We go to the recording studio with Essous this morning. I thought it would be lAD, the government-owned studio, but it turns out to be Studio Saturne, owned and operated by an architect named Edouard Satou. On the way we drop by Freddy Kebano’s house. He’s going to do some keyboard tracks as a guest artist on Les Bantous’ new album project. Freddy has his keyboard and other equipment, so he’s going to come in another taxi.

Studio Saturne is way out past Bacongo near Les Rapides, some of the cataracts along the Congo River. The taxi leaves the main road and heads down to the studio a couple hundred yards from the river. The place looks like a construction zone, but the main house appears to be complete. Inside we can see Satou’s drawing tables and stacks of blueprints. Off to one side of the parlor a guy who speaks English operates a cassette dupli­cation machine. Three cassettes every three or four minutes, he says, a couple hundred in a good day.

Next door, the studio is still under construction although all the essentials are in place, and it has been operational for some time. Inside the first door we find our­selves in the control room where most of the equipment is located. The front walls form half a hexagon and the sides and rear, half a rectangle. A large glass window in the center of the half-hexagon looks out into a spacious studio that contains an isolation booth and an array of instruments and microphones. A large steel table in the center of the control room holds a 16-track mixing board, speakers, and a remote box for the 16-track recorder, which sits on a rolling rack to the right. Another nearby rack holds two cassette decks, a DAT machine, equalizer, amplifier, and several effects units. The place is quite well-equipped.

We walk back out to the main road to look for Freddy. Soon his taxi pulls in and heads down the road toward the studio. We walk back munching peanuts and talking. The taxi that has delivered Freddy passes us as it returns to the main road. As we round the last corner we hear Freddy yelling for us to stop the car. It has left with his accessory bag. Essous takes off at a run, but clearly it is too late.

Beth and I meet the very distraught Freddy at the studio gate. All his cables, his diskettes, “all my sounds are in the bag,” he moans. Essous comes back. No taxi. He decides to go back up to a restaurant near the main road to call the radio station so they can make an announcement with the hope that the taxi driver will hear it.

While Essous is gone, Beth and I hang out with Freddy near the main gate. The longer we wait, the more Freddy calms down. He begins to tell us his story. He taught himself to play guitar despite his parents’ disapproval. As he got older, he learned to play keyboards and got further and further into the music. Now he has his own 8-track studio and works with many artists on their various projects. He doesn’t care much for the Congo/Zairean sound any more. “There’s nothing new,” he says. He’s quite taken with Western artists—he mentions Chick Corea—people who innovate and experiment.

When Essous returns, he and Freddy decide to see if they can hook up Freddy’s Korg keyboard and Akai digital sampler with whatever cables the studio can come up with. The receptacle end of a scrounged power cord won’t fit the prongs on Freddy’s sampler. Satou’s assistant strips the ends of a couple short lengths of wire, hooks them on the prongs protruding from the back of the sampler, and jams the other ends into the receptacle end of the power cord. He plugs the cord’s other end into an electrical outlet and, voila, power to the sampler. The sound cables are a match, so Freddy can now make music with his keyboard, albeit without his diskettes. He works for over an hour laying down tracks for the first two songs with a crisp, clear piano sound. I, for one, am grateful he can’t get at his diskettes. Then miraculously, the taxi driver appears at the door with Freddy’s bag. The gloom lifts. Freddy has his sounds back and a much better attitude.

The work is long and tedious. Freddy listens to passages, selects a sound, takes suggestions, then improvises something to fit. He’s really talented and very serious about his work. Other members of the band, Nino Malapet, Rikky Simeon, Lambert Kabako, wander in and out. Freddy nibbles on a sandwich and sips a Primus beer while he works his keyboard. Satou handles the controls throughout. “I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. This is what I do for enjoyment,” he says. Finally around 6 o’clock, seven hours after he began, Freddy finishes his work.

Next, Rikky takes his tam tams into the isolation booth at the back of the studio. There are seven songs, I think, and Rikky needs to lay down the tam tam tracks for each. He gets lots of coaching. Each of the musicians shouts instructions into the intercom at various times, often contradicting one another. They stop and start Rikky several times on each song. Everyone is getting tired.

Finally Rikky finishes. It’s now 9:30 and Essous calls it a day. He asks Satou to make him a cassette of the rough mix so he can work with it back at the hotel. Everyone seems satisfied with the day’s production and gives thanks for an honest taxi driver who saved what could have been a major disaster.

7 June 1993
The city appears to be back to normal today. No election returns yet. It will take several days to gather the ballots and count them. Edo comes by for his interview in the morning—lots of good stuff on tape, stories of the days of Loningisa and the origins of O.K. Jazz. Essous drops by at the end of the interview. I get a photo of the two together.

After Edo leaves, Essous takes us to the home of Célestin Kouka in Bacongo. Célestin lives in a typical Brazzaville house inside a modest, walled compound. There’s a main house in front and a smaller house behind. It’s unclear if the whole place is his. He may just be renting the smaller house. In any case, some kids go into the smaller house and carry chairs out into the yard for us to sit on.

Célestin is suffering from a cold. He greets us dressed in a frayed T-shirt and old trousers. He’s looking much older than I expected. It’s hard to imagine him as a young sapeur spending hours in front of the mirror. His celebrated hair is gray now, and he has a bald spot on top. He hasn’t been feeling well. Essous explains our project, and Célestin says he’ll come to our hotel for an interview on Wednesday.

From Célestin’s we catch another taxi to go to Pamelo Mounk’a’s house. Like Célestin’s, Pamelo’s house is modest, mud block with cement plaster and showing signs of age. Two women greet us in the yard. We’ve heard that Pamelo is quite sick, but the women say that he’s gone out. A young man ushers us into the parlor where Essous writes a note to leave for Pamelo explaining why we’ve come.

While we are in the quartier, Essous suggests, we might as well go look up Kosmos. It must be a big quartier, because we drive a long way to find the house. The taxi leaves the main road and corners its way through ever-narrowing, ever-rougher streets. Just when we think we’ve run out of road, we take an even less-improved path flanked by several yards of reeking garbage before emerging into what looks to be an area of wealth. The houses are individually walled for privacy and security. Broken bottle fragments poke upward along the tops of the walls, and iron spikes adorn gate tops. We ring the bell at Kosmos’s place. A voice calls from a rear window. It’s Kosmos. We’ve wakened him from a nap. He too has a cold, but he invites us to sit on his veranda and, after small talk and explanations, agrees to an interview at our hotel on Wednesday.

6 June 1993
Election day. “Ville morte (dead city).” No cars on the street; no businesses open. From our hotel room we hear a couple of bursts of gunfire and what sounds like return fire. There’s a polling station nearby. We only go out to find food.

5 June 1993
Michel Boybanda comes for his interview just after noon today, Saturday. Just before sitting down with Boybanda we give Canta, Essous's deputy, an "I Survived the Brazzaville – Kinshasa Ferry" T-shirt to thank him for going to see Roitelet to arrange for our visit across the river. Canta leaves today for Pointe Noire to try to arrange a concert date there for Les Bantous.

Boybanda is very talkative, and we go on for nearly two hours with him telling stories about Franco and Franklin Boukaka. While we are talking, Essous drops by to chat for a minute. We are on the topic of a "Mr. Moustache," a music promoter who worked for years with O.K. Jazz. He built a house directly across from the Hotel N'Soko where we are staying. Essous says that after Franco's death something happened to the guy, a stroke or seizure. He is now completely paralyzed and often delirious. Boybanda tells us that Moustache built the house with musicians' money, implying that the guy had not been completely trustworthy.

In the evening Essous and I go to the Congolaise, a club downtown near a bunch of car dealers. The place is locked-up tight. No Wenge Musica. Essous says this area is an opposition stronghold, so perhaps the government wouldn't allow the show to go on. Tomorrow, he reminds me, is election day.

We go instead to La Belle Epoque, the bar we visited when we first arrived in Brazza. Once again Essous is greeted like a king. We are told we just missed Nino Malapet by an hour or so. We sit inside the parlor this time in this classical African house, where apparently people (the owners?) also live. The shuffling of dancing feet has worn the floor down through the tiles, exposing the underlying cement in some places. The house DJ spins the scratchy classics. We dance and drink Ngok. Essous does the boucher.

4 June 1993
We’ve been waiting with anticipation for the day’s political rally so we can see the bands play, but as the hour comes and goes we realize something is wrong. Finally we get word from one of Essous’s entourage that the government has canceled the rally due to “security concerns.”

A short time later the same guy tells us that Edo Ganga and Michel Boybanda are down­stairs. We gulp down the remains of sardine sandwiches and rush down to meet two more Congo music greats. Edo is a tall, wiry, distin­guished-looking man with thinning gray hair. Michel looks young and strong, probably in his early 50s. We explain what we’re up to, and both men agree to sit for interviews in the coming days.

A short while later Essous joins the four of us in the hotel garden. I show them some photos of early Congo bands that I’ve managed to dig up, and the three musicians begin to reminisce. Essous tells of being in Franco’s office one day and Franco getting a call on his “red phone” from President Mobutu himself; he was that closely connected. They laugh about the lengths to which bassist De La Lune and singer Célestin Kouka would go when dressing up. They must have been the first sapeurs. De La Lune would wear big, baggy, pleated pants up around his lower chest just like they were wearing in Paris. Célestin would meticulously groom his hair, taking two hours in front of a mirror to get it just right. He would attend to each strand and then comb them into place with a great sweeping motion making a part on one side. Finally he would tie a handkerchief around his head, spread it over his hair, and lightly apply a hot iron. These guys were way ahead of Papa Wemba and Pierre Belkos.

An assistant to Essous named Canta comes in with a letter he has brought from Roitelet in Kinshasa. It sounds like things are really bad across the river. During one of the recent upheavals Roitelet's home was looted; everything was stolen, and the house was partially destroyed. Roitelet has had to move back to his old family home while he rebuilds. He says he has 7 billion zaires (yes billion; inflation is that bad) in the bank, but the bank won't allow him to withdraw it. He is interested in our visit and assures us that many of the people we want to talk to are still around.

A man called Lascony, who bills himself as a music promoter, drops by in the evening with Chairman Jacques Oyo, a dancer, Lascony says, whose choreography has inspired Congolese and Zairean bands for over 20 years. They say they'll return Sunday for an interview. Lascony also invites me to meet a record distributor in town and to see Wenge Musica perform on Saturday night.

3 June 1993
Very interesting evening in Essous's hotel room with him and Nino Malapet. They swap stories of things that happened during their careers. Nino says that Jhimmy was a very important bridge linking the older music with the new. He brought structure to the music. He used a clear beginning, middle, and end to his songs—the implication being that the music of Wendo, Bowane, D'Oliveira, and the others was more rambling.

Jhimmy tuned his guitar differently than the others. Nino doesn't know just how, but the Mi string was tuned to something other than Mi. When he played he created vibrato with his hands. "You thought his guitar was amplified." He called his sound Hawaiian. "Of course it didn't have anything to do with Hawaiian, but we all accepted it," says Nino. Gobi played guitar with Jhimmy and Dechaud sang. There is a direct musical lineage from Jhimmy to Dechaud to Nico. Nico, they agree, was a genius. He was improvising on guitar on songs like "Para Fifi" at the age of 14.

Nino also talks about going to the Pan African music festival in 1969 in Algiers. Les Bantous played a good set, he says. Pandi put on a great display of drumming, at one point climbing up to stand on his tam tams while he beat out the rhythm. An Algerian band took first, a Guinean band second, and Les Bantous came in third. "It was political," says Nino.

They also talk about Roitelet being a "born unionist." He organized the first strike at Loningisa, convincing his fellow musicians that they hadn't been getting paid as much money as they deserved. He was fired for his impertinence but went on to play at Ngoma and then Esengo before he finally quit playing. Nino and Essous share the opinion that he was probably the best bass player of the period.

2 June 1993
We go for dinner (Wednesday) at a Senegalese restaurant called Chez Thiam near the grand mosque in Poto-Poto. Over steaming plates of fish and jollof rice, Essous tells us that on Friday three bands, including Les Bantous de la Capitale, will be playing for a political rally as momen­tum gathers for Sunday’s elections.

The restau­rant has a roving guitarist who is very young but knows all the old songs. He wanders over to our table, and he and Essous sing duets, including the lovely "Essous Spiritou" written and recorded by Kabasele and Mujos with African Team. Essous tells us he first heard the song when he was in the Antilles with Ry-Co Jazz. The singers call his name along with his old partners in Les Bantous who say they miss him and want him to come home. Essous says he heard the song on the radio and began to cry. A few months later he was back in Brazzaville with his friends.

After dinner we walk a few blocks to number 29 rue M’Bakas, site of the legendary nightclub Chez Faignond. The original building, now called Espace Faignond, is still a club, smaller now and without live music. It’s been 20 years since Essous visited the place. In the old days, on nights when African Jazz with Docteur Nico and Le Grand Kalle would play, rue M’Bakas would be choked with cars and people scram­bling for a spot to see the action. “For us,” says Essous, “Brazzaville began and ended here.”

In a taxi on the way back to the hotel we pass another landmark along Avenue de la Paix not far from the Moungali market. It's the old Congo Bar where Les Bantous—with a song by Mujos called "Danse des Bouchers"—launched Le Boucher, a dance that mimicked a butcher's movements—head, hands, and hips—as he chopped meat, wrapped it, and presented it to the customer. A sign of the times, the Congo Bar is now a branch of the Union Congolaise de Banque.

1 June 1993
A taking care of business day. Stop in to see a friend of Leo Sarkisian, the Voice of America's "music man for Africa." We also check out a few of the shops that were closed yesterday—book store, paper store—on our way to introduce ourselves to Congo Brazza's Peace Corps director. The director tells us about lodging at a nearby Catholic mission. We've assumed that we've stayed long enough at the hotel at Essous's expense, so we go to the mission and arrange for a room.

We were wrong. Back at the hotel we see Essous who informs us that he has arranged for us to stay with Pandi. We cancel the Catholic mission (the phones actually work in Brazzaville). Down the street from the hotel we drop in on Madame Essous for some time. Upon returning to the hotel we find our bags have been moved to another room; Essous informs us that we're staying there for 2 more nights. He also tells us that the date of the band's spectacle has had to be changed because the hall is already rented for July 3.

Essous has been very busy on our behalf. He has written a letter of introduction for us to Moniania Roitelet in Kinshasa as we expect to go there next week. He has also called a Friday meeting of the Brazza musicians we hope to interview so we can set up appointments. Essous is really arranging things beautifully.

31 May 1993
Today we'll find a major music archive, although we have no inkling at first. It is both a Pentecostal and Muslim holiday today, Monday, so everything major is closed. We munch croissants and sip coffee in the hotel garden along with Essous, other members of the band, and friends who've dropped by. People check out copies of The Beat that I brought for Essous, occasionally pointing to my name on an article and then to me. We get talking about Docteur Nico, so I take out the photos of him that I shot in Washington along with old pictures of other musicians I dug up in various European archives in 1991. Everyone is very interested. "This is my childhood," Essous tells us. He says the young kid in the photo of Jhimmy is Dechaud. The photo of musicians in sombreros is Camille Feruzi's band—it's Feruzi in the center with his accordion. They also help me identify nearly everyone in the old Loningisa photos.

Essous tells us that Jhimmy often came to Brazzaville to play; he was the biggest star of the time, before Kabasele's rise. Essous says there were usually five in the group, and they recorded for Opika. So they would arrive at the ferry landing, each wearing a shirt with a letter on it which together spelled out OPIKA. A large group of fans—often including Essous who was around 14 at the time—would greet them at the dock and follow them into town.

After a while we decide to go out. We entertain Essous's grand kids while we wait for him to get ready. He has told us we are going to walk around to see things, but instead we get in a taxi. Essous directs the driver to a house a few miles on, and when we arrive Pandi greets us at the curb. The great drummer for Les Bantous is 60 now but still vigorous. He wears a baseball cap and glasses and, following introductions, greets us warmly.

Pandi's house turns out to be a museum for Les Bantous de la Capitale. In the living room he has 2 or 3 bags full of old photos and a stack of old 45s from the STENCO days. Pandi tells us we are very lucky we came with Essous. He says many journalists have wanted to interview him and see his archive, but he has turned them all down.
As we sit around talking, I tell them what Rochereau told me about Patrice Lumumba working for a brewery. They confirm the story and tell us that Rock' a Mambo did promotional work for the brewery for 3 months or so around 1957.

After leaving Pandi (with an appointment to come back for a full-fledged interview), we walk out to the main road and catch a taxi to the market in Poto Poto. Not many sellers today, so we walk along toward the center of town, stopping occasionally—first for a hamburger (made in advance and then microwaved on order) and often for Essous to greet old friends and admirers who approach him on the street.

Eventually we wind up at St. Anne's, and Essous takes us inside for a look. It is a grand cathedral in the tradition of those of Europe—vaulted ceiling, large nave, and choir—but still manages to look very African. The main arches form the shape of praying hands. They are made, or at least have a veneer, of locally made brick. The roof is a turquoise-colored ceramic, although more than a few of the tiles are missing. Overall the place looks a little seedy due to lack of maintenance. We meet an old man who Essous says is his uncle. The man actually helped build the cathedral. Essous says he took his first communion there before it was even completed.

30 May 1993
Had coffee at a Lebanese place and fresh croissants from a stand at a nearby corner this morning. Then we packed up and took a taxi to Essous's hotel where we checked into our very comfortable room with its own bath and hot water.

Essous's (and now our) hotel in Plateau des 15 Ans—so named because African soldiers who served in the French army for 15 years or more were given plots on the Plateau—lies in Brazzaville‘s Moungali district. We sit in the hotel garden for a time, drinking tonic and talking with Essous and some other members of the band who drop by. After a plate of great fish and chips, Essous takes us on a taxi tour of some of the city. From Moungali, we drive down Avenue de La Paix toward the Congo River into the Poto-Poto district. Brazzaville looks very prosperous. The crowded streets are well maintained and the shops full of merchandise. Banners at the traffic circles advertise Ngok and cigarettes and the coming of Wenge Musica from Kinshasa on Saturday night.

We pass one of Poto-Poto’s main landmarks, a grand cathedral named for Saint Anne, built in colonial times to serve this heavily Catholic city. Next to the cathedral, behind a seldom-used stadium, sits a memorial to Félix Eboué of French Guiana who, in Chad, became France’s first black colonial governor, and later as governor-general in Brazzaville, administered the whole of French Equatorial Africa. In the grassy area in front of Eboué’s imposing likeness, animal herders from Mali and Burkina Faso graze their sheep and haggle with potential buyers.

From Poto-Poto we drive through the Bacongo district out to the beginning of the treacherous cataracts that impede the immense Congo River as it rushes toward the Atlantic. We pull into a picturesque bar and restaurant called Les Rapides. A great sound system pounds out music for a sparse Sunday crowd. It’s a beautiful setting, looking across the vast river to the skyline of Kinshasa beckoning in the distance.

Over a chilled Ngok, Essous tells us there are other Congolese bands besides Les Bantous de La Capitale. A faction of Les Bantous, including Pamelo Mounk’a and Edo Ganga, broke off a couple of years ago to form Bantous Monu­ment, and a few younger groups are coming along. But these days it’s difficult to find live bands playing anywhere. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Essous explains, there were many dance bars like Chez Faignond and Congo Bar that booked bands. But the big dance bars have closed and smaller clubs play only records. Today’s groups usually perform only for les spectacles—large, well-publicized concerts.

29 May 1993
Spent the previous night at a small downtown hotel after arriving in Brazzaville minus our bags, which didn’t make the connection in Paris. Before bed we walked around the area to check it out a bit. Had a drink at a café in the central plaza where a three-piece band played—steel guitar, acoustic guitar, and saxophone. Very nice. A check with Air France finds our bags got here this morning on the next flight. To our great sur­prise they give us CFA3,OOO (about $12) taxi fare to go out to the airport to collect them.

After reclaiming our luggage, we begin to search for our friend Jean-Serge Essous, the great saxophonist, founding member of OK Jazz, and leader of Les Bantous de la Capitale. We first met Essous in Paris in 1992. He’s now back home at the request of Congo’s new president, Pascal Lissouba, to try to invigorate the flagging Congolese music industry.

We find his wife first. Madame Essous seems amazed to see us. She says Essous is staying at a hotel down the street. She changes clothes and takes us there in her car. Essous and some friends are gathered around the television set in his suite at the Hotel N’Soko in Brazzaville’s Plateau des 15 Ans area a short distance from the airport. They are viewing the results of one of his first projects since his return, a video aimed at unifying the country, which is in the throes of difficult political tensions. President Lissouba, in office only a scant seven months as Congo takes its crack at Western-style democracy, has endured a series of political crises, the next of which promises to play out June 6 in a second round of elections to determine winners for 11 seats in the country’s 125 member legislative body. In the first round, held on May 2, Lissouba’s “presidential movement,” a multi-party coali­tion, won 62 of the 114 seats in which there were clear winners. Essous’s video features prominent Congolese musicians like Kosmos, Pamelo Mounk’a, and Nino Malapet, coming together with a message that says in essence, if we can do it, the various factions in the country can do it too. We’ll see it played over and over again in the next few days.

Essous also tells us of his plans for a July 3 spectacle for Les Bantous. It will be his first "live" appearance since coming home. The band has recorded a new album to come out just before the concert. We'll have to change our plane reservations.

A man of action, Essous insists that we move to his hotel (likely at government expense), then escorts us to a neighborhood bar called La Belle Epoque. Walled compounds seem to be the favored housing configuration in Brazzaville, and La Belle Epoque, a bar in an ordinary house, is typical. A six-foot wall runs along the street at the front of the house. Tables and chairs are spread out along it right next to the street like a sidewalk cafe without the sidewalk. Every seat is taken as people crowd around tables covered with plates of broiled fish and bottles of Ngok, the local beer.

Inside, the front parlor bulges with partying couples, its tile floor worn through to the ce­ment from the shuffle of dancing feet. A room off to one side houses the bar behind which a DJ tries to dredge up the remaining notes from the ever-deepening grooves of scratchy 45s that have survived, much worse for the wear, for a good 20 to 30 years. Despite the fading fidelity, these classic Congo music gems are still recog­nizable. This is a bar for the older crowd, Essous explains, and clearly he is one of their favorites. Everywhere we go people rush up to shake his hand and tell him about their favorites among his many hit songs.

Nino Malapet, Essous’s longtime friend and fellow saxophonist of Les Bantous, is presiding over a front table. We scrounge chairs and join him and his friends for beer and fish and plenty of talk. I have to pinch myself. This is like sitting around a table in a Harlem bar with Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.

May 1993
Times are tough in the cradle of Congo Music. Kinshasa and Brazzaville, the twin capitals on the Congo River that gave birth to Africa’s favorite music, are suffering through a convulsive fit of withdrawal from their roles as cold war pawns and flirting with western-style democracy on the rebound. Their musical progeny prosper in Paris, but those at home struggle to keep themselves and their music alive.

For a month this summer, Beth Raps, my partner and French interpreter, and I traveled to central Africa to see the places and meet the people who helped create the music we have come to call soukous.

This entry and most of those that follow originally appeared as "To the Heart of the Congo: Searching for the Roots of Soukous" in The Beat, vol. 12, no. 6, 1993.

1992 - 1993
Back home in Washington, D.C., I spent much of 1992 listening and re-listening to the interviews I had just recorded in Europe—a chore that at first seemed daunting and potentially tedious but turned out to be a leisurely and entertaining re-living of what had been an intense and stressful period. I interspersed days of transcribing tapes with walks up the hill from my house to the Library of Congress. In that incredible place, one of the greatest libraries in the world, I began to research in depth the history of central Africa, the fruits of which appear in Rumba on the River [an even more detailed historical essay appears on this web site].

As I went along I made a promising discovery: the library housed an extensive archive of Congolese newspapers and magazines from the golden era of Congo Music, the late 1950s through the 1970s. These publications contained hundreds of articles on the music and its musicians, written at the time the events covered actually occurred. They became my next focus. At a quarter a pop, copying them was an expensive, time-consuming endeavor, but the amount of information I was able to compile proved invaluable.

Piecing together elements gleaned from the interviews I had done [and would soon do in Africa] and the printed record I had uncovered, I was able to develop a kind of triangulation to verify the accuracy of my subjects' recollections. Discrepancies, along with new information, generated follow-up questions for my interviewees and new questions for those I hoped I would soon find in Kinshasa and Brazzaville.

December 1991 - January 1992
Following our interviews in Brussels, Beth took off to meet friends in Berlin while I returned to Paris. I dropped my Brussels photos at FNAC for processing and went out to Presence Africaine to see if they had any contact information for Sylvain Bemba, the man who wrote Musique du Congo-Zaire (no luck there). I spent New Year's Eve with Essous and some of his friends, along with Essous's wife from whom he is partially estranged (although not enough to prevent her from flying up from Brazzaville so they could spend the holidays together).

In early January I went with Essous to Studio Digital where he, Jerry Malekani, and Freddy N'Kounkou were putting the finishing touches on their Ry-Co Jazz reunion CD, Yo La, for Hibiscus Records. They allowed me to shoot some photos, including what turned out to be one of my favorites, a close-up of a very distinguished-looking Essous sitting before the studio's mixing board.

Mid-January was spent tending to loose ends, obtaining photo permissions and making courtesy calls. I tried to set up an interview with producer Ibrahima Sylla, but I was never able to pin him down. I also tried to locate Richard Dick, the man who produced some of the excellent music that came out of Paris in the 1980's—notably the terrific work of Pablo "Porthos" Lubadika—but he had apparently closed-up shop and left town. Finally, at the end of January, Beth and I flew home to Washington, D.C. For the next several months I would spend my days transcribing my interview tapes and begin the process of pulling relevant quotes.

Brussels, December 1991
Despite Franco’s death and the dismantling of his business enterprises here, this capital of the new Europe, headquarters of the old NATO, and ex-metropolis of the defunct Belgian Congo continues to pump out African music. For sheer volume of recording it lags far behind Paris, but for musical quality and African atmosphere Brussels seems miles ahead. The TGV soukous (named for France’s high speed trains) of Loketo and Matchatcha finds less favor here. Computers and synthesizers seldom replace human drummers and horn players. The one-man-band method of production has yet to surface.

Perhaps the different musical approaches reflect the character of the cities themselves. Paris seems enormous and fast-paced, Brussels smaller and more easy going. Paris’ African musicians are widely scattered around the city and suburbs, but in Brussels there’s a distinct African quarter named for Kinshasa’s entertainment district, Matonge.

Stretching between Chaussee d’Ixelles and Chaussee de Wavre, not far from Port de Namur and King Baudouin’s palace is Galerie d’Ixelles, the heart of Matonge. Just beyond Clefs Express key shop and shoe repair at the gallery’s entrance, more than a dozen African shops, bars, and cafes cater to Brussels’ Africans and Afrophiles. Several fabric shops feature Dutch “super wax prints” whose blazing colors and distinctive designs are favored by women throughout sub­-Saharan Africa. Miss Elegance and Africana Coiffure offer the latest hair styles and a variety of wigs and hairpieces. Cafe Rio, La Venelle, Adelu, and Nganda Matonge serve authentic African (mostly Zairean) food, and the Malandi is a good place for a breather and a beer.

The gallery’s cornerstone is Musicanova, the place to buy African records and meet African musicians (most of them use it as a mail drop). Musicanova’s owner, an Italian named Pietro Fiei, started out selling Dutch print cloth in the mid-seventies and at the urging of African friends moved into the record business. Snapshots of Fiei with Franco and Rochereau are tacked to the wall near bins full of glorious vinyl. There are tapes and CDs too, and a large stock of Latin American and Caribbean recordings. The shop’s windows are plastered with posters touting upcoming gigs by the likes of Victoria Eleison, Viva La Musica, Zaiko Familia Dei, and members of O.K. Jazz, including Madilu System who now bills himself as “Le Grand Ninja.”

Opposite Galerie d’Ixelles, across Chaussee de Wavre, is Galerie de la Porte de Namur, another artery of Matonge. Here one finds Transit Africa, an import-export shop that specializes in cosmetics and hair care products; Isbel Voyages features low cost flights to Africa; and Les Caraïbes discotheque of Madame Fonseca, who, although I was unable to meet her, I gather is something of a fixture on the Brussels African scene.

Back out on Chaussee de Wavre near the entrance to Galerie d’Ixelles there's a small, no-name newsstand full of African oriented publications including a relatively new entry in the news magazine field called Afriqu’events. Edited by Tshombe Kayomb, Afriqu’events is a very professionally produced French language monthly. A recent issue contained a sixteen-page, full-color feature on Angola, articles up-dating the turmoil in Zaire and Togo and the tension between Burundi and Rwanda, an interview with Helen Pastoors of South Africa’s African National Congress, plus much other news and even a few record reviews.

As I poked around the newsstand's shelves, I also found copies of a music magazine from Zaire called L’As des As (ace of aces, I think). They don’t seem to arrive promptly—­the latest I found was February ‘91—but they do straggle in, consistently full of fact and fiction about the musical stars of Zaire and Congo.

Next door at number 27 I wandered into Exotic Products tropical foods, the closest thing to an African market that one is likely to find in Europe. Cartons of dried fish, manioc, yams, mangoes, plantains, and more surround the shop’s entryway. Farther inside, a myriad of spices, palm oil from Guinea, gari (ground cassava) from Togo, and assorted canned goods line shelves which lead to stacks of rice bags at the back.

Continuing along Chaussee de Wavre, at number 70, is Club Mambo, said to be the oldest African night club in Brussels, and at number 83 is Clair Obscur (don’t look for the sign, there isn’t any) another night club where a number of O.K. Jazz artists led by Dalienst and Papa Noël rehearse with their new band, Maxirama. As one might expect, echoes of the past are many in a group peopled by a bunch of (ex-?) OKers. Slow, mellow rumba intros and sweet vocal harmonies followed by a smoking sebene is still the order of the day with this group, although they do play other things, including a marvelous reggae medley. They are playing gigs around Brussels and hope to cut their first album soon.

The presence of Dalienst, Papa Noël, Dizzy Mandjeku, Lomingo Alida, Michel Sax, and other O.K. Jazz musicians in Brussels speaks to certain tensions within the band following Franco’ s death. The atmosphere has changed without Franco according to Dizzy, who currently plays with a salsa band called Moune a Case. Papa Noël says the newest O.K. Jazz album, Maby/Tonton Zala Serieux, released last December, is probably his last with the group. Although no one wants to talk specifics, it seems things are different in O.K. Jazz with Simaro Lutumba at the helm and Franco’s heirs still sorting out their roles in the group’s management.

There’s more to Matonge around the corner from Clair Obscur on a short street called rue de Longue Vie (long life). Maison Longue Vie at number 20 sells dried fish and vegetables, “alimentation exotique.” Next door, Restaurant Makossa specializes in food from Cameroon and the Antilles. The Un-Deux-Trois (named for Franco’ s Kinshasa club) features Zairean makayabo and American hamburgers while Yowa Jacky touts its Kinshasa snacks and Au Soleil d’Afrique its “Spécialités Eurafricaines.”

Outside of Matonge there’s a Nigerian restaurant on rue Bara near the Gare du Midi, Le Timis Discotheque Tropicale near the Gare du Nord, and the new Tropican Club on the city’s east side. Don’t go to anything involving music much before midnight. No one will be there. Things get rolling around 12:00 or 12:30 and cook until 5:00 or 6:00 a.m.

In addition to interviewing the O.K. Jazz musicians, I was able to meet with Belgium's resident jazz historian Robert Pernet, a man well-versed in Congo's colonial period who also has assembled an enormous collection of memorabilia that extends far beyond the boundaries of jazz. Pernet introduced me to Charles Hénault who provided photos and recollections of his days with African Jazz. Thanks to Pernet I was able to locate and interview Bill Alexandre, the man whose electric guitar transformed Congolese music. I also found the heirs to the remains of the Olympia label and spent many hours in the Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale at Tervuren.

Belgian radio plays an important role in promoting Congolese music and keeping Afrophiles informed of events. One of the most popular programs is Cadence, produced every Saturday night by Radio Television Belgique Française for its Radio 21 service. Producer Brigitte Grafé and host Nicole Debarre mix soukous, salsa, soca, and a little reggae with live interviews of whoever’s playing in town. The night I was there Dalienst showed up to hype a Maxirama gig, and Lengi­ Lenga chatted up an appearance by Familia Dei. Shepherding the somewhat tipsy Lenga around was producer Kokar-Massakuba of Editions Sans Frontières, a relatively new label that issued the new O.K. Jazz LP.

Good music on the radio, lots of action in the clubs, and plenty of African atmosphere in the streets help relieve the sting of Brussels’ chilly, rainy weather. It would, of course, be more to the point to go to Kinshasa as I had planned; it’s sunny and warm there. But that will have to wait for Mobutu and his rivals and the people who have suffered under them to decide the country’s future political course.

Much of this entry first appeared as "Brussels When it Drizzles" in The Beat, vol. 11, no. 3, 1992

October - December 1991
Soon after our encounter with Gilles Sala (see 6 October) the page proofs for Breakout arrived from University of Chicago Press. In the midst of correcting proofs, compiling the book's index, and continuing to interview Congolese musicians, I had no time to keep up my diary. Nevertheless, I interviewed producer Jimmy Houetinou, Tshala Muana, Kanda Bongo Man, François Poste of Mélodie distributors, Syran M'Benza, and Gilles Sala in the middle of October.

Near the end of October, Beth and I flew down to Conakry for a month in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Some of my former students from my days as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone had started a wholesale trading business, but in order to expand they needed a truck. Through friends in California I had found a rust-free Datsun pickup which Beth and I had driven back east during the previous summer. We used it to move ourselves from Orlando to Washington, D.C. and then shipped it on mining supply boat from North Carolina to the port of Kamsar, in the area of Guinea's bauxite mines north of Conakry. Beth and I collected it at the port and drove it south into Sierra Leone to present to my friends in the northern town of Fadugu.

By early December we had returned to Paris to wrap up a few things we'd left undone. Getting old photos was one, and to that end I visited the offices of Bingo and Amina magazines, as well as the Radio France Internationale discotheque. I also interviewed Emeneya Mubiala and Franco counselor Malambu ma Kizola and spent more time with Essous and Gilles Sala. Then, on 11 December, we boarded a TGV train bound for Brussels.

6 October 1991
Went to sit in on Gilles Sala's radio program Salarama at the studios of Tropic FM 92.6 on Boulevard Diderot near the Gare de Lyon. We telephone the studio from the street, and someone comes down to let us in. Sala is already on the air when we are ushered into his studio. He's in the middle of a segment on the crooners of the U.S. It's rather unlikely fare for Tropic FM, something only the venerable Monsieur Sala can get away with. He has taped all the music in his home studio and adds his commentary—most of which he writes on the fly in the studio during songs—live during the show. He sits at a microphone on one side of a four-foot-high partition while his engineer handles the controls on the other. They work together in a much-practiced ballet of hand signals and nods of the head.

Sala swipes at the air with sweeping gestures as he touts his favorite performances, his legs swaying back and forth beneath the table as he talks. In between announcing and writing the next break, he chats with us and talks across the partition to his engineer. He gives us copies of his press kit plus some records he has recorded and other's he's produced, a very nice and helpful gift.

The first hour, being given to Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and others like them, makes for an awkward segue to an African segment via a couple station promos. Up comes "Table Ronde" by African Jazz, and then Gary and Beth are on the air for a few questions. After that, "Indépendance Cha Cha" and we're done. Sala moves into a Caribbean segment on a clarinetist from the islands.

Time goes quickly, and the show's two hours end at 5:00 p.m. Programming shifts to Tropic FM's suburban studios. Sala packs up, and we follow him and a friend of his to a café across the street. In a few minutes the engineer joins us. I show them copies of The Beat and some of my photos of Docteur Nico. He asks about the possibility of him writing a column about new Paris African releases. He also wants to know about record companies in the U.S.

Eventually we get around to talking about ethics in the business. Manu Dibango's name comes up, and everyone is off and running with tales of mistreatment from a disrespectful M. Dibango. Sala says so many artists seek out influential people like himself and others when they are on the way up, and then, when they've made it, forget where they came from and who helped them along the way. Sala tells of being invited to participate in the taping of a TV show Dibango was doing recently. He says he was interviewed along with others, but only he, Sala—and he of all people!—wound up on the cutting room floor. He was seen in the background of several shots "like a potted plant," but none of his words made it into the final edit. Sala takes this as a great affront.

We also talk some about producers. Sala is a great defender of the Maniatakises. He feels that they alone were ready—and in fact did—put out money, both for production and promotion, to push African artists and their music. He thinks most producers aren't ready to do that. Many are satisfied just to get their names on a record (and sometimes their picture) to impress their girl friends. Sala and his two friends go on at some length about this. Artists too share the blame, he says, because they don't abide by contracts. They may make a recording for one producer then take the same music and sell it to one or two others. He thinks there are generational differences. The old artists would not behave in such a way; they were much more honorable. The conversation stays in the rut of this discussion until we leave.

We go with Sala to the Metro and accompany him for a few stops. He tells us about the Maracas d'Or, an annual award (similar to the Grammy) for the best music from the black Francophone countries of Africa and the Caribbean—an award that he helped establish. He is still a biggie on the board. He's in a jovial mood and says you have to have fun in life. He talks of some of his famous photos but says he doesn't sing any more. "In France it is only the young singers who survive." Nevertheless, he tells us, "I'm married to music."

2 October 1991
At 5:00 p.m., after a day going through old Bingo magazines on the seventh floor of Radio France International, I cross town to check out Afrisa's rehearsal at Studio Plus on Avenue Jean Aicard. Studio Plus occupies a large portion of the building and consists of several soundproof rehearsal studios of varying size on two floors. Rochereau's band is assembling in Studio 6, a hot, smoky room of about 15' by 40', but the boss is nowhere to be seen. Instead musicians are still unpacking and setting up, so although I arrive nearly an hour late for the five o'clock session, I haven't missed anything.

Without warning, without a word being spoken, drumsticks click and the band, which to me didn't seem anywhere near ready to play, strikes up a slow easy rumba. Suddenly it's 1963 as the musicians begin to reprise a series of Tabu Ley favorites. The players show varying degrees of enthusiasm for the process. The younger of two sax players, Akazol Kalula, is alive and into it, playing with gusto and dancing when he isn't playing. The others clap for him. In contrast, the older saxophonist, Kongi Aska, slouches against a stack of speakers as if he's bored to tears. But he's obviously paying attention, because he occasionally corrects the keyboard player. For the most part, however, there is little talk.

The session, it seems, is being run by the chef d'orchestre, none other than Shaba Kahamba. The rotund Shaba, dressed in a dark navy sweat shirt and black pants with a yellow trucker's cap worn backwards on his head, has perched himself on a stool in front of a speaker stack. He fingers his bass and nods approval or disapproval to his troops, stopping occasionally to applaud.

The band sounds great. It's wonderful to hear a Congo band with saxophone, an instrument—long a standard in Congo Music—that is sadly lacking in most current productions. Both sax players are exceptional as is lead guitarist Huit Kilos who leans into a chair's back, his body straight, rump just catching the seat, feet outstretched, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, and fingers flying to produce the clean, crisp, unforgettable ringing sound of Congolese guitar. They play almost non-stop for more than an hour, pausing only a few seconds each time there will be a break in the show.

Faya Tess, who welcomed me to the rehearsal room and made a place for me to sit, takes the floor facing the band and sings at least six numbers, some with backup from two male and one female singer. Four or five dancers (they drop in and out) do their routines behind her, and during breaks in her vocals she joins them. Afrisa is rehearsing for a tour of Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, I'm told, so that is the reason for the concerted effort.

The front of the room where I'm sitting is lined with people who, like myself, seem to have little or nothing to do with the proceedings. Apparently they're friends of the musicians. Some minutes into the session a guy who looks like a businessman—he's dressed in a suit and carries a briefcase—and another guy walk in to observe. People make room for the guy in the suit (I never found out who he was; probably a financial backer of some sort).

After an hour or so, the dancers work on some routines without Faya. Somewhere into the second or third one, without any apparent warning, two of the women get into a shouting match. Perhaps a critical word was said. I don't know. I didn't see anything unusual. The flare-up simmers a few moments then dissolves into a fight. A thrown shoe finds it's mark, and the non-combatants rush to intervene. Shaba calls a halt to the whole session at this point. Everyone packs up and heads out. Faya comes over to apologize for the outbreak. Despite the rough ending, it was fantastic for me to sit there watching the band make it's wonderful music—the real thing, completely devoid of the Las Vegas touches that Rochereau has sometimes employed—a genuine highlight of my time in Paris.

1 October 1991
Tuesday night we go to Rigo Star's "office" for our long-awaited interview with Mbilia Bel. We go downstairs and knock on the door, but no one answers. We go back up to sit on a window sill and wait in the unfurnished and deserted lobby. A few people come and go. After five or ten minutes, Rigo emerges from the elevator and walks toward the stairway to his place. He turns and looks our way, so we shout a greeting. We tell him no one is downstairs. He says Mbilia is there, probably just dressing up. He goes down to check. In a minute or two he returns and leads us back downstairs.

Mbilia greets us pleasantly, and I begin to set up my tape recorder. She and Rigo field a phone call from Washington, from someone who wants them to come for concert dates in November. Mbilia seems very nice and is assertive in her phone conversation. She seems to know what's going on. After the call she answers my questions while Rigo listens to music on his headset. When we depart from factual questions and get to women's issues, she seems to be at a loss, however. Rigo interjects his opinions several times, but we fail to get much on the subject out of Mbilia.

She seems to rely a lot on Rigo and gives him the credit for her terrific album Phénomène. Rigo wrote the music and did the arrangements. She says they didn't do much this year, but in 1992 they plan to be very busy. She had hoped they could go to Zaire in December to perform, but the political situation makes that look increasingly doubtful.

Mbilia and Rigo pose for some cute photos. Mbilia tells us she enjoyed the interview. It was kind of refreshing that she didn't try to hog all the credit for her success. She is a fine singer and performer, and for her that seems to be enough.

30 September 1991
Diblo Dibala meets us at the train station in Châtenay-Malabry south of Paris. His little daughter is sitting in the back of his Renault sedan holding her umbrella. His apartment is only a little less cramped than Wuta's, although it is in much better condition. Diblo has lots of sound equipment, including a four-track cassette recorder which he uses to work out song arrangements. He answers my interview questions, and then we pile into the car for a ride across the bottom of Paris to attend the start of a rehearsal session for his band, Matchatcha.

In the car he tells me that after its US tour, the group spent a month playing in Kenya. Diblo says he often gets offers to tour from African countries but not from his birthplace, Zaire.

Eventually we arrive at what appears to be a former food storage or food packing building, converted into space for musicians. The building's fifth floor is occupied by rehearsal rooms, which apparently were once large, walk-in refrigerators or freezers. Most of Matchatcha's other musicians are waiting in the hall. Diblo checks in at the counter. We go inside, and the musicians set up in a 15' X 20' or so room. I take photos as they begin to run through some of the material that needs rehearsing. On the way out we run into the bass player, Miguel Yamba, coming up the stairs. Komba, the drummer still hasn't arrived. African time lives on in Paris.

24 September 1991
We drop into AMG Productions, the headquarters of Abeti and her husband/manager Gérard Akueson. This time Akueson is in, but unfortunately (I used stronger words at the time) my tape recorder malfunctioned on the cassette's second side while we were talking about Docteur Nico. With Beth's help, I hurriedly tried to re-construct that part of the interview from memory as soon as we got back to our apartment.

Akueson said he got to know Nico, Franco, Rochereau, and the others when he first went to Zaire in the 1960s. Over the ensuing years he saw Nico's career grind down slowly until around the end of the seventies when his band broke up and he stopped performing. "He lost confidence in himself," Akueson said. He also drank a lot, and it got to the point that Nico's hands would shake when he tried to play. Akueson feels that it all went back to when Nico's first wife left him. He was devastated. Eventually he married again, a younger woman. Nico had fathered a number of children with his first wife, and Akueson thinks that the second wife also bore children. She died shortly after Nico, giving rise to rumors that AIDs was responsible for the demise of the both of them.

When Akueson took over as artistic director of the Office Togolais du Disque, he invited Nico to come to record. Nico arrived in Lomé with his brother Dechaud and stayed several months. Akueson recalled that Nico easily adapted to the new, multi-track recording technology.  Most of the material recorded was Nico's, but he was open to ideas from the other musicians. Nico directed the sessions and arranged the music. Akueson says that Nico was very improvisational. When they did re-takes, Nico would never play his part the same way.

At one point I asked if one of the reasons for Nico's decline was that he was too rigid musically and wouldn't change with the times. Akueson disagreed strongly. He said that nearly every young guitarist tried to pattern himself after Nico. Personal problems, in Akueson's view, are what brought him down. Nico believed people were out to destroy him through supernatural means.

20 September 1991 (part 2)
Friday evening we've been invited to dine at Farafina by singer and superb dancer Pierre Belkos. Although we've made a date for 9:00, in typical African fashion he shows up around 10:30. Belkos, a real sapeur, is resplendent in a plaid jump suit with enough tucks and pleats to clothe an entire family. The suit is made so that the upper part is in the shape of a generous A-type shirt, and Belkos wears a beautiful, long-sleeve, full-collar shirt underneath. At the back of the suit, two short lengths of elastic with suspender clips hold the upper straps of the suit from working their way off his shoulders.

Farafina sits on Rue Quincampoix, a narrow back street near Les Halles and the Pompidou Center in central Paris. A large, double set of old wooden doors forms the entrance at street level. Inside, narrow stone steps lead down into a cellar that must date back more than 100 years. The stairs lead to a parlor-sized room containing a bar at one end and a station with cash register, plates, and various utensils for the wait staff. The room serves as entryway, and it's few tables harbor the overflow crowd. To the left, past the wait station and through a narrow doorway, another room that looks like an ancient wine cellar beckons. Large stone pillars rise from the floor branching out at about the height of six feet to form supporting arches by joining each other. The arching, vaulted ceiling rises perhaps eight to ten feet at the most, giving the room a crowded cozy feel. Tables line one wall where there is a straight-shot opening to a small stage at the rear. On the left, the pillars and arches form natural dining booths where several more tables are shoved together for maximum seating. Dinner guests sit side by side, eating together like a big family.

Away from this main room, back past the wait station and up a short but broad flight of stairs, lies the kitchen and another quieter and more spacious room where diners can eat and talk with less noise and scrutiny.

A kora player entertains in the main dining room as Belkos, Beth, and I take the last available seats. Tough luck. It turns out that someone else has already claimed the seats, so we go back to the bar and order at a table there. The food is expensive and a long time coming, but it is very good. Fortunately for us, Belkos is picking up the tab. He also brought me a copy of his new video, which he's using to support a new LP. Halfway through dinner I look around to see Salif Keita strolling through the door. It is quite a sight to see this snow-white, black African in a white tailored suit, his head shaven, an ear ring dangling from one ear, and his face sprouting a two or three day stubble. A journalist for Bingo Magazine, which is owned by Farafina's owner and headquartered upstairs, seems to act as a greeter. He rushes over to Keita and introduces him to us as he passes by. Later in the evening this same man informs us that Tabu Ley has arrived. He leads us up to the rear dining room to greet the great man who is engrossed in quiet conversation with a female companion, a very Parisian looking woman of middle age who looks to have packed a lot into her years.

While we're eating Jean Baron stops by to greet us. Other musicians begin to wander onto the stage with their instruments in hand—a guitarist from Cameroon, a bass player with dread locks, an older, rotund sax player from Tabu Ley's band, and several more. They're essentially a bunch of regulars, based in Paris, who come to jam at Farafina, and around 11:00 or so they start to play. The music is an eclectic mix of African styles with a few jazz licks thrown in for good measure.

After a while Belkos bounces on stage and sings three or four songs. Beth and I join the patrons who've gotten up to dance. There's not a lot of room, so people dance in the main aisle running from the door to the stage. The waiters have to thread their way through the gaggle of undulating hips and shuffling feet, adroitly moving their trays when a dancer's wayward arm threatens to upset them. The music is great, played for the fun of it with a love and warmth of feeling.

It's been a long day for us, and we take our leave of Belkos and the others we've met while the party's still in full swing. On the way out we meet Jimmy N'vondo "Jimmy Sax," so I introduce myself. Jimmy sounds like he knows English pretty well. Belkos accompanies us out into the street. He commandeers a taxi that is unloading passengers, and, exhausted, we ride off to Saint Denis.

20 September 1991 (part 1)
After Beth's morning meeting with a woman for whom she's done editing work, we head into Paris on the RER to the Javel stop near Mr. Fylla's office (see 4 September's entry) along the Seine for our meeting with Rochereau. We telephone along the way; a woman answers—we later find out it was Faya Tess—to see if 11:00 is still okay. She goes to check and returns to say he's taking his bath and could we make it a little later?

At 11:30 we reach Rochereau's building and are buzzed into the lobby. Rochereau's apartment is on the ground floor to the left, and he greets us at the door dressed sharply in western-style suit and tie. He ushers us into the parlor where Mr. Fylla, who is apparently taking a day off work, is seated looking rather resplendent himself with a silk pouf handkerchief stuffed into the pocket of his sport coat to top off his natty ensemble. Fylla helped set up our interview, so it's no surprise to see that he'll be sitting in.

We ensconce ourselves in the parlor on a couple of overstuffed easy chairs placed side by side next to an enormous, highly-polished, ebony sideboard that looks as if it might open into a bar. Shelves on its upper reaches hold an encyclopedia, most of whose volumes are still swathed in their clear, cellophane wrappings. The wood is so highly polished we can see our reflections in it. Sideways from us, and opposite the sideboard, sit Rochereau and Fylla. I set up my tape recorder on the ebony-trimmed glass coffee table in front of us.

I show Rochereau the photos I took of him when he was in Washington, D.C., and he remembers our interview at his hotel in Virginia. Although he says he has to leave soon, we talk for nearly two hours. Occasional phone calls interrupt, and Fylla decides to leave, but Rochereau seems delighted to answer my questions.

He is getting ready for a long tour of several African countries, New Zealand, and Australia, plus he's moving to a different apartment. That's why people are calling, he says. He also tells us he has started a management company to handle the affairs of other artists. He gives us a copy of his new album Face à Face.

As we are leaving we ask if it would be possible to interview Faya Tess. It is then that we learn that she is the woman we've seen walking barefoot around the apartment in wrap-skirt and blouse, looking like Rochereau's daughter—a big contrast to her glamorous photo on the new album's back cover. She agrees to talk to us next Monday.

After lunch we take the Metro to Place Clichy for our re-scheduled interview with Abeti and her husband/manager Gérard Akueson. When we get to their record shop/business office, there sits Abeti behind the counter with one of her children—the youngest daughter—talking with someone. When we explain why we've come, she says she'll be happy to talk, but that Akueson told her nothing about it, and what's more, he isn't even in town. He's out on tour with Victoria Eleison.

Abeti is a rather short and stout woman, heavily made up with her eye brows plucked and new ones painted in great arches up higher on her forehead. Her skin is a creamy light brown, and she's clothed in a beautiful gown and head tie. She is a very forceful, driven woman who is intent on having a career even more successful than it already is. She thinks soukous has the potential to be as big as rock, and she wants to be a central force for making that happen.

She talks rapidly during our interview leaving Beth with little opportunity to translate. She tells us what she wants us to know of her life story but leaves out much of her early life because, she says, it has painful memories. Her parents are both dead, and it appears their deaths might be connected to the political turmoil of the sixties. She also seems hazy about much of her business affairs, referring us instead to Akueson for information about her Olympia and Carnegie Hall appearances.

Abeti says she always felt different from other people, and Beth points out that may have helped her do what seems difficult for most women—that is to defy tradition and go into show business.

As we prepare to leave I tell her I want to buy one of her older LPS (Abeti: Keba na Mifiti). She says it’s the last one, but she'll give it to me for free. I ask to take photos. She agrees but first she must touch up her makeup. She tell us while doing the touch up that Tina Turner has given her inspiration. She says at home a woman her age (36 I think she said) is considered to be getting old, but there's Tina still going strong in her fifties. Abeti says that gives her hope for her career.

19 September 1991
This morning we interviewed Moumouni Ouattara. He has a small boutique on rue Sainte Marguerite in Pantin on the outskirts of Paris where he sells records, CDs, and tapes, along with Afro-American beauty products. One wall is lined with pegboard brackets holding African and Caribbean records. A box on the floor contains close-outs at a reduced price. The opposite wall is lined with shelves of beauty products as is the counter at the rear of the shop where a clerk helps customers and makes sure there's always music on the turntable.

Ouattara tells us there's no place to talk in his back room, so we go to a café next door. He buys us croissants and coffee, and we sit down at a table in the back to talk. He's a very friendly guy and seems rather proud that an American journalist has come to interview him.

The first ten minutes of the tape didn't take for some reason, but Ouattara said he's from Abidjan and has always loved music. He even wanted to play the guitar, but his parents objected. After leaving school he worked as a conductor with the bus company in Abidjan.

In the late sixties one of his bosses invited Ouattara to come to Paris with him for a month's holiday. Ouattara liked the city and decided to move there in 1969. He worked as a salesman for Renault cars on the Champs Elysées. With money saved from work, he opened a record shop where he sold mostly foreign records. His move into producing stemmed from that venture.

In the afternoon we go to see Wuta Mayi on rue Léon near Marcadet Poissonniers in the 18th Arrondissement. His apartment is in a rather rundown building. The apartment below his has a notice taped to the door saying it is under surveillance by the security police. Wuta's daughter answers our knock, and we are ushered into a small, cramped parlor. TV's on the wall opposite the entryway, a sofa sits along an adjacent wall. There are large, overstuffed easy chairs at either end of the room, with a coffee table in the middle. When the three of us sit, there's no room for anyone to walk through unless one of us stands.

The first daughter has gone into the next room. A second, older daughter comes home later and passes through the parlor into the next room. Wuta wants to get a better place, perhaps outside of Paris, but his wife works in the city so he can't really do it.

I ask why he doesn't travel with the other three of the Four Stars, and he says it's an "administrative" problem. His paperwork, it seems, is not quite in order, so he is afraid to leave the country for fear he won't be allowed back in. Perhaps because of his inability to travel he appears to be the least prosperous of the Four Stars. He seems a little fatalistic when discussing his career, saying it's up to God, or if God agrees, things will go well for him.

17 September 1991
Another good session with Essous today—2½ hours of tape plus conversation and coffee afterward. He talked extensively about racism, at one point stopping the tape to explain how things worked in old Léopoldville. An all-black band—he said off the record—couldn't play for white audiences, that is, in the white clubs. Some Europeans would venture into the African quarters of Léo to see African bands play, but the bands had "no opening" to play in white clubs. The rule was apparently well understood, although it was not written. Before we all went out go to get coffee, Essous had hauled out his sax and played some while I snapped photos.

At the coffee shop, he explained that in Léo Africans had to carry papers that would attest to their legality as residents or confer permission for them to be in town. He mentioned early morning raids on African neighborhoods where people would be rousted out of bed and commanded to show their papers. The authorities tried to limit emigration from rural areas, so everyone (men especially) had to have a job. For Africans from other countries, like Isaac Musekiwa (who came from Rhodesia), it was even more important to have a job. Visitors from Congo-Brazzaville, like Essous, had an easier time because of the close relations between Belgium and France. Essous says he, as a foreigner, could go into some restaurants to eat while a big star like homegrown Franco would not be allowed to enter. Whenever questioned by the authorities, Essous said, all he had to do was show he had a visa from a French-ruled country, and everything was okay.

Also over coffee—actually Essous had a couple of beers, and I went next door to buy him a pack of Marlboros—he said that the Greeks and Jews (often one and the same) who ran businesses and recording studios were the Europeans he and other musicians had the most contact with, rather than the Belgians.

I also asked Essous about musicians being involved in diamond smuggling, and he confirmed that it did occur. "After all, if you're a big star, who's going to stop you at the airport and ask to search your bag."

At 3:00 P.M. we arrive chez Maniatakis for an interview with Colette LaCoste and Charles Maniatakis, the proprietors of Safari Ambiance (they are married and in everyday life use the surname Maniatakis). They show us some old photos and a video they had produced in 1984. Most of the photos were taken at promotional events they held in conjunction with a liquor company, held to hype the music. LaCoste talks about the artists, Jacob Desvarieux (Kassav') is among them. She gives us three photos to copy: one of M'Pongo Love and two others with her and M'Pongo, Sammy Massamba, and Maniatakis.

The video runs in black and white because it is in the PAL format, not the French one. It features an African medley with Elvis Kemayo, based on his "African Music Dansé Dansé" from an LP. Other songs from Congo and other places are woven in against various backgrounds in Paris. The video also includes songs from Tshala Muana (footage shot around Paris) and Ali Baba (shot in Amsterdam). The Maniatakises estimate they spent 100,000 francs to produce it. They say it went over very well, especially in Africa where it got lots of TV air time.

The Maniatakises seem somewhat embittered by their experience in African music. They feel they were very honest and upfront with musicians but didn't receive the same treatment in return. Contracts, they say, meant nothing to African artists. They would spend money to produce an artist only to have them leave as soon as someone else offered them money for another project. In what was probably only a minor exaggeration they say that at live gigs, would-be promoters with money in their pockets would wait at the stage door to offer projects to the musicians.

16 September 1991
Nyboma and Bopol are to come for interviews today. Nyboma shows up first, around 3:00, although Bopol promised he would be here at 2:30. So we start with Nyboma who explains the origins and make-up of several of the more obscure groups that I know little about. This is good. Bopol's arrival with a friend—a drummer from the Caribbean named Ti-Paul—interrupts us for a few minutes. From then on everything seems rushed. Bopol and friend say they need to leave soon, plus I want to keep each interview to an hour. Phone interrupts too. After 45 minutes we finish with Nyboma, and he leaves. In the rush I forgot to snap his picture.

Bopol provides good information—as did Nyboma—and he seems a bit looser. The time is too short, but he takes the interview seriously and tells his friend to take the car and go do what he has to do and then come back. After the interview I show him some of the old photos of Congolese musicians I've collected, and he plays me a cassette of the first tracks (Syran's lead guitar and Wuta's vocals are yet to be recorded) of his latest album, to be released in early 1992 on BM records, his own label. The LP dramatically increases the use of synthesizer, which I feel detracts rather than adds to the music. Bopol, however, says it is a musical trend that the buying public demands, so he feels he and others must use it.

Bopol also mentions clubs where bands used to play in Paris. He says the two most popular ones are closed now. He attributes it to racism in France. If they were white clubs they'd still be open is the implication.
He checks out copies of The Beat, Stapleton and May's book [African All-Stars], and especially Bemba's [50 ans du Musique du Congo-Zaïre] from which he appears to be taking notes—copying lyrics perhaps. Ti-Paul returns around 6:30, and after a few minutes they leave.

Later in the evening Pierre Belkos calls. He has gotten our phone number from Bopol. He invites us to dinner Friday night at Farafina, a Paris club where he'll be performing. We agree to talk again Thursday, after our move from inside Paris to the suburb of St. Denis, to make final arrangements.

11 September 1991
This morning we travel to our long-awaited rendezvous with Jean Serge Essous. We take the RER and then a bus to where he is staying on the southern outskirts of Paris. Essous greets us in the elevator—he was on his way down to look for us—and escorts us to the tenth floor apartment where he is staying with friends. It turns out that he has been in Paris for almost three years, during which time he was unable to play because of abdominal problems that required surgery. Today he looks quite fit, almost like he could go back to the football (soccer) field where he spent much of his youth.

We set up in the parlor around a table that appears to double as a dining room table. Essous is more than I had hoped for. While puffing on an occasional cigarette and nursing a beer as he talks, he starts at the beginning, laying out his personal history and the evolution of the music, as he experienced it, in a logical and detailed fashion. I need only ask an occasional question to clarify something he has explained. The interview goes on for three hours, which exhausts my supply of cassettes.

Once we wrap up, Essous accompanies us to our bus stop and tells us along the way that he will return home sometime in 1992. Right now he is rehearsing for a reunion LP of former members of Ry-Co Jazz. A producer from the Antilles who grew up on their music is putting the whole thing together, complete with a video. We bid good-bye and arrange another meeting for next week.

10 September 1991
Interview today with Syran M'Benza in Villiers Sur Marne. We've heard that scheduling with Syran can sometimes be problematic, but today we find him to be a man of his word. He is expecting us for our appointment and is more than happy to talk about his involvement with the music. We talk for nearly two hours as his wife looks on and serves us Coke. As we part, Syran gives us more useful telephone numbers, two copies of his latest album (test pressings), and a cassette of the new Four Stars release. Both are very good.

At 4:00 we go for our appointment with Abeti and her husband/manager Gérard Akueson, but they aren't around. A couple of days later Akueson calls to apologize, saying he got the days mixed up. We reschedule.

5 September 1991
Back again to see Rigo Star. We mis-communicated once and missed each other. He's at his office this time, a small studio apartment that he uses to work in. A brown, arm-less sofa bumps up against one wall with a coffee table littered with plastic soda cups, a telephone, and assorted papers sitting in front. A sound system occupies the opposite wall. Rigo's guitars sit next to the sofa. A fridge hums in the corner.

Rigo briefly stops the interview a few minutes into it, opens the fridge, and offers us a drink from among an assortment of beer, wine, and soda. Mario from Trio Madjesi sits in on the interview. Rigo says we can talk to him too, but there isn't enough time or tape. Too bad, I'd love to get some reminiscences from him.

Rigo looks the same, medium height and a little chunky—perhaps a few pounds heavier than when I saw him in D.C. He's much more relaxed than he was in D.C., and he talks more expansively and articulately. He's wearing a black denim outfit—a look he seems to favor, with black trousers and a black Levis-type jacket that he wears as a shirt. He chats with Beth while I snap some photos. He says we can sit in on a recording session, and he will try to arrange an interview with Mbilia Bel. He tells us to call him in a couple of weeks.

4 September 1991
Some of our Paris contacts have urged us to talk to Fylla Saint-Eudes, a Congolese from Brazzaville said to be well-connected to the community of musicians. Fylla works for an agency that fosters cultural and technical solidarity among French-speaking nations, but so far he's stood us up twice. Today we're on time for our 10:00 A.M. appointment at his office along the Seine in sight of the Eiffel Tower, and this time he's ready to see us.

A tall, heavy-set man of over six feet and two hundred pounds, Fylla is a rather imposing figure sitting behind a too-small desk, like a foot in shoes that are too tight. After a few minutes of the interview, two of Fylla's colleagues stop by the office. He takes a couple of phone calls then dashes out to get some papers signed. They concern money, he says. Judging from his urgency I presume it's his money. He returns a few minutes later with a long meandering stain on his suit jacket. A colleague has spilled coffee on him, he explains. At our urging he dampens a cloth and dabs at the coffee to dilute it so it won't stain.

As we begin to conclude the interview we ask for phone numbers. He's reluctant to give them to us without first checking with the artists, so he calls Rochereau to get his permission. Essous is more difficult. He has the wrong number. He calls the Congolese Counsel to try to get the right one. The man's not in his office, so Fylla calls him at home and gets it.

As we thank him and rise to leave, Fylla says he has to go out, so he'll escort us (perhaps we are providing cover for him so he can leave the office). He leads us on a stroll of the northwest section of the 15th Arrondissement. We wind up at a café where it turns out he has come to place a wager on the horses. A friend, he explains, called him at the office with a tip this morning. Fylla loves to play the horses. It was, he says, one of his first activities when he arrived in Paris. It's the suspense and the possible thrill of winning that appeals to him. Even if I loose 99 times, I must win the 100th, he says.

Along the way we talk about our upcoming trip to Congo and Zaire. Fylla says he knows or is related to many musicians. De La Lune is an uncle of his, he claims. About the Paris sound, he calls it bad music made by bad producers. You can't direct inspiration, he says, it has to come spontaneously. It's not art. Instead of making art they are targeting something. He says musicians in Paris are looking outward, trying to direct their music to a more international audience so the music is much different from that which comes from Africa.

At 3:00 P.M. Jerry Malekani comes to our apartment for an interview. He's very nice and full of information. He tells the story of Ry-Co Jazz in great detail. Lot's of good stuff. He's medium height and slim and looks far younger than his 53 years. He tells us of a reunion recording session of the old stars of Ry-Co Jazz to be held later in the month. We ask if we can come to one of the sessions. He says to call in a couple of weeks to confirm. He'll look for old records and pictures too.

3 September 1991—Safari Ambiance
Colette LaCoste and Charles Maniatakis, the people behind Safari Ambiance. We meet at their rather elegant apartment in the 10th Arrondissement, northeast of the Gare de l'Est. Maniatakis is an antique dealer and, from the look of the apartment, a successful one. LaCoste, his wife, seems strong and authoritative as she explains the origins of Safari Ambiance and Safari Sound. She retains the good looks that once helped her sustain a career in modeling and theater. She even worked as a singer for a while.

We are offered bottles of Schweppes as we go through the interview. The couple enjoyed their experiences with African musicians, but feel some bitterness about the way it ended. They invested heavily in producing and promoting their artists, they say, only to have them coolly move on after achieving success through their work with Safari.

30 August 1991—Papa Wemba
Today it's an interview with Papa Wemba just outside Paris, beyond the 19th Arrondissement on Avenue Henri Barbusse, in an area called Bobigny. We get off the bus and go to the meeting place, the office of a private security agency whose connection to Wemba remains unclear (does he moonlight as a security guard, I wonder, or maybe he owns the business). We call from the lobby to gain access to the stairway—security locks and all.

Wemba meets us at the head of the stairs and ushers us into the office. He's nattily dressed in designer shirt and trousers. The shirt, he says without really boasting, cost 12,000 francs. He gets up and has us feel the fabric. Nice.

Wemba seems to be in a good mood and needs little prompting to talk about his life. He recalls fondly his childhood in Kinshasa. His father was a soldier, he says, and his family members were all big supporters of Lumumba, since they came from the same area as he did. In the Catholic school he attended, lessons were conducted in French; at home they spoke Tetela; in the street with friends, Lingala was the common language. In the street, he says, he began to make music with friends, playing homemade guitars and drumming on empty food tins. Nobody gave them money in those days, he says, "We didn't play right then."

26 August 1991— Eddy Gustave
Eddy Gustave and wife come by as arranged. Gustave is an old hand at the business and is eager to talk. He has the appearance of being an older and wiser man. Like many music pioneers—the small businessmen who nurture and promote a fledgling musical style—Gustave has now given up most of his production enterprise as bigger labels move in to poach the talent that he and others worked so hard to promote.

24 August 1991— Manu Dibango
Off to see Manu Dibango in the 20th Arrondissement in eastern Paris. He lives in the upper reaches of a tall, newer building whose nondescript, cement façade clashes with the charming older and smaller buildings of the area. As I approach his door a light-skinned woman, whom I imagine to be his daughter, emerges from the apartment. "Monsieur Dibango," I say. She ushers me in where I meet Coco, Mrs. Dibango who appears to be dusting, and a young, dark-skinned girl of around eight, who I am told by Coco is the daughter of Manu.

Manu appears dressed all in black with characteristic sun glasses. He starts to speak in French but switches when I remind him that his English is much better than my French. We sit in the parlor in front of a large television, which plays throughout the interview, albeit with the sound off. Manu occasionally changes channels with the remote, and I wonder if I have his full attention.

The apartment is clean and spacious. Various touches of Africa adorn the walls and the parlor's modern furniture. A large piano sits near the opening to the dining room. Outside the window a construction crane rotates lazily as it delivers material to a construction crew who have the misfortune to be working Saturday. The place has the look of success.

Midway through the interview, during which Manu reminisces about his days with African Jazz, he switches TV stations to a program discussing African music on which he is appearing. We pause to listen.
As my interview winds down, other people arrive, friends of Manu, a restaurant owner, a musician. Manu breaks out the scotch and offers us all a drink. He shows me his music video collection. It's large and includes a tape of Franco in Europe. Before I depart, he puts me in touch with Jerry Malekani, a former member of Ry-Co Jazz who has played with Manu for many years.

17 August 1991
With Breakout now in the final phases of publication, research begins in earnest for the book I hope to write on the history of Congolese music. My partner and French-to-English interpreter Beth Raps and I arrive in Paris on a morning flight from London. We settle in at a third-floor walk-up on Boulevard Saint Germain near the Odéon Metro stop. The flat's owners, friends of Beth's, are on vacation in the States, leaving their cluttered three rooms in our care for a few weeks. We've come armed with names and addresses of people connected to Congolese music that we gathered prior to departing from Washington, DC. These initial contacts, I hope, will lead to the broader community of Congolese musicians and assorted music business people.