May 25, 2024


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JOSEPH KABASELE: Towards the 30th Anniversary of the death of a pioneer of modern African music

Grand Kallé

Joseph Athanase Kabasele

 Grand Kallé

The modern African music has taken a decisive turn in the early 50s, well before the Independence of African countries, given that it is then that stars emerged from within Africa to make it known to the world. Among these artists we must note the person of Joseph Kabasele, aka Grand Kalle, who is propelled to superstardom for popularizing the Afro-Cuban rumba after he had created in 1951 a modern band called African Jazz.

Since then the whole of Africa, and particularly his native country the Democratic Republic of Congo, then called the Belgian Congo to differentiate it from the French Congo (Congo – Brazzaville) , it danced to the rumba rhythm, thanks to the genius and artistic leadership and Pan-African vision of Grand Kalle. But who is this personality? Joseph Athanase Kabasele Tshamala was born in December 16, 1930 in Matadi, capital of the province of Bas-Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo; he died in February 11, 1983 in Paris, capital city of France, and was buried in Gombe Cemetery in Kinshasa. Songwriter, singer and band leader, he is doubtless the father of modern Congolese music.

This title is justified for two reasons. First, on an artistic level, he revolutionized the Congolese music by creating the African Jazz band in 1953, four years after beginning his career in the OTC (A band in a Congolese Tendency), which was led by George Doula. He dismisses the piqued rumba, the mazurka and other dances (which kept the Congolese music in the ghetto of African folklore) and opts now for the Afro-Cuban rumba and samba, paving the way for the Congolese music to be acclaimed across Africa and the world. In addition, he is the first musician to introduce tumbas, trumpets and other electronic devices in an African group.

 He is also the spiritual master of personalities who eventually became musical celebrities of Central Africa in the 1960s: singer such as Tabu Ley aka Rochereau, Nicolas Kasanda aka Dr. Nico (who is arguably regarded as the greatest African guitarist of all time), saxophonist Manu Dibangu, Kabasele Yampanya aka Pepe Kallé, and outside his band, Franco Luambo Makiadi, the illustrious leader of the Tout-Puissant OK Jazz band, created in 1956. Moreover, he is the first Congolese artist to create in 1960 his own disc house, Surboum African Jazz, which has become a real springboard for the artists of the new musical wind, and allowed the broadcasting of high-quality recordings (including Tout-Puissant OK Jazz’s) in the western markets.

 Second, on the political level, Joseph Kabasele is the first African artist to use his musical genius in to bring forward the pan-African cause, expressing through a song the dream of an independent , united and prosperous Africa. Thus, he is the first African celebrity to perform in Belgium, on the occasion of the famous Round Table at the end of which the Belgian authorities and the Congolese political leaders decided the Independence of the former Belgian Congo. Henceforth, he released the song Independance Cha-Cha, which will be danced at the occasion of the Independence of each African nation and become one of the African hits of all time; he will also release Bilombe ba gagner, Lumumba, Congo se ya biso…

In South Africa, as everywhere in the world, the Congolese are preparing to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of this legend of African music which also marks the sixtieth anniversary of the modern Congolese music, to be held in 2013. In preparation for this event, Alain’s Marketing Agency and Projects (AMAGEP), A giant Johannesburg-based promotional company, which is the master mind of this idea, is organizing a campaign of awareness and mobilization of the African and Congolese Diaspora worldwide, through the TV Show “AFRICA-SHOW”. Run by the journalist Fiston PELENDE, reporter of Radio Lisanga Tele Vision (RLTV).

On this commemoration of Grand Kalle, we bring you an extract of the TV Show “Joseph Athanase Kabasele: Towards the 30th anniversary of the death of a pioneer of modern African music” on Youtube.