Saturday, 02 January 2016 10:15

African memories - soo much music! 

When I think of my time in Africa - almost 7 years in the West African country of Burkina Faso - a lot of music comes to my mind. 

Less the traditional music of which I heard a lot of when I lived in the village - a period that deserves a story of its own - but lots of the then ‘modern’ musicians: Alpha Blondy, Monique Seka, Kofi Olomide, Meiway... and many young local musicians I knew back then. 

Looking at the video clips now, I find them totally hilarious. Made in the most rudimentary, artisan way - friends, neighbours, the singer’s child, grandmother... everyone would feature in them.  Yet, back then - I lived there from 1994 to 2001 - they seemed perfectly normal. 

I was 26 years old and danced many, many fantastic nights away - not in proper nightclubs but in ‘dance bars’. Usually they were big outdoor places with metal chairs and tables that were also open in the daytime and many featured ‘soirees dansante’ - dance afternoons - which were my favourite. Especially Sunday afternoons would always be reserved for dancing. Wonderful memories!

Dance practice in Brussels

I’d had some ‘dance practice’ during my time in Brussels the year before. The room I had rented was near the town’s African neighbourhood and near a night club that would become my home every single weekend. I had several lovely Burundian friends there - the bouncer was called Gerald and he actually did look like the American soul singer Gerald Levert. At one point I had a Zaïrean boyfriend who was a DJ - there too most memories are music.  I remember that when I told him that I was leaving, he played ‘Sacrifice’ by Elton John - and cried. Bless him.    

And yes, I do remember his name - King Alpha. I remember one particular morning when I was walking home from the club with an Austrian friend - it was already daylight - when she said she had something to show me. She took me to the shop window of a second hand shop where she started bending over with laughter. There she was, knees bent as if she was going to pee her pants, laughing hysterically while pointing at a huge, hideous white wedding dress. "You can be ‘Queen Alpha’ " she blurted out.  I still burst out laughing myself when I think back of this episode. 

Anyway, having been initially shy about doing all this gyrating on the dance floor, I soon got used to the fact that this was their way of dancing and started practicing with zealousness. So by the time I hit the dance floors in Burkina Faso, I had people in awe ‘Where did you learn how to dance like us?!’ they often asked. Up to this day I love any music that will allow me to shake those hips and I can dance to Shakira all night. Something I actually did while living in Costa Rica... accounts from another musical country will have to be planned. 

Music in every household, at every corner of the street 

Every single bar, restaurant, roadside eatery in Burkina Faso’s countryside would play popular music. Back then many bars had diesel generators and many people owned battery powered tape recorders. The few households that had electricity would be crowded every evening with people watching local music programs. No matter how small a village, there would always be at least one street vendor, peddling tapes from a cart to quench that constant thirst for music. 

Back in the city - Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, had about 700.000 inhabitants back then (triple today) - it was always noisy and there was always music to be heard. Music was, and probably is, very much part of everyone’s life. No matter what age, people always knew the latest hits of musicians from all over the continent. Especially Zaïrean music was very popular and you’d often see people dance to it right there in the street - impromptu - just like that, to celebrate life, forget the worries, make everyone laugh. 

Because of the heat during most of the year, life happened very much outdoors and there was music coming from the small houses in every street, from most street vendors’ carts there was a portable radio tangling somewhere and many people walking would carry one. 

Life with a music professional (and addict)

It was also in the capital, where I spent 4 years, that I got into Rai music - Algerian music with French and Arabic influences - also very danceable and often also with wonderful lyrics. My boyfriend of much of my time there was a radio dj and concert presenter who ‘lived and breathed music’ and I learned a lot from him - including a love for French song writers. 

I also greatly improved my French thanks to him as I did a weekly classical music show at his radio station - a type of music that was totally new for many listeners and was a great success. He had me practice all my texts with him, read them out loud, make them sound perfect... At home we’d mostly listen to Rai and popular local music. I have great memories of my life being filled with music.  

Thinking back I wonder if today all this music would bother me, now that I have classical or meditation music playing quietly in the background most of the time.  But I know back then I loved it and my love for listening and dancing to it made me feel very much part of that rhythm loving society. 


photo: Kofi Olomide in a photo from thelillymelodyyblogspot


Mary Anglberger

I’ve been travelling the world for over 20 years teaching English and am now taking time to follow my passion for photography and writing. I want to share all the things, events and people that have inspired and inspire me and spread those positive vibes all around.

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