Thursday, 2 April 2015


Alfa Blondy, pic from Addis Zefen

During the mid-1980s African clubs across the world suddenly burst with unusual energy. New music shall always be exciting, but Alfa Blondy blasted into our lives like a tsunami.
 I remember one night around 1985; I was at a joint called the Afro Club in Copenhagen.
Those days we Tanzanians did not need a visa to smooch into the Scandinavian zone. Days before the Euro and the European Union. One felt welcomed in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland- our biggest state aid donors of the era.
All around me were faces I had not seen for a while. Some had left soon after Zanzibar President Sheikh Abeid Karume assassination in 1972, the 1967 Arusha Declaration or when fires of the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution, burned. Most of us, however, had bolted away following hard times of the 1979 Idi Amin war with Uganda.
Hustlers. Stowaways. Seekers... 
 Tanzania was a tough shamba; therefore, if you were young, searching for education and a better life, Scandinavia meant green pastures.  Possibilities. On this particular night I had just finished a gig at the Soul to Soul Festival, right in the middle of Kobenhavn, as the Danish refer to Copenhagen.
Author performing Papers ! Papers ! Papers ! poem at Soul to Soul Festival, Copenhagen 1985. Pic by Jorn Stjerneklar

Although it was snowing and really, really cold, I happily guzzled my drink and mingled. Compared to other European cities the number of fellow Swahili speakers, here, was huge. Chaps I had not seen since mid 70s were slapping palms and saying how much they missed “Ubwabwa wa Nyumbani.” his hey day was the most revered African leaders.

 We were still apprehensive about Ujamaa, for Mwalimu Nyerere  not the darling that we feel so nostalgic in this Fisadis era of 2015. Back then your mood changed each time Kambarage’s name was uttered.  Fear, awe and respect mixed with a bit of irritation, lingered. Everyone was wary of secret service spies (njagus) listening to your every word. The democratic process (the post Mwalimu generation take for granted now) was unthinkable in 1980s. Despite it all, Tanzania was still (as it is now), considered a kitchen of peace. Those were pre Boko Haram times. Apartheid South Africa was the tasteless acid. And within that vibe...the music of Alpha Blondy thundered on the speakers.
The tune was Brigadier Sabari.
Alfa Blondy was chanting Reggae, but not in that Caribbean English called Patois. The reggae was mellow and cool and as politicised as the Jamaicans’, yet with characteristic African humour. Think Ndombolo, Kwaito and Mduara.
“Neko wohouho woyo yoni
Brigadier Sabari
Neko Aie Aie Aie
Brigadier Sabari
Neko koutoubou sakidi!”
 Although majority of us did not understand what the Ivory Coast musician was singing (Blondy was highlighting true experience with brutal corrupt police in Abidjan) we clapped, closed eyes, dreamt, danced.

 Singer songwriter, Alfa Blondy was born Seydou Kone,  January 1953 and raised by his grandmother who taught him to “love everyone according to Wikipedia.   In 1974, he flew to New York and studied English at Hunter College and Columbia University, the fifth oldest college in the USA. His intention was to become an English teacher and hailing from a French speaking African environment that would be a big plus for employment chances. In New York he met Rastafarians and started thinking deeper.
A while later, Alfa Blondy returned to Abidjan and hooked up with, Fulgence Kassi, childhood friend, now, TV producer.  The first album, Jah Glory was recorded around 1982 and within three years, Brigadier Sabari, the song mentioned above, would scoop us listeners, like Supu ya Makongoro.
  From then on Alfa Blondy was everywhere.  Having this special talent attracted the attention of the Wailers (ex Bob Marley band) who played on his two albums. He also liaised with other Jamaican greats, the rhythm duo Sly Dunbar (kit drums) and Robbie Shakespeare (bass), Tyrone Downie (ex Bob Marley keyboards player) and Dennis Bovell who usually collaborates with London based political conscious poet, Linton Kwesi Johnson.
The United Nations appointed him Ambassador for Peace representing Ivory Coast in 2005. His lyrics of tranquillity and unity have touched many subjects including the Middle East conflict and civil strife in his home nation.  He wrote a song for Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin –assassinated, allegedly, by a right wing fanatic in 1995.  Proving how multi lingual Africans can be Blondy sings in English, French, Doula (mother tongue), Baule, Arabic and Hebrew.
Lately, the 62 year old, has hit headlines after launching his Radio Station. It is nothing extraordinary for famous personalities to run such projects.  What impresses is that the month old Alfa Blondy’s FM is promoting African literature. Speaking to the French TV5 Africa edition last Saturday night, Blondy said, “We blacks have no habit of reading.”

The Radio which also offers employment and plays music “is apolitical” and aims at giving collective therapy to his people who went through rough times recently.  Holding a book by the great Senegalese writer, Ousmane Sembene, he elaborates,”literature should open our spirits.”
 Yes. The struggle for knowledge and enlightenment continues in Africa.  

Published in Citizen Tanzania, Friday  27th March, 2015.

No comments:

Post a Comment