Africa: A True Oxymoron

I have loved African music for over thirty years.  I discovered it through Olatunji’s seminal Columbia lp Drums of Passion and the great Congolese mass Missa Luba years ago.  I first heard Afro pop while living in Paris in the 1970s.  Congolese rumba was especially sweet and intoxicating.  Later came the great Afro-Cuban grooves of bands like Guinea’s Bembeya Jazz and Orchestra Baobab from Dakar, Senegal.   This is truly joyful noise.

Yet when I read in the newspapers about the Lord’s Resistance Army, hear the Refugee All-Stars (a Sierra Leone group of survivors of the war there), the Congolese murders or Rwandan genocide, it’s hard to square the violence with the sweet soulfulness of the music.

I know something about the history of Africa from reading how the European colonial powers divided up the continent at the Congress of Berlin in 1895;  traditional tribal lands were carved up and plundered.  Also the classic book King Leopold’s Ghost, which tells the story of how King Leopold of Belgium lied his way into holding Congo as his personal fiefdom.

The other day there was a piece in the LA Times about Senegal finally stopping the practice of female circumcision.   Finally there  is an end to this bloody and barbaric ritual for girls and women.  Hopefully other African countries will follow suit.

I don’t think of these practices while listening to African music or enjoying African concerts—the two things are completely contradictory.  But I do keep up with current events in Africa, and was relieved that Senegal is finally humanizing its treatment of women in this respect.


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