Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Leopoldville 1962 - "Le Twist a Leo" by Manu Dibango

Manu Dibango, legendary Cameroonian saxophonist, known for his fusion of rumba, jazz, funk and traditional music, died in Paris on March 24, 2020 of Covid-19.  Before he rose to fame on the African and international music scene in the late 1960s, he tried his hand in Kinshasa with Joseph Kabasele’s (Grand Kalle) African Jazz and then managing a nightclub with his own band.
Dibango's first hit was Soul Makossa in 1972
Born in Douala in 1933, his father arranged for him to go to France for secondary school in 1949.  He graduated in 1956, but did not pass the university entrance exam.  At that point, his father stopped sending him money, so he turned to his avocation for music, moving to Belgium where he ended up at a Brussels club called “Les Anges Noire”.  On the eve of Congo’s independence in 1960 he met Kabasele (composer of Independence Cha Cha) who persuaded him to return to Léopoldville with African Jazz in 1961.
By his own account, Dibango was enthralled with the Congolese capital:

“I dreamed of an Africa that looked like this.  She welcomed me – wealthy, flashy… The air was sensually moist. Money, sex, sorcery, and physical strength combined in this capital, which was creating its own language and building its own history.  At dusk, when candles and gas lamps were lit in the Cité– the black side of town – the crowds would surge, warm and talkative.  In the ngandas, the many open-air bars, women and men sat in front of the cases of beer that surrounded the stage. The great Kabasele and his African Jazz called forth the crowd’s madness – undulating bodies, hot glances, soft eyes, fast talk, and the hips of beautiful dancers held in their skin-tight wrappers.  Pale beers were gulped down between two plates of fish served with plantain or manioc – la dolce vita.” (Dibango, 1994:41)
Blvd. Albert in the late 1950s (author coll.)
He played with African Jazz in the Cité, but also picked up gigs in the former European district of Kalina with a Belgian band, “Juan les Pins”, led by a musician he’d known in Brussels. With Kabasele’s authorization, he played with “Juan les Pins” at the Auberge Petit Pont in September 1961 (Courier d’Afrique, Sep. 30-Oct. 1, 1961:2).  These were fascinating times, as the cold war played out on the streets of Léopoldville, Congolese politicians intrigued with and against each other, Europeans who fled in 1960 were returning (restarting economic outlets) and United Nations personnel with money to spend frequenting the bars and restaurants.
The Petit Pont Restaurant in the late '60s (author coll.)
Friction began to develop between Kabasele and the band, however.  Band members asked questions about his Belgian wife, Coco, and why he didn’t keep mistresses in the Cité.  The young Cameroonian had feet in both cultures and Kabasele picked up on this and suggested Dibango take over his night club on Ave. DeGaulle, the “Afro Negro”.  Ave DeGaulle was located in Kalina, but was a major shopping destination for Congolese, as well. This was a perfect solution for the couple – Coco ran the bar, ordered the food and paid the musicians, while he led the band.  Europeans and UN personnel looking for something different became regular patrons.  The ambiance of the Afro Negro and Léopoldville’s nightlife in this period was captured by Congolese Angolan photographer, Jean Depara (July 12, 2014).
Outside the Afro Negro Club (author coll.)
The Afro Negro Club in 1969 (Revue Noire)
The Afro Negro Club in 1969 (Revue Noire)
Afro Negro - at the bar (author coll.)
When Chubby Checker popularized the Twist on the Dick Clark Show in August, 1960, it wasn’t long before it reached Léopoldville.  Music aficionados were curious, but no records were available on the local market.  In 1962, Dibango composed one of his first recordings, “Twist a Leo” on the African Jazz label.
Link to YouTube
Twist A Leo

Ayé Ayé Ayé Ayé
Ayé Ayé Ayé Ayé
Oui mon corps balance
Dans un temps de twist

Ayé Ayé Ayé Ayé
Ayé Ayé Ayé Ayé
Oh, le Twist fait rage à Léopoldville
De Limete à Kalina
De la Cité á Parc Hembise
On danse le Twist, eh henh, à Léopoldville
De Lipopo à Kalina
De la Cité à la Pergola
On danse le Twist à Léopoldville

Ayé Ayé Ayé Ayé
Ayé Ayé Ayé Ayé
J’ai perdu la tête
En dansant le Twist

De Limete à Kalina, Vie !
De la Cité au Royal
On danse le Twist
On ne se plaignent pas, ça va bien
Oh Oui

Ayé Ayé Ayé Ayé
Ayé Ayé Ayé Ayé

Oui on a perdu la tête, j’ai perdu la tête

(Lyrics transcribed by Mwana Mboka)

The relationship with Kabasele remained problematic.  Dibango met aspiring banker, Dokolo Sanu (who would found the Bank of Kinshasa in 1969) who suggested he start a new club.  Dibango and Coco opened the “Tam Tam”.  By his account, the new venue was a success; down to earth but very popular.  However, in 1962, his parents persuaded him to move back to Cameroon, where he opened another “Tam Tam”.  The new venture in Cameroon closed as civil war engulfed the country and Dibango moved to Europe and super-stardom.

Sources :

Courier d’Afrique, Léopoldville (multiple issues)

Dibango, Manu, 1994. Three Kilos of Coffee : An Autobiography, University of Chicago Press.

Kwaku Akyeampong Michael, Henry Louis Gates and Steven J. Niven, 2012. Dictionary of African Biography, Oxford University Press.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Leopoldville 1923 – Place de la Poste

On July 21, 1923, the elite of Kinshasa, African and European, gathered to inaugurate a bust of King Albert 1er at the Place de la Poste. Only 3 weeks earlier, a Royal Decree established Leopoldville-Kinshasa as the new capital of the colony, transferring that honor from the port city of Boma (Jan. 17, 2012). Since the colonial government’s decision in 1910 to transfer the port from its location above the rapids at Leopoldville to Kinshasa, seven kilometers upstream, the latter center had been developing rapidly as a commercial alternative to Leopoldville’s administrative role (Mar. 13, 2011). The spatial requirements of this burgeoning city necessitated a more ordered land use plan, which was prepared in 1917 by newly arrived architect, Gaston Boghemans. The plan incorporated existing streets, rail lines and land use with grand diagonal boulevards intersecting to create prominent public places. The map also included the Congolese “cité”, which was growing to the south as rapidly as the European township.
Before the ceremony (The Albert bust under wraps between the two warehouses upper right) (Author coll.) 
Bogheman's map of Kinshasa 1917 (Cocatrix)
The new statue of the King faced the Place de la Poste at the end of Avenue Militaire, created in 1892 when Lt. Richard blew up a grove of baobabs to create an army camp (Apr. 12, 2016). The bust depicted the King in his uniform and helmet as commander of Belgian forces at the Yser River during World War I.  The sculptor is unidentified, but the bust resembles several erected in Belgium at this time.
The Albert bust after unveiling. Bogheman's Post Office upper left (author coll.)
The Albert bust on Ave. Militaire (author coll.)
A bust of King Albert in Chimay, Belgium (wikimedia)
To the north across Ave Militaire was the new Post Office, also designed by Boghemans (Aug. 5, 2011), which gave the Place its name.  Built in neo-classical Beaux Arts style, it set new standards of construction in brick with concrete moldings that were nonetheless adapted to the local climate and existing construction expertise. Continuing in clockwise fashion around the Place was the Sedec commercial building, a brick V-shaped structure formed by intersection of Avenues Rubens and Beernaert. Sedec (Société d’Entreprises Commerciales au Congo) was the retail arm of the Lever Brothers palm oil company (Oct. 8, 2017).
The Post Office with Sedec building on right (author coll.)
Place de la Post in the 1930s. Sedec building in center (author coll.)
On the opposite side of Ave Beernaert was the two-story fabricated metal building of the Congo Trading Company of Antwerp, a firm that dated back to the Congo Free State administration. In December 1914 after five years collecting bird specimens in the interior, James Chapin, a young ornithologist with the American Museum of Natural History, returned to Kinshasa and took a room there (Mar. 13, 2011). At the time the Albert monument was inaugurated, Congo Trading had gone out of business and the property acquired as the Kinshasa headquarters of the Katanga-based Foncière Immobilière Colonial (Fonico).  In the mid-1930s the building housed the Amicale Francaise, the social center of the French community in Leopoldville.
The Congo Trading building. Note pousse-pousse at the curb by the stairs (author coll.)
The Congo Trading building, looking down Ave des Manguiers (author coll.)
Between Ave des Manguiers (the continuation of Ave. Militaire) and Ave de la Douane was a single-story arcaded building which became the Righini Bar.  Paolo Righini also owned the Garage Mayo across the street. Righini provided taxis and rental cars and offered direct phone lines from the Hotel Cosmopolite in Leopoldville, the Wathelet Guest House in Ndolo and the Hotel Metropole in Kalina to ensure prompt response for those requesting his services. At the outset of World War II, Righini was among several Italians interned and his bar taken over by Arthur Hardy (June 28, 2011).
The Righini bar and Garage Mayo in the 1930s (author coll.)
Anchoring the southwest corner of Ave Beernaert and Militaire was the two-story commercial building and adjacent warehouses of the “L’Africaine Banque d’Etudes et d’Entreprises Coloniales”. Established in 1898 during the rubber boom, the firm was declining in the 1920s and closed its Congo operations.  The property was acquired by the African and Eastern Trade Corporation, another firm in the Lever Brothers empire, created in 1919 from a merger of some branches of Lever’s West African firms.  In Congo, the company took over the venerable Hatton and Cookson of Liverpool. The building was originally exposed brick, like the Sedec building across the Place, but later plastered and painted white.
A view south on Ave Beernaert. African and Eastern building on right (author coll.)
Bogheman’s original plan anticipated a major plaza at the west end of Ave. Militaire, on an axis with Place Leopold, the beginning of the road to Leopoldville, whereas the Place de la Poste was not even detailed.  In July 1924, an obelisk monument to aviators killed in a crash landing at Leopoldville 1921 was inaugurated and Aves Militaire and Manguiers were renamed Avenue des Aviateurs (Feb. 24, 2012). With its divided roadway and  angled parking at the center, the avenue remained a premier commercial location into the Independence period.
The Albert monument with Monument des Aviateurs on right (author coll.) 
What happened to the Albert bust?  Unlike the colonial statuary taken down throughout the country in 1971 (July 5, 2011), this one had been removed by the late colonial period. In June 1939, a monumental complex honoring the late King was erected in front of the Gare at the beginning of a Boulevard that would lead to Leopoldville along the old railway line (Jan. 23, 2011). Was the bust relocated to another provincial location at that time?   There were at least four identical or similar ones in Elisabethville (Lubumbashi) and Jadotville (Likasi) in Katanga, another in Matadi and one in Stanleyville (Kisangani).
This bust of Albert in the city park in Elisabethville dates from 1925 (author coll.)
In Stanleyville, the bust was located in the heart of the commercial district (author coll.)
In Matadi the Albert bust was located in the square next to the Hotel Metropole (r.) (author coll.)
Inaugurating the Albert monument in Jadotville in the 1940s.  Was the Leopoldville bust relocated there? (author coll.)
In the 1950s the Post Office became the Musée de la Vie Indigene after the main Post Office moved to a new building Boulevard Albert in 1954 (Feb. 20, 2011). In the late 1960s, it was demolished to make way for the Bank Belge d’Afrique’s seven-story headquarters building. The Belgian owners withdrew in 1988 and it became the Banque Congolaise, which folded in January 2011 following allegations of money laundering.  In a startling repurposing, the building became the not-so-secret headquarters of the security service, the Agence National de Renseignements (ANR). The ANR closed half of Ave des Aviateurs and part of Ave de la Nation in a further truncating of the Avenue started up the street in the 2000s by the US Embassy and Monusco.
The old Post Office as the Musee de la Vie Indigene in 1961 (H.Foreman, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee digital coll.)
Place de la Poste in the 1950s (author coll.)
The ANR building in 2016 (l.), AMI building (center). (author coll.)
The Sedec building was acquired by a South Asian importer called Union Africaine de Commerce (UAC), established in 1975 selling high end furniture and appliances. The Sedec building was likely acquired in the mid-1980s when Unilever was divesting its Zairian holdings.  The name UAC harked back to the United Africa Company, part of the Unilever empire of which Sedec was a part.

The Fonico building was demolished sometime in the late 1930s and in the late 1940s the corner location was chosen for the new headquarters of the Agence Maritime International, the colonial shipping agency. 
UAC building center left, AMI building right.  Ave Equateur was under reconstruction when photo taken (author coll.)
The Righini Bar, later the Hardy Bar, then the Café Rubbens, and which was the best source of ice cream in the 1950s, reopened as the Belgian Cultural Center, the Centre Wallonie de Bruxelles, in the 2005.
The Centre Wallonie de Bruxelles. (author coll.)
The Garage Mayo was demolished in the years leading up to Independence.  In the 1960s, a 4-story building was erected which became one of the agencies of the parastatal insurance company, SONAS.
The SONAS building. (author coll.)
The African and Eastern building was acquired by Lebanese owners of City Market, about the same time UAC acquired the Sedec property. The classical lines of the original building are covered in panels to suggest cohesion of several buildings patched together.
City Market facing Ave Equateur (author coll.)

Cocatrix Anne-Laure, 2013. Atlas Archives, Boulevard du 30 juin Kinshasa:

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Digital Photo Archive (