Kanda Bongo Man taught me to question the ‘heart of darkness’ stereotype of Africa. Hearing his music for the first time, not so many years after the Ethiopian famine shocked the world, and before South Africa’s apartheid system was dismantled, I realised that in spite of the continent’s wars, hunger, corruption and poverty, African people were still able to produce music that was, quite simply, joyful.
That meant that perhaps things weren’t quite as bad, all the time, everywhere, as the media would have you believe.
You could argue that the dancer (Chantal) is the real star of the show. I was lucky enough to see Kanda Bongo Man perform at Paddington RSL Club in Sydney in 1990 — and I’m also lucky to still have pics from that memorable night of dancing, thanks to my friend Carlotta M, who took the photos on this page. I reckon the dancer in the photo is also the one in the video. What do you think?
The other star is Diblo Dibala. You can hear more of his effortless, liquid gold guitar in this next video, where he’s playing with his own band. On consideration, I think that when I rave about Kanda Bongo man, it’s really Diblo’s guitar I’m getting excited about.
Since going to that memorable concert in 1990, I’ve learned that Kanda Bongo Man (and presumably Diblo as well) was safe in Paris during the years his country was suffering the depredations of Zaire’s President Mobutu Seso Seke. But even though he was not actually in Africa at the time he was leading this band of wonderful musicians & dancers, I think my case still holds. If we (westerners) focus only on the tragedies of Africa, we are only seeing part of the picture, and we risk dehumanising the people of that complex continent. It’s not always bad news from Radio Africa.