TSHALA MUANA: IT'S MURDER ON THE DANCE FLOOR
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
It is the football world cup season. So let us begin from football. And in matters world cup football Brazil comes first. Why? Because Brazil have won the world cup more than any other nation? Because they are a perfect mixed race? No! It is because Brazil have a playfully wonderful way of playing football. How did their football get to be so different and why the loyalty to it?
Apparently when football was introduced in that part of the world most games were organised between the slaves and masters. And masters being masters made sure they won by any means necessary. “Who are you gonna be if you are not better than a black man”. They would kick the slave and not be punished. But if so much as the black slave stir the wind to disturb their shirt then it is a foul. The slaves had to find a non-contact way of playing that made it impossible for the master to foul them or claim foul play against them. That is the birth of the ball on the ground, one touch accurate passing, movement from the hips to change direction by shifting weight from one side to the other very quickly like a snake. That is the legend of the Brazilian way of playing football.
Why am I telling you this when writing about a singer? Writing about Tshala of Kasai and Luba tribes is writing about manifestations in adaptability of Luba tribes people of the Congo basin to a strife that resonates with this Brazilian way of playing football even if I leave the hip movements out. And why on a Luo blog? Because the hiatus of Katanga secession, Eastern Congo and specifically the Luba and how their Tchiluba dialect turned their back on Swahili and national language Lingala the way the Luos turned their back on Swahili after the tumultuous post independence face-off and the benign neglect that followed. And what is more? Tshala Muana is an "arrogant" Luba adherent in the way she dances, sings and the language she expresses best in. That "arrogant" is an adjective that follows Namlolwe ladies like a bad smell. Is it really arrogance or just mistaken self assertiveness? In any case it is a good thing because all achievers and particularly women achievers have been called arrogant at some point in time. Naturally I see myself in that Luba self-assertive, "Nobody loves us and we don't care."
Who is Tshala Muana
Tshala Muana was a Congolese singer born in March 13 1958 as Elizabeth Tshala Muidikayi in Lubumbashi Eastern DRC. That is the year me and another pop superstar Michael Jackson was born. It counts for something to be born in 1958 (just joking). There isn't much about her childhood/ early life. In her interviews she doesn't reveal much. All is known is that she had very little formal education. Eastern Congo was the front line of the national flare up leading to the death of Patrice Emery Lumumba and the 5-year civil war that led to un matched mercenary influx in Africa in the legends of British mercenary Mad Mike Hoare of Simba rebellion.
In such a civil war not everybody escapes long hurt. In 1964 towards the end of the secession politics when Mobutu was just on the verge of crushing the Katanga rebellion, Tshala Muana’s father was killed at Watsha by the Ulelist Marquis in circumstances not very clear. Like Winnie Mandela once retorted to her detractors in the Mandela Football club murder trial, “Cast the first stone and I will show you those who sent freedom fighters to some very fiercest war raging front just because they were contesting for a common lover”
Tshala then embarked on that dreaded journey of being raised by a single mother in a civil war ravaged country side of Kasai from the age of 6. Naturally early teen marriage will lie in the wait and like a lot of bad things to a girl in that environment, it teen marriage is never in short supply. And those teen marriages in such an environment are just graveyards for infant deaths. Tshala lost a boy and girl. Tshala then abandoned the teen marriage in Kasai and headed to Kinshasa bright lights or dim lights.
The early Congolese like Tabu Ley, Kabaselle, Wendo Kolosayi, Dr Nico, Muamba were more educated than the politicians like Patrice Lumumba, Kasavubu, Mobutu. For one they grew up during the organised colonial governance. Then a chaotic independence came and things went low and Tshala is this generation that faced the turbulent ungovernable Congo.
With nothing, the upcountry girl in Bakongo littered city, Tshala started initially as a dancer. What else can an outback Luba girl hope to give the savvy city guys. This is not so bad given that in one of the Congolese empires, the best dancer were usually chosen the ruler. Before you laugh at it this fair electoral process, please take note that the best performing and admirable US presidents have been cheer leaders at high school. Unfortunately for her there was a better more established dancer on the scene. Concession seems to be her way of life. Tshala therefore had to concede the name Tshala. But in her trademark assertiveness she inserted "muana" in her names to differentiate her from the other Tshala who was her senior and a very good dancer too.
Her singing career stuttered and started late. But like all dancers in Congo there is longevity and hardiness. You just have to look at Tabu Leys globetrotting dancers and how far they went. The last one to pass on became a mayor of Lubumbashi. So just like Mbilia Bel who Tabu Ley converted to a singsation, Tshala Muana was later to be converted from a dancer of Mpongo Love to a singer.
Her voice was not great but was more mature than Mpongo Love's, her former boss. While Mpongo got help from vocal European expert Madame Collette, Mbilia Bel got help and songs from the great Lord Tabu Ley and Abeti Maskini from het international connections; Tshala was cut adrift with the likes of Lady Issa to fend for themselves.
After a few gigs with Mpongo Love then Abeti, she moves to Abidjan (Ivory Coast) which was another good hub for Congolese music running away from the self-inflicted poverty of Mobutu Sese Seko regime.
She does an album and sings one song in French for a bigger audience. The rest of the songs are in Tshiluba with a revolutionary beat that later becomes Mutuashi which is a repeat of words (refrain) which later becomes the name of the dance.
The Tchiluba songs prove to be more popular. Her promoter then urges her to follow the money and to only do the new beat and sing majorly in Tshiluba.
Tshala did not cry for sympathy. She just reached for her people borrowing their dance, singing style, pendulum percussion rhythm and mostly their dance. And despite acrimony from colleagues the international audience embraced her fresh sound. Eastern Africa lapped the smooth authentic Rwanda/ Kisangani Swahili in Karibou Yangu that the same theme as Mariam Makeba's famous hit, Malaika. It was a dance floor must. It filled the floor no matter how many times you played it. It still does.
Her other songs did the same. Her arrival with video music came right on time. I watched an earlier interview of hers and heard her mention the energetic stage hovering Tina Turner. And true even if you ignore the botched turbulent career hampered by childhood marriage that resembled Tina Turner's, the energy and stage hovering is similar. The flamboyant hairstyle is there. True she was Tina Turner's reincarnate in Congo basin.
And every time I watch her shows I see the similarity and independence. Women suffer the dual impediments of parental veto and their secondary status in Africa's largely male-dominated societies. The patriarchy still thrives in Africa and is well trenched. An independent woman making it in the music business is a rarity. Those who succeed are usually relegated to roles as back-up singers or dancing girls in skimpy costumes adorning a stage dominated by the male star. Tshala and the competitors were a rarity.
The perpetuation of this situation is not helped by the abused housewives’ syndromes that made budding female stars run from the stable of pro women promoter into the arms of known perverts and abuser of women in every song lyric they ever wrote. This inability to stay put like Tshala Muana did is the hand brake that held most of them back.
Mbilia Bel's outlook and hits songs offered conformity and mollification. Mpongo Love offered hit songs that were all about good living happy people in love. Tshala's outlook and hit song was just the opposite. An in-your-face hairstyle, raunchy dances and a last stand Cheena hit song saying I cant take it anymore you effing abuser. Its everything the lakeside woman is saying to uncultured Namlolwe man or any other uncultured man. Go climb the mountain if you want, we cant take your threats anymore. We don't want to kill ourselves living to your abusive husbanding.
Later she has a tiff with Mpongo Love over silly rumours and gossip about Mpongo's health. HIV/AIDS by then was a taboo illness and families and friends were breaking up over silly rumours even here in Kenya. Much later she's wrongly accused of misappropriating tokens given to artistes by the government during Papa Wemba's funeral. A woman’s chastity and character is so easy to prick even out of show business.
Namlolwe dance floor.
So why does Tshala life find favour with Namlolwe? First the turbulent life of 1960s was also the turbulent life of people of Namlolwe. Those political upheavals never left one the same. The siege mentality around the lake came directly from there. And if Tshala Muana’s rejection of Lingala and Swahili was driven by the political strife then it is easy to see the same among Namlolwe people. Or at least I found someone who was so similar to me and refused domination like me. As I mentioned the rebellious style even in worship (Bayuda) is a photocopy of Namlolwe siege mentality. Benga thrived despite persistent neglect that took away disposable income from Namlolwe people.
Even compared to elitist urban music Benga did not only drive urbanites from disco matanga and night parties but followed the urbanites in Nairobi, Mombasa and climbed the mountain. And so did Tchiluba’s hot pursuit of Kinshasa rumba and soukous.
What’s more Namlolwe community have just released another instalment of Luo dance and music genre- the high riding ohangla that does not take prisoners off the dance floor. It is murder on the dance floor, right there and then.
And for that we must bow to siasa kali cultural practitioners and adherents like Tshala Muana who stuck to unfashionable ethnic Tchiluba music and left murder on the dance floor.
Rest in peace mutuash lady.
Chenna-I wonder if Chenna is not a personal testimony
Karibu Yangu- Maiden East African entry
Seli Pere ( My Kisumu baptism)