Interview with Sam Mangwana

Interview with Sam Mangwana

by Natasha Nargis
Copyright © 2000 Natasha Nargis

Sam Mangwana and his band graced the stage of Anglada's Hall for the final performance of the Taos Jazz Festival. The show promised to be a grande finale to an already grande month-long jazz festival. Since the music is so danceable, a dance party was planned -- not be your typical sit-down jazz performance, an energy-packed blowout event.

I first heard Mangwana's music quite by chance. I liked his picture on the cover of Galo Negro (Putumayo, 1998). I also liked the sound of his name, so I bought the CD. It would have been difficult to not fall in love with the music. :. . .

Recently I interviewed him by phone from his home in Paris.

NN: Tell me about Congolese rumba.

SM: Oh, it is a big, big, big story. When I was growing up in Kinshasa Congo there was then the Belgium administration ruling that country, and organizing a public radio on every corner in Kinshasa. People who had not the possibility to have a radio could listen to music and information on those radios. At my home, because my father was a businessman, we had a gramophone. I started to listen to Congolese rumba played by the pioneers of rumba music. There was a San Salvador group, and those pioneers were Angolan living in Congo. That group started to mix music from Nigeria and Ghana with music from their original culture. They started to play that music in Matadi. It was a big port. That group was living in Port of Matadi. They moved to Kinshasa. So I was listening to all that music, and folkloric songs from many regions in Congo when I was very young, in 1965.

During my holiday I was selling in one of my father's stores. When I was doing that I was in touch with many people who were coming to buy things, so I started to discover the accents of people. That time, if you asked me where that man or woman was from I could say. Before the band started to play my role was to do skits, so people could laugh by listening to me talk in different accents. When I started to become a singer I became very popular in Kinshasa.

NN: How old were you?

SM: I was 18 years old. The band was called African Fiesta. After that I was moving because many bands wanted to get me on their band. I worked with Franco. He was one of the very famous Congolese musicians in Africa. He was selling millions of records around the world.

NN: When did you move to Paris?

SM: I came to France in 1987. I established myself in Paris for my promotion. First I moved from Central Africa to West Africa. At that time I established myself in Togo and Ivory Coast. I stayed there for six years producing and recording in Ghana and Nigeria because that time there was no recording studio in Ivory Coast. I had to go to Ghana or Nigeria to record. I was staying in Ivory Coast because it was more modern than other countries in Africa. I stayed there doing my promotion around other countries.

NN: Do you like living in Paris?

SM: No. There is a political condition in Africa forcing me to live outside of Africa, because we have many political borders there.

NN: So you are in exile in Paris.

SM: Yes. But I think maybe itís my role in this world, maybe, to publish our culture around the world from Paris. One day I hope I can sing in English.

NN: When did you become popular in the United States, and how did that happen?

SM: I became very popular because some Africans who knew my repertory, and some Americans who knew Africa were buying my records; but one thing happened two years ago -- Putumayo started to distribute my record, Galo Negro.. Putumayo did a very strong job of organizing a promotion by contacting television, like CNN, and many local television stations in Texas, San Francisco and Chicago. My music started to be known by the American public.

NN: Tell me about the Latin and Caribbean influences.

SM: The music is a mixing of many cultures, many musics. When I started to become a singer in Kinshasa musicians were making copyrights of Cuban and Caribbean music and reproducing that music in our language. They were calling that music rumba. We had the chance to see, in that period, many Latino bands who came there to play Latino and Caribbean music. All those influences, when I became a composer and songwriter, automatically were in my mind.

I'm from Angola. I speak Portuguese. It was easy for me to repeat Cuban music. When I came again to West Africa I started singing in Bambara. Bambara is a powerful language in West Africa. For doing that I became a very popular record seller in West Africa too.

NN: Do you feel that people are learning more about your culture through the music?

SM: I like doing workshops and explaining our culture to Americans because you know Africa in general, but Africa has many faces, so there is a big reservoir of culture. In our music we are explaining our struggles. I'm still complaining for injustice. Sometimes we are singing for love, for everywhere you find human beings you find love. Love and music are putting many people around the world together. You see people around the world fighting for power; but we artists, musicians and actors are still doing our job and publishing a message.


Natasha Nargis produces and hosts JAZZ ET AL, 9-noon Fridays on KSFR 90.7 FM

natashanargis@hotmail.com


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