maandag 5 april 2021

Tshala Muana

Lisabeth Tshala Muana Muidikay, also known as Tshala Muana, 'The Queen of Mutuashi' was born on 13 March 1958 in Lubumbashi. She was the second in a family of ten children. Her mother, Alphonsine Bambiwa Tumba was widowed in 1964 after her husband Muidikay Amadeus was killed as a soldier by supporters of the deposed and murdered democratically elected President Patrice Lumumba.

From her childhood, little Elise sang in the church of the Kibembe army camp in what was then Elisabethville. In 1967, two years after the death of her father, her mother moved with the children to Kananga and in the early 70s she settled in Kinshasa.  There she started her professional career in 1976 as a dancer in the new group of singer M'Pongo Love. Afterwards, she was also part of the band Minzoto Wella Wella and of Les Tigresses d'Abeti Masikini for some time.

In 1978, she left for West Africa for a new musical adventure. It started in the Central African Republic and ended via Nigeria and Togo in Ivory Coast. It was in the same period that Sam Mangwana and his African All Stars settled in Abidjan and from there conquered West Africa with their infectious Congolese sound. It was also in Abidjan that the Ivorian artist and producer Jimmy Hyacinthe noticed her versatile talent as a singer, dancer and choreographer and included her in his band. It was also with Hyacinthe that she went to Paris in 1982 to record her first 12Inch 45rpm single, with on the a-side a pop song sung in French entitled 'Amina' and on the b-side the song 'Tshebele', a piece based on the mutuashi rhythm of the Baluba people from the southern Kasai region in Congo. Due in part to the sensual choreographies during her live performances, her fame quickly grew in Côte d'Ivoire and the surrounding countries.

♫ Audio 1982: Tshala Muana – Tshebele

In 1984 she returned for a longer period to Paris, which in that period increasingly became the centre of African pop music. There, together with Cameroonian bassist, arranger and producer Aladji Touré, she recorded several albums - 'Kami', 'Mbanda Matière' and 'M'Pokolo' - for the Safari Ambiance label. In those days she also started working with Congolese guitarist Rigo Bamundele Star. Tshala wrote most of her songs herself and unlike many other Congolese artists, she did not limit herself to the Congolese rumba sung in Lingala and its up-tempo offshoot soukous. On her albums and in her shows, she gave a prominent place to songs in the mutuashi rhythm, sung in her mother tongue Tshiluba. It is not too much to say that the modernisation of this rhythm and the subsequent popularity of the mutuashi is largely due to Tshala Muana. After Abidjan and Paris, she now wanted to conquer her homeland with her music. In 1986, she returned to Kinshasa for a number of concerts to reintroduce herself "at home".  Although her concerts were received with enthusiasm, it soon became clear that the weak economy made it impossible for an artist to make a living in Congo.

♫ Live 1987: Lwa Touye – Tshala Muana en concert à Utrecht, Hollande

She returned to Paris to continue her career from there. She did this by releasing new albums with annual regularity and then touring in Europe and Africa. Alongside Mbilia Bel, she developed into one of the 'Leading Ladies' of Congolese music in the late 1980s. The American record label Shanachie also saw her qualities and released a compilation of her songs on CD in 1991 under the somewhat misplaced title "Soukous Siren". Most of the songs on the album were based on the mutuashi rhythm and had little to do with soukous. The label probably chose this title because Congolese artists like Kanda Bongo Man and Diblo Dibala with Loketo were popular in the US at that time with their up-tempo dance music among fans of the emerging world music scene.

♫ Clip 1988: Kapinga – Tshala Muana 4:09

In the 90s, Tshala Muana continued to develop musically. In those years she wrote several songs in which she very successfully crossed Mutuashi with Salsa. The result of this can be heard on some tracks of the CD 'Mutuashi', released by the British Sterns label in 1996. In 1998, she also collaborated on the third album from the 'Sans Papiers' series, released by Ibrahim Sylla. On this album, which was arranged by Lokassa Ya Mbongo, a selection of artists collaborated with medleys that paid tribute to singers such as Mbilia Bel, M'Pongo Love, Oumou Sangare and Nahawa Doumbia.

♫ Audio 1998: Sans Papiers / Tshala Muana – Nozy – 5:51

♫ Audio 1995: Mudiavi – 4:55

♫ Audio 1994: Dezo Dezo – 5:27

When in 1997 Laurent Désiré Kabila took over from Mobutu Sese Seko as president of Congo, it also influenced Tshala Muana's life and musical career. In those years Tshala Muana became more and more involved in Congolese politics. In 1999 she became a national delegate to the Transitional Parliament of the Constituent and Legislative Assembly. This was followed by three years in which not a single album of hers was released. Fortunately, she picked up where she left off in 2002 with the album 'Dinanga', which means 'Love'. With the following album 'Malu', her 21st, she won the prize for best female artist at the Kora 2003. The album 'Malu' sold more than 500,000 copies. In 2006, she released a double album entitled 'Mamu Nationale' which means 'The Mother of the Nation'.

♫ Live 2006: Malu 10:51

In the years that followed, she continued to release albums on a regular basis. In 2018, for example, she released the album 'Don de Dieu' together with Mbilia Bel - the other living female legend of Congolese music.  

♫ Clip 2017: Baba Nima – Tshala Muana 6:43

♫ Clip 2018: Don de Dieu – Tshala Muana ft. Mbilia Bel 6:58


After almost 45 years, in 2020 it seemed as if her musical career had come to an end. After an emergency hospitalisation in June 2020, reports swirled that 'The Queen of Mutuashi' had died.  Shortly afterwards, however, she issued a statement saying that she was still alive and well. That she is indeed still at the centre of musical and political life was proved a few months later in November when she released the song 'Ingratitude'. The lyrics of the song so offended President Tshikseki that she was arrested and kept in custody for several days.  Although she is now in her sixties and has some 30 albums to her name, I expect and hope that Tshala Muana will remain musically active in the years to come.

♫ Clip 2020: Ingratitude 4:41


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