LAMBAKA: The Tanbuyé (Drummer) and his Koongo legacy

(Interview of Lambaka, collected in May 2020 by Guilaine Arts)

Are you in the skin of a goat? Which skin are you missing? The skin of a jackal or the skin of a leopard? Which feather are you missing? Chicken feathers or eagle feathers? Which flower are you missing? Which tree are you missing? Allamanda or m’sânda of NDONA-KIMPA-M’VITA?

To all the tam-tams of Africa
So that their vibrations thunder forever over the continent and the globe, to translate to themselves, to the unknown and to the universe, sublime depths.
translated from: Titinga Frédéric Pacere, Le langage des tam-tams et des masques en Afrique, L’Harmattan, 1991, p.5.

GA – LAMBAKA, born Labéca in Gwadlup (Guadeloupe), an archipelago located in the Caribbean zone (America). Tanbuyé (drummer), he draws his inspiration from his origins in Katiopa (Africa). By the way he considers himself as a Mushi Kongo whose ancestors were trapped and mired in the horrors of human trafficking in servitude. If slavery was officially abolished in 1848 in France, the “arrivals” from the Congo continued until 1861.
His determination led him on numerous voyages of exploration and learning throughout the world. He thus developed knowledge which, upon his return, was put to use in different cultural settings, but also in the service of his Kazarabikamun workshop, where various artistic projects were born.

When they landed us on this earth, we implored the Gangann spirits to protect us. Then they opened their eyes wide, opened their ears wide on this earth so that we could remain creative beings.translated from: Lambaka

Lè yo débaké nu asi tè la sa, nu hélé sé Gangann la jété zyé si nu. Alos yo wuvè zyé, wuvè zorey adan M`Mu-Nza la pu nu té pé rété Mùuntù.

GA – We know that your passion for music has been developing since you were very young. What was the trigger?

To all those who struggle,
often desperately, to make it prevail, that the tam-tam is not simply a drum of rhythms; that it speaks, like the living, and therefore has the right to life, the right to respect.
translated from: Titinga Frédéric Pacere, Le langage des tam-tams et des masques en Afrique, L’Harmattan, 1991, p.9.

L – It may not be customary, but I like to illustrate my words with quotes from various authors, because I realize day by day that many have thought, still think, know, and hold the same speeches as I do.

In my family, there was a culture of musical practice stemming from two currents, one dominant coming from the Catholic and Protestant religions, and the other essentially from the Koongo culture, a heritage carried by my mother, a descendant of Kongo – a culture much less prominent but still present. I confess that I was fascinated by it, but there was no question of talking about it openly because of the Christian cultural and religious domination. So my father knew how to read the official Western symbolism of music and played the flute. My mother sang, and often quoted sayings in the Koongo language, which she said she inherited from her parents.

Inheriting is an incomplete act and process. To complete them, one must bring original and new elements. There are no better new elements than those that come from one’s [own] culture and tradition. Modern science needs the culture of origin to strengthen it. The culture of origin needs the sciences to modernize itself. Thus, tradition becomes an active and constantly renewed reality. The Kongo proverb: “wa dia fwa yika dió” eliminates the image of retrogression stuck to tradition. True tradition is a driving force forwards, not backwards. It is an opening in time and space.
translated from: Nsaku Kimbembe, Confins spirituels du Kongo Royal, Tome 1, Cercle Congo, 2010, p. 6.

As for me, from a very young age, I was interested in all kinds of musical and cultural actions taking place in my region, music movements from Gwadlup or elsewhere (wakes, carnival, mas, ball groups, gwoka folklore groups, kou’tanbou, léwòz, concerts, church music, balls…). I tried not to miss anything.

GA – With the arrival of the Bumidom (the French agency for migration from overseas departments), between the 60s and 80s, there was a great wave of migration from the French overseas departments towards France mainland. It was during this migration policy that you reach the French capital. What happened to you from that moment?

L – This departure for Europe was a new journey, a new uprooting, for me and my ancestors, an uprooting due to the action of the French migration policy.
It was in Paris during the 70’s that I joined the Mésaj Ka gwoka group. Gwoka (ngoka, ngoma) is one music of the Blacks of Gwadlup, formed during the period of the black slave trade in the Americas.
For many of us, it was another ocean crossing, another exile, this time to Europe, precisely to France.

In those years, Mésaj Ka was in the STREETS and in the VIEWS of Europe through the sounds of the ka and our young and Black presences. We had rebellious consciences. We did not aspire to be a folk group. Sound of rebellion. Dance, yes but dance of rebellion. Rebellion why?

I make the distinction in terminology between family and survival-unit because “the family,” by definition, is a social institution that functions to support maximal development and protection of the young. However, under white supremacy, Blacks and other non-whites are not to be developed maximally; they are permitted to survive as functional inferiors, alienated from self and from their own kind. The non-white survival-unit is not permitted to defend itself or its young. The survival-unit functions accordingly.
Dr Frances Cress Welsing, 1991. The Isis (Yssis) Papers - The Keys To The Colors, Third World Press, Chicago, p.87.

I played bass and sang a little at the beginning. Then I quickly devoted myself to percussion (ka, conga, drums, chacha…).

That is how the style I call supAkongo was born. For me I was an African, a Kongo, although I didn’t know the country and the Béna Kongo culture. I was a Kongo looking for the inspiration of freedom, seeking to integrate or form a cultural, spiritual and even a political space (Kanda and Mbongi).

The African Theory of Reality, an attempt at phenomenological hermeneutics
To understand ontology, the science of being, we must grasp its religious essence as expressed through myths and its derivatives, namely legends, symbols, epics, proverbs, tales, aphorisms … African philosophical discourse therefore suggests concepts represented by both images and words that are also authentic deified principles covering reality, both visible and invisible. It is, in fact, a symbolic thought whose ontological status programmes a tension towards universal completeness in a language which, for this reason, appears both religious and at the same time magico-scientific.
(…)translated from: Mbog Bassong, La méthode de la philosophie africaine. De l’expression de la pensée complexe en Afrique noire, L’Harmattan, 2007, pp. 13-14.

GA – From Europe you travelled to some other destinations. What was the objective and to what extent did it benefit you?

L – In order to deepen my knowledge, I made a stay to the Drummers Collective in New York, and another one to the Institute of Arts in Havana where I understood Afro-Cuban percussion better. I also spent some time in Africa. Of course in addition to the teaching of these institutes, the streets of the cities and villages were great places of exchange and learning.

After some travels, having acquired additional skills, I thought that I could set up a workshop, teach, transmit in different environments, which I did for some time, in schools, universities, penitentiary centers, in my Kazarabikamun practice and teaching workshop.

the man of letters, contrary to what happened in certain civilizations where his place was secondary, is situated here, at the centre of public life, on the same level as the decision-making power.
the man of letters, in order to mark the supremacy of his language, will not use, or will be able not to use, the word to make himself heard or understood. Rather, he will use an instrument.
translated from: Titinga Frédéric Pacere, Le langage des tam-tams et des masques en Afrique, L’Harmattan, 1991, p.17.

GA – The Kazarabikamun workshop has thus enabled the conception and publication of the book “I KA I PA KA, Gwoka conventionnel et soupakongo”, a work aimed at both experienced and inexperienced musicians.
This workshop has also hosted many musical activities (rehearsals, teaching…).

I did not feel it as a job as I do not like to “work”.
I understand those who can talk about “work” and “working”.
The term “work” that has come out of a long journey (servitude, slavization, colonization…) seems to designate things that are not very useful and not understood in the Universe.
One should do obvious activities in an obvious framework, activities that are done out of devotion, not out of belief. In an established context, the constraint would therefore be attributed to a free and real presence.
The constraint is a necessity granted by Creation to do actions to live, to perpetuate, to immortalize. In this context we radically eliminate temptations and attempts to enslave anyone or anything.translated from: Lambaka

Harmony is a perfect concord between all elements, forces and feelings. Peace is a harmony. The Bakongo represent harmony as the union of the two kongo principles of pelekete and pakundungu.translated from: Kimbembe Nsaku Sêngele, Ntangu yi fweni - Voici venu le temps, Amouna Hungan Ga, 2ème éd., an 50, p.126.

GA – Back on Gwadlup land, he continues to live around creative actions.
This is how Fondong gave birth to the album “Fondong, Naba tan” in 2017 as a symbol of life. Fondong, uben “Kòkòlò zayann” uben “Sèpan lakansyèl” takes its roots in the sounds of Gwadlup’s “musics” such as Léwoz, Padjenbel and Granjanbel. This repertoire of sounds familiar from the black music of America keeps a spiritual imprint.

GA – As a conclusion, do you have a message to pass on?

L – Yes absolutely. Ntangu yi fweni, Ntangu yi fweni. I greet fraternally all the gifted Soundmakers who accompanied me for this album: Rudy Souriant, Dominique Tauliaut, Linley Marthe, Sylvain Ransy, Gérald Grandman, Laurent Succab, Robert Coliné.
Big up for the other Soundmakers who took part in the Fondong adventure, in particular Daniel Savonnier aka Tirènn.
Matondo mbuta to all the people (Muntu), the ancestors and the living, who helped me in my actions. As there are many of them, I cannot name them.
Matondo mbuta to the Universe.
Sakumuna sakumuna. Ingeta.

To finish:

The Bambara thinking is allusive. As a matter of fact, it asserts the presence of a One Being self-organizing from the Noun:
“There was nothing except a Being.
That Being was a living Emptiness,
brooding potentially over contingent existences.
Endless Time was the dwelling of that One Being.
The One Being gave himself the name Maa Ngala.
Then he created “Fan”,
a wonderful Egg with nine divisions,
and he inserted into it the nine fundamental states of existence”translated from: Mbog Bassong, La méthode de la philosophie africaine. De l’expression de la pensée complexe en Afrique noire, L’Harmattan, 2007, p. 30.

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(translation: Guilaine Arts and Marie Zébus)