Politically conscious Black artists have always gone beyond the pursuit of fame and fortune to align themselves with the struggles of their people for liberation from imperialism. Renowned Congolese guitarist, composer and singer, Nicolas Kasanda wa Mikalayi, popularly known as Doctor Nico, was a keen supporter of D.R. Congo’s first democratically elected leader and eminent African statesman Patrice Lumumba.
Singers and players of instruments have stepped up to the plate to support political leaders.
This has occurred in North America, the Caribbean and Mother Africa. John Coltrane supported El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) in the sixties. Bob Marley of Jamaica supported Walter Rodney of Guyana in the seventies and Fela Anikulapo Kuti of Nigeria supported Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso in the eighties. All of these figures have supported the liberation of Africa, Africans and all oppressed people.
Before this period “Dr. Nico” (Nicolas Kasanda wa Mikalay) supported Patrice Emery Lumumba, the first democratically elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the age of 36. Nico Kasanda was a giant in rumba music. He was a guitarist, composer and one of the pioneers of the genre.
Dr. Nico was born in Mikalayi, Kasai Province in the Congo on July 7, 1939. He joined the ancestors in Brussels, Belgium, September 22, 1985. According to Luwesi Kinshasa, Secretary General, African Socialist International, “He never sang for Mobutu. He probably died poor, despite achieving stardom throughout Africa, particularly in West Africa and Kenya.
“In Sierra Leone, he was very popular even when we went there the last time. In the Congo he is still a legend today with his brother, Dechaux Muamba, who played the rhythmic guitar while Nico Kasanda was the lead guitarist. The masses gave him the title of the ‘Doctor’ of the guitar”.
Dr. Nico’s became an influential guitarist and his reputation spread to North America. The legendary Jimi Hendrix paid homage to him. Hendrix visited him while on tour in Paris. He was the originator of the Congolese finger-picked style. After he split from African Jazz in 1963 he and singer Tabu Ley Rochereau left to form L’Orchestra African Fiesta. Rochereau came to Toronto many times. My face was in the place every time.
Before leaving Los Angeles I was attracted to the Congo because of Lumumba. El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) was a huge admirer of this great Congolese freedom fighter. Says Malcolm X: “Lumumba [is] the greatest black man who ever walked the African continent. He didn’t fear anybody. He had those people so scared they had to kill him. They couldn’t buy him; they couldn’t frighten him; and they couldn’t reach him. Why, he told the king of Belgium, Man, you may let us free, you may have given us our independence, but we can never forget these scars.”
I had just start going to John Fremont High School in 1961 when Lumumba along with Maurice Mpolo, 32, (Sports and Youth Minister) and Joseph Okito, 50, (Vice-President of the Senate) were assassinated. It was an unholy alliance between the CIA, Belgian imperialism and lackeys like Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (who Lumumba appointed as his Chief of Staff) and Joseph Kasavubu (President) and Moise Tshombe of Katanga Province who Malcolm referred to as “the worst African that was ever born.”
A student that everyone looked up to was in the schoolyard making fun of the African names. He kept on laughing and saying “Kasa Boo Boo”. It was crystal clear that he had no love for Okito, Mpolo or Lumumba. This “brother” who was a member of the street organization, the Slauson’s, had his own car, had the finest sisters and clothes but had no sense. I lost all respect for him. There was a brother who turned out to be a member of the Nation of Islam watching this anti-African performance. He asked me if I wanted to come to Mosque 27 and hear the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. My reply? “But of course.” This was the first time I would hear John Shabazz who later would become Abdul Allah Muhammad. Allah Muhammad talked about Lumumba, music and movies during this sermon.
I always thought of Allah Muhammad when anyone mentioned the Congo. I couldn’t wait to see the Lumumba film. Years later I would see the Haitian–born Raoul Peck’s 2000 directed film Lumumba. Peck moved to the Congo as a youth. Due to political unrest in the he Congo at the time of filming, the movie was shot in Zimbabwe and Beira, Mozambique. Eriq Ebouaney, the son of Cameroonian immigrants, portrayed Lumumba. I was blessed to have met Peck and Ebouaney at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 2000.
The film had a powerful soundtrack. Dr. Nico as a member of Grand Kalle et l’African Jazz music was featured in the film. Among their most popular songs was Independence cha cha in 1960. Several members like Simaro Lutumba and Sam Mangwana joined Rochereau and Dr. Nico on this historical recording.
If you have never seen the film I suggest you purchase the DVD version. Lumumba generated some controversy in 2002 when Frank Carlucci, a former American government official and policy advisor, persuaded HBO to delete a reference to him during the airing of the film. The scene in question involves a group of Belgian and Congolese officials deciding whether to kill Lumumba. Carlucci is asked for input, and he mumbles that the US government does not involve itself in the internal affairs of other countries. At the period, Carlucci was the second secretary of the U.S. Embassy in Congo. He denies playing any role in the death of Lumumba, saying, "The scene is tendentious, false, and libelous; it never happened and it is a cheap shot."
Lumumba the film brings the class struggle to the silver screen. Mobutu, Tshombe and the other Congolese sell-outs prove Huey P. Newton’s statement that “blackness is necessary; it is not sufficient.”
*Norman (Otis) Richmond, aka Jalali, was born in Arcadia, Louisiana, and grew up in Los Angeles. He left Los Angles after refusing to fight in Vietnam because he felt that, like the Vietnamese, Africans in the United States were colonial subjects. After leaving Los Angeles in the 1960s Richmond moved to Toronto, where he co-founded the Afro American Progressive Association, one of the first Black Power organizations in that part of the world. Before moving to Tronto permanently, Richmond worked with the Detroit-based League of Revolutionary Black Workers. He was the youngest member of the central staff. When the League split he joined the African People’s Party. In 1992, Richmond received the Toronto Arts Award. In front of an audience that included the mayor of Toronto, Richmond dedicated his award to Mumia Abu-Jamal, Assata Shakur, Geronimo Pratt, the African National Congress of South Africa, and Fidel Castro and the people of Cuba. In 1984 he co-founded the Toronto Chapter of the Black Music Association with Milton Blake. Richmond began his career in journalism at the African Canadian weekly Contrast. He went on to be published in the Toronto Star, the Toronto Globe & Mail, the National Post, the Jackson Advocate, Share, the Islander, the Black American, Pan African News Wire, and Black Agenda Report. Internationally he has written for the United Nations, the Jamaican Gleaner, the Nation (Barbados), and Pambazuka News.Currently, he produces Diasporic Music a radio show for Uhuru Radio and writes a column, Diasporic Music for the Burning Spear Newspaper.
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