Africa & Cuba: A Musical Love Affair

Written by
Joseph Kabasele, aka Le Grand Kallé
Joseph Kabasele, aka Le Grand Kallé (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

When the first 78 rpm Cuban records started arriving (by boat) in the West African nations of Benin, Congo, Cameroon, and others, it was love at first listen. Songs by Miguelito Valdés and Benny Moré became popular, and it wasn’t long before African musicians began creating their own versions. They recognized their own African roots within the Cuban rhythms, many of which were re-workings of earlier African beats that had made it to Cuban shores in previous eras.

A great example of this is Celia Cruz’s 1958 song, “Madre Rumba,” performed with her band, La Sonora Matancera. They recorded the song before Fidel Castro’s Communist takeover the following year in 1959, when Cruz and many other Cuban musicians defected and fled to Mexico and/or eventually the United States, looking for work.

In the heady and optimistic days after mineral-rich Congo gained its short-lived independence from Belgium in 1960 (before the democratically elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was later assassinated by the Belgians and CIA), Joseph Kabassele or ‘Le Grande Kallé,’ as he was popularly known, and his legendary band, lAfrican Jazz, wrote an African Rumba piece called “Indépendance Cha Cha,” which became the soundtrack to Congolese independence before General Mobutu embarked on his thirty-plus year reign of pillaging, corruption, kleptocracy, and terror. l’African Jazz also recorded their own Congolese version of Celia Cruz’s “Madre Rumba,” which they titled “Africa Mokili Mobimba.” This song was once the theme song for KCRW’s long-running African program, The African Beat.

Here is the Celia Cruz original, “Madre Rumba.”

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“African Mokili Mobimba,” the Congolese version that it inspired three years later.

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“Indépendance Cha Cha Cha” by Le Grand Kallé & l’African Jazz.

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