Culture: Home and Bonobos


“Si tu pars n’oublie pas
La terre où ton coeur a vu le jour
Zanzibar ou Kinshasa
Faudra jamais que tu oublies l’amour”

– Si Tu Pars by Lokua Kanza

Last November, I went back home.  I had to go back…I was dying inside, I needed to see the house I grew up in, I had to breathe the air I remembered…I had to stare at the stars at night as I did so many times long ago…when I used to be a teenager, confused but hopeful that tomorrow would make more sense.

“C’était hier quand Mboyo jouait sur les pirogues
De l’autre côté, Dimitri faisait du roller à Prague
Tous les deux, ils ont été touchés par l’aventure
Comme toi, j’aurais un mot simplement à te dire…

So, I set a date but the Paris attack took place the Friday before my scheduled flight…yet, I refused to stay.  My friends and I visited a traumatized Europe with armed soldiers at each corner, high security and long lines in Rome, Florence, Milan, Paris and Bruxelles.  It seemed as though the world was falling apart as I was finally going home.  But I had to be home.  When I finally landed in Kinshasa, the little girl inside me felt at peace.  I wasn’t dreaming anymore.  True, a lot had changed in a decade. The airport was fully air-conditioned. The roads were not as bumpy as I remembered yet they served more cars than they could handle and this resulted in painful traffic jams and jaywalkers.


Oh, there were scooter-taxis everywhere and 24-hour churches promising prosperity in exchange for your hard-earned wage.  Kinshasa was more diverse with a larger group of Indian and Chinese immigrants. On the other hand, there were less Lebanese and they left with my favorite shawarma restaurant  😦ebelandi_kin_7 ebelandi_kin_6 ebelandi_kin_2

One of the highlights of my trip was a stop at Lola ya Bonobos or Heavens of the Bonobos.  The Bonobos are a species of intelligent monkeys only found in the Democratic Republic of Congo and nowhere else.  They are known for their peaceful attitude. Unfortunately, Bonobos are an endangered species because they are killed as bushmeat in Congo.  It was an amazing experience to see the work and love poured into preserving them at Lola ya Bonobos. If you’d like to learn more about the sanctuary, visit the official website or watch the 60 minutes episode with Anderson Cooper.

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I was home, finally.  A lot had changed, yet things had remained the same.  My mom still sang when the lights went off but this time she sang alone. Love, money and family were still the main subjects developed on television. Commercials were still ridiculously funny with catchy tunes to hypnotize us into buying milk, beer, skin lightening creams, hair products, lottery tickets and spa treatments.  The sky still shone bright in a midnight blue hue at night and my favorite stars were still there and so were the pool as well as the swing my baby brother and I played in.

I was home and could finally let my brain remember moments I tried to block out by fear that my heart would be too heavy.  This time at last,  my eyes and my hands could match the memories to concrete objects. And the people had changed, yet they were the same hard working, family oriented, fun loving, optimistic and fashion conscious people I remembered.  A decade had passed and things looked different yet it all felt the same.

“Tu verras la beauté des hommes et leur douleur
L’important c’est de pouvoir toujours garder ta chaleur
Bien des fois tu auras la visite du blues d’un soir, mais tu vois
La vie a ses beaux jours et ses déboires”

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Afrique et Fashion: Designer Spotlight on Adama Paris


The designer spotlight for this week is on Adama Paris, the label by Senegalese designer Adama Amanda Ndiaye.  Wikipedia offers a nice writeup on Adama so I would recommend to read her story if you would like to get insight on her background. All images courtesy of Adama Paris and


The Brand: Adama Paris

The IT factor: Colorful and modern cuts

The Inspiration:Big Cities…to share fashion without borders (source)

The Designer: Adama Amanda Ndiaye, from Senegal

Sissi’s Notes: Amanda was born in Kinshasa! The world is small 😉 She has organized multiple fashion events to get African designers to become mainstream.  Some of her achievements are the Black Fashion Week and the Dakar Fashion Week.

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Sissi’s Picks: From her Spring/Summer 2014 line (cannot shop online)

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Culture: Story Telling

I was raised in Kinshasa, the capital of the Republic Democratic of Congo.  For some in more rural areas of the country, Kinshasa was the big city.  In part, it was true.  We had electricity on a regular basis (African-style…I shall explain shortly) and piped water distribution (hmmm…sometimes).

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While we seldom had to make a wooden fire and sit around it as depicted above by thomsoneasafricanblog, we frequently sat outside during blackouts.  You see, even in our big city Kinshasa, electricity was ‘available’ but irregular so we would spend nights or weeks without it. However, blackouts turned into storytelling hours.  We (the kids) would sit on the porch of my parents’ enclosed parcel and listen to stories from my mom, my grandmother, my uncles and occasionally, my dad.

My grandma’s Sophie were the funniest.  Coco Sophie, as we call her, did not live with us at the time and would visit once a month to check on us.  If her visits coincided with a blackout, she would proceed to tell us stories of her childhood, how she learned the hard way to be obedient, why family is the most important bond, how a friend of hers fared poorly due to arrogance and selfishness, how hard she had to work as a child, etc.  My grandma is a very petite lady who loves to chatter and laugh. However, when she would tell her stories to the city boy and girl my baby brother and I were at the time, she would take that rare, deep voice and look dead serious.  Because we never took her seriously, and her stories always felt extreme, we would laugh to no end.  She would in return shake her head, smile then remind us that one day we would understand.  And we do today, Coco.  Sad but true, we have seen it happen too.

storytelling_african_businessaimimage credit (via Google)

When Coco Sophie was not available, then one of my uncles would fill in.  Sometimes, they would ask my mom to chime in to validate a point.  Otherwise, they would just sing together songs from their childhood and laugh, completely forgetting our existence…When nobody else was around during a blackout, my mom would sing, which would attract us out of our rooms.  Usually, she would then stop singing once she had an audience, and begin telling her story.  On occasions, she would keep singing and we would join…

I was not fond of blackouts growing up.  They always happened when I was watching Lois & Clark, Sunset Beach, the original Beverly Hills, the French Open, Jamais Deux Sans Toit, etc.  Otherwise, they happened when I was chatting on the PC in the computer room, or while I was studying for my many exams or quizzes.  However, I always looked forward to the resulting storytelling, because it felt like a special family bonding moment.

Today, I am sitting on my bed in the states.  It is dark (I did not switch the lights on) and I am soon to go to work but I miss it; I miss storytelling during blackouts back home.  I miss the musical duets by my uncles and my mom. I miss my mom’s voice. I miss Coco Sophie’s deep voice.  And I wish I could still laugh to no end to her stories, instead of finding out that the reality of life is indeed as ridiculously extreme as her stories….She knew better and my baby brother and I were only kids…It is your turn to laugh now, Coco.  We have learned 😉


Culture: Tout-Puissant OK Jazz – Teach and Take a Stab

I am an avid fan of music…partly because I have a natural penchant for it 😉 but mostly because there was always music around me.  My mother has a beautiful voice and I cannot recall a day where she didn’t sing, or at least hum, a tune or two…Likewise, my dad always had music playing in their room…old school songs from when he was a young boy, he’d say.  One of his favorite artists was Franco Luambo from the musical group TP OK Jazz.  Well, I have just recently found out that OK was not an ego flash.  Rather, OK stands for Orchestre Kinois 😉

So, what are my memories of Franco? I was not particularly fond of his voice.  However, the songs were hilarious, at times educational, but mostly he was taking digs at people.  Franco touched all social levels, using his guitar to bluntly reprimand or commend, sometimes getting in trouble with the Zairean judicial system at the time.  Franco sung mostly about women, not always in galant terms.  In fact, his depiction of women reminds me of Guys Des Cars, a french writer who also painted women as little devils.


“Mario” is about a cougar lady also known as ‘mama mobokoli’ and her much younger lover, Mario.


In “Mario Part 1”, Franco describes Mario as a young man who gave up on finding a job to be with ‘mama mobokoli’, but he would abuse of her money while having affairs with women closer to his age.  Finally, she gets tired of him and his tantrums.  As a result, she kicks him out of her house, regrets spending money for his university tuition and slams him with derogatory remarks on her money and the fact that she made a ‘monsieur’ out of his poor behind.  So, Mario goes back to his parents’ house, where he has to sleep on his old bed which is now too small for him.  The lesson is simple: do not go after older and richer women, instead get an education and make your own money.  However, rumour has it that in real life, ‘Mario’ and Franco were rivals for the love of the cougar lady…and Franco lost her to Mario, hence his revenge song.  In “Mario Part 2”, Franco and Mario reconcile and now Mario is the one making fun of ‘mama mobokoli’ because she came after him for his looks and youthfulness so she should not complain…after all, ‘every work deserves a salary’, he says…Hmmmm.  You can listen to both parts on YouTube.  The video has a cute picture of a younger Franco 🙂


Next is “Mamou“.  This is about a bizarre transition in the Zairean society of the time, when married women began having affairs.  Mamou is a married lady whose husband sent her and their children to a big city to provide for a better education (and a better future…so he thinks) for their kids.  In the Big City, she befriends a woman of ‘low’ morality with whom she goes on dates with other men.  Whenever her husband calls to check on her, she always finds excuses to hide her affairs.  Down the road, an argument takes place between Mamou and her ‘scarlet’ friend.  To get revenge, her friend decides to tell on all her misconduct. Lesson: Do not cheat on your husband. If you do, be careful how you treat your confidente 😉

My favorite is “Tres Impoli“.  It is about people with very bad manners and Franco frequently asks why, why are they so rude?

I never knew Franco was that famous, nor that he had such a big ego until I watched a documentary on his life HERE.  I also learned of his troubled childhood, his decision to leave school to focus on life on the street and later on his career.  Franco had a major impact on the African Rumba from 1960’s to 1980’s, and international success in Africa, Europe and the U.S.  He wrote a song in later years of his career, warning about the dangers of AIDS.  Franco died of an unspecific death in Belgium.


For many, Franco will forever remain what embodies the core of Congolese/Zairean music: classical jazz, a guitar and meaningful, educational lyrics.  One of my old school teachers used to complain about modern music and our empty words.  He’d say: “It is not just about the melody and the dance.  A song must teach us something important, revive our conscience and make us better individuals.”

I never took him seriously back then…now I do, because it is getting harder to peruse Amazon MP3 store in search of a recent release without the “Explicit, Parental Advisory” logo now so frequent…It is hard to listen to a song without obscene words and feel good about it while actually learning something from it…you know, something other than my body parts and money, drugs, partying, jail, etc.  I miss watching music videos where my eyes would not hurt to see ’empowered’ women undress because they can.  How is it empowering to leave little to nothing to the imagination and move around imitating sexual acts? I have yet to see male celebrities undress and dance like that…equality, huh?

All pictures credits to Google Images.

Culture: He Did It All For Love

“Love, something you know nothing of, cause love doesn’t turn and run and leave you standing in the dark…”

– All For Love by Lady Antebellum

So much is written about love, but what is it, really? Well, if the media and books, movies and songs were the spring of true knowledge, we would assume that it is a purely emotional and physical connection with someone; that love is measured by how much the other person gives, by how much we feel while ‘in love’.  Love would be about what we receive and never what we give.  And how could the other person dare complain about what we give, after all, it is about “I”, not “WE” nor the world around us.

We are taught that love is personal and we have the right to stand against any obstacle in disagreement with our feelings…even if the obstacle is our spouse or our child’s happiness.  Oh, did I forget to mention that our celebrities remind us that love is strong but temporary…while exceptions exist, love only last a few days…or a few hours, depending on the season.  So Lady Antebellum keeps singing:

“Love, what was I supposed to do? Falling out can be so cruel but I just can’t ignore the truth…

“So, don’t tell me I don’t understand cause I don’t want this on my head but that’s all there’s left to do…

“I can’t fight these feelings inside of me, as much as this hurts it’s the only way, believe me when I say I did it all for love”

This selfish definition of love is common and seems to be widely accepted. The beauty is that in America as I know it, this physical, emotional and senseless love is unbiased and genderless.  In the Congo I was raised in, selfish love was allowed to men, never to women.  You see, polygamy is very common, officially or under the covers 🙂  It used to be backed by laws in the Zaire era.  I believe it is not recognized today but widely accepted in the society.

So, men were allowed to marry as often as their heart fell in love…as long as they could provide for each wife and her kids.  The women – and especially the first wife – were to forgive and remain supportive because he is a man, and cannot help it.  Furthermore, some tribes in Congo define richness and social status based on the number of wives and kids one has.  As a result, polygamy, rivalry between wives and forgiveness are recurring themes in the Congolese music of the 1960-1980’s.  “Beyanga” by Mbilia Bel is a perfect example of such thinking.


A friend told me that polygamy is everywhere and affects all of us the same.  She may be true, but I do not know…I still had doubts even after watching few clips from ‘Sister Wives’.  In the culture I was raised in, girls have a sense of helplessness when faced with it.  They do not want it, but do not seem to want to be out of the situation on their own terms.  We are raised to be independent, morally strong to raise kids, proud of our beauty and family values, independent.  We are taught to care for a household and for ourselves just in case our husbands do leave us.  While the first thought here would be “Let’s divorce”, back home it’s more “Oh, well, where do we go from here: is it a one time thing, is she a true rival, will he ask me to leave?”  Also, many refuse to divorce to ensure a better future for their children…


When the 1960-1980’s Congolese woman finally decides to leave (or is forced out), she leaves her head high because she cared for her kids before herself.  She usually will move on with her life and harbor no resentment towards her ex-husband and his wives.  At the end, she’s freer as society does not require her to remarry.  She can then focus on living life on her own terms and help her kids learn life as adults…I do not understand the reasoning and have always rebelled against it but it is what it is.

Now, Congolese girls from the newer generations definitely think differently.  Most of my friends say they would not waste a minute on a cheating husband.  But who can predict the future?  One thing I have experienced: while the person in love with someone else is living bliss, people around are hurt deeply and rarely recover fully.

“You tell me that your feelings have changed, and you don’t wanna stay and break my heart but baby, it’s too late…

“Cause what about the times that you said to me that I was everything that you’d ever need…

“How can you just stop and walk away, and look me in the eye and say you did it all for love…”

Pictures from Blog and Google.