A Mass Sung In Pure Congolese Style
And Native Songs Of The Congo
Sung by Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin
Directed by Pére Guido Haazen
Philips STEREO PCC 606
Electronically Re-Recorded to Simulate Stereo
From inside of the gatefold jacket: On Hearing The Missa Luba by Studs Terkel
The joys voices of Congolese boys in praise of their grandfather's gods as well as the Christian God. Never has a mass been sung in this manner. These young virtuosi feel so patently free. There is a reason. The ways of the their ancestors were respected by this stranger, the white priest from Belgium. It is my understanding that Father Guido Haazen came to the Congo in the early Fifties. like most missionaries, this one came to learn as well as teach.
Thus, in gathering 45 young boys together, in forming Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin, he was teaching Christianity in the manner of The Carpenter. In loving his teen-aged back neighbors as himself, he, in effect, was saying: "I honor our ways and those of your fathers. If you learn this Christian mass, please sing it in the manner of your people, not my way but your way." (An assumption on my part, of course, the rapport between this one shepherd and his flick. I can come to no other conclusion on hearing this remarkable performance.)
There can be no mistaking the origins and traditions of their young singers. Some less than Father Haazen might have envisioned a Vienna Boy' Choir or Little Singers of Paris or Obernkirchen kids in dark skin. He might have impelled European musical values upon the students of Karina Central School as a house painter whitewashes a wall, obliterating whatever had been there before. Instead, he urged his young proteges to remember the Congolese rhythms and to freely improvise. The joy of being, the thrill of living, was italicized by the accompaniment: Congolese drums. Certainly, he recognized this music not as something "primitive," but as highly advanced. (It is time to put at rest the hoary canard that African music is primitive. A Nineteenth Century lie becomes a Twentieth Century obscenity. Any half-way enlightened jazz fan recognizes the complex nature of the rhythms that were brought to America by the kidnapped Africans. It is apparent even to the most tinny of ears attuned to this recording.)
In listening to Missa Luba, I am reminded of another performance: a Harlem congregation singing out "Joy To The World." It was the only time I had heard this buoyant carol sung as it was meant to be sound – with joy.
I am reminded, too, of a particular Sunday morning in South Africa. I was seated in pone of the rear pews of the Anglican church in the township of Sophiatown. The good Father Heddleston had preached here and found himself in bad grace with the authorities. Yet, despite the courage and Christian goodness of this enlightened priest, I felt a vague sense of disappoinment in the singing. The hymns were sung with what sounded to me under restraint – in the manner of a white middle class congregation. True, there was a gentleman swing; this could never be lost among the South African black people. It was missing.
Chief Albert John Luthuli, 1960's Nobel Peace Prize winner, has paid tribute to the missionaries who taught him ways of another world. At the same time, he criticized their lack of understanding the heritage of his people. He was speaking not only for South Africa but for the peoples of the whole throbbing continent.
I remember, too, Fela Sowande's reminiscences. Mr. Sowande is Nigeria's outstanding composer. He recalled the good and the bad of missionaries' impact on West Africa. He implored: "Respect the culture and the religions of my people, too.
Teach, if you will, but do not impose. Even better, let us learn from one another."
The song, the South African song, "Wimoweh," has told us the lion is sleeping. Events now tell us the lion has awakened. It is no longer for the "white hunter" to decide the lion's fate. That terrible tine has past. Another time, equally terrible, may await – unless we begin to understand. The Gun no longer works. Neither does the missionary's Book.
Father Haazen appear to have been on of those rare men of God, who came equipped with more than The Book. Certainly not with self-righteousness. The young singers, whom he has guided, are uniquely themselves: artists of the Congo. Truly, theirs is a religious performance, not merely a "Christian" one.
The Missa Luba by Ray Van Steen
The Missa Luba is pure Congolese. It is completely void of any modern, western musical influences. The Kyrie, Gloria and Credo are performed within the same framework as a kasala, which is existent today among the Ngandanjika (Kasai). The Sanctus and Gloria are fashioned somewhat after the feeling of a wonderful "Song of Farewell" in Kituba. An authentic dance rhythm of the Kasai is the basis of the Hosanna, while the Agnus Die is based on a song of Bena Lulu (Luluabourg). Most remarkable is the fact that none of the Missa Luba is written. Certain rhythms, harmonies and embellishments are spontaneous improvisations.
Father Haazen, recognizing the value to be gained from the retention of this music form, assigned himself the task of restoring it to health. He formed Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin, a choir, with percussion section, consisting of 45 boys from 9 to 14 years old, and 15 teachers from the Kamina School.
In 1958, the Choir made a six months European Tour performing to receptive audiences in Belgium, Holland and Germany... where Les Troubadours sing with the famed Vienna Boy's Choir.
On June 30, 1960, after 75 years as a Belgian colony, the Congo became independent. A political and economic upheaval ensued. Provinces seceded announcing their individual independence. The white fled fearing massacre as Tribe fought Tribe.
A United Nations Police Force, at the Congo's request, was sent to the troubled area. The U.N. Force, made up of troops from 18 nations, had their worst trouble in Katanga Province, which wished to seeded from the rest of the Congo.
Katanga had its own army, headed by foreigners, mostly Belgians. The U.N. Security Council ordered these foreigners expelled from the Katanga Army. Enforcement of the order caused much bloodshed on both sides. And so... the Congo was catapulted into international headlines. But headlines hardly tell the complete story of a nation or of its people.
The Congo is a paradox, It is the land of tribal chiefs and witch doctors, of the tsetse fly and the malaria-carrying mosquito. But here, too, modern cities lie not far from where near-naked tribesmen still live under the most primitive jungle conditions. In the 905,381 square miles of the Congo, many religions and ethic groups can be found. Of the 14,150,000 population (approx. 115,000 non Africans), there are 4,200,400 Roman Catholics, 812,600 Protestants and 150,000 Moslems. Bantus, Sundanese, Nilotics and Hamites all occupy this strange land. Each group lives within its own culture and hold to its own social customs.
More changes for more people have occurred more quickly in the Congo in recent years, than anywhere else in the world.
Two generations ago, the chief of an Uganda Tribe used to do away with his enemies by tossing them into a crocodile-infested lake. Now, the Uganda Chief's British-educated grandson uses the lake as a swimming pool.
Many hospitals have been completed and more are under construction. Missionaries from Europe and America are aiding the training of natives to staff these new institutions.
Increased transportation is also adding to the growth of the continent; Roads and railways are being built through swamps and rainforests... even across the Sahara Desert in the north.
Huge damns are beginning to control dangerous floods. Thousands of acres are being irrigated for new farmland. Electrical power from the dam sites are giving birth to new industries.
The Congo is a fertile land rich in natural resources. It is the world's most important source of Uranium.
Yet, such age old staples as gold, tin, zinc and diamonds (mainly industrial) are also listed as natural resources.
All these developments are forcing the African into a new society. A society which he is building around himself. A world so new, that he is being forced to abandon a great many of this old world ways. It would seem that no people could accept such sweeping social and economic changes without some adverse effects.
The young African seems to be caught between tribalism and democracy... and it is confusing to him, today the least.
Other problems such as increasing population, food shortages and poverty, add to the confusion. An estimated 90% of all Africans south of the Sahara, an area which encompasses the Congo, cannot read or write. The continent is so rich a prize, the communism could very well prove to be the biggest danger of all.
Today, the Congo and its people stand at the doorway to a new life. Plagued, or blessed (as the case may be), with Western civilization, Africa, shaped roughly like a giant question mark, lies in the equatorial sun... waiting... for tomorrow.
Dibew Diambula Kabanda
Lutuku Y A Bene Kanyoka (Emergence From Grief)
Abu Wale Kemai (Marriage Ballad)
Seya Wa Mama Ndalamba (Marital Celebration)
Banana (Soldiers Song)
Thai Tshinaminai (Work Song)
Mussa Luba: Kyrie