Flor di Bila
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Europe organised the slave trade and African kings and chiefs supplied it. » In the introduction to this new album, the Gabonese artist’s eighteenth, Pierre Akendengue lays his cards on the table: the record will be one long cry of protest. A subtle one, of course - neither the man nor his art are crude - but Akendengue has rarely seemed so emotional, so concerned.
The album comes at a fitting time, given the current French internal debate on the alleged benefits of colonisation. A coincidence? Most of these songs were written more than three years ago in Libreville, Equatorial Africa, where Pierre Akendengue has been living for twenty years. Yet in his way, the artist answers both the angry young people in France’s sink estates and the country’s politicians: over three hundred years and across three continents, the slave trade, slavery then colonisation produced a hugely complex situation, as far afield as Bamako, Saint-Denis in the Paris suburbs and Harlem, NY. The advent of independence in the various African nations barely fifty years ago has not been enough to dispel so many decades of domination/submission, rejection/racial intermingling, love/hate, black/white, as if by the wave of a magic wand. So this new record is focused on Gorée, a small island off the coast of Dakar, from where countless slaves were shipped in chains. It is a symbolic place, of course, since there were dozens of Gorées in Africa, from the coasts of Mauritania to the shores of Mozambique. But the little door opening onto the sea in the House of Slaves is engraved forever in the memories of those who have seen it, along with the feeling that it all started from there. Cries, sobbing and fear… but also Michael Jordan, Gilberto Gil and Aimé Césaire. « No, don’t cry! Stop your crying, Gorée. Today, your name is a symbol of pride. » That is Pierre Akendengue’s message in substance: to understand, we must not forget or deny the past (and he strongly criticises Africa and Europe for not teaching the history of the slave trade properly to their children). None of the factors that govern the relationship between today’s developed and developing nations can be grasped without looking back at the « triangular trade »; those three hundred years across three continents have left their mark.
Even once we know all about it, we must free one side of its feelings of guilt and the other of its sense of victimhood before rebuilding. As a doctor of psychology, Akendengue knows all too well that major neuroses cannot be resolved without long-term analysis. Yet to conduct therapy, the intellectual educated on the benches of a white faculty will swap his Western clothes for the loincloth of the great African forest.
« Strength, you’re searching for strength. Forest, the forest of wild beasts holds that strength. » While for some, the forest simply means timber to be logged and easy profits, Akendengue draws all the (potential) energy of Africa from its depths. It provides him with the spiritual dimension that has been present in each of his songs since his career began. Far from the exotic scenes conveyed by films and advertising, the great equatorial forest forms the core of an initiatory world, where immortal spirits and multicoloured birds guard humanity’s great secrets. When we cut down forests in Africa, Amazonia or Asia, we are not just damaging the world’s lungs, we are destroying the very heart of a millennial knowledge before even understanding how important it could be for humankind. « Tell me to tell you / About the progress of stupidity / Strange strangers drive / The good Lord’s pharmacists from the forest ». Akendengue is delighted by the creation of many national parks in the forest of Gabon. Yet there are a number of pernicious effects too, beginning with the expulsion of the pygmies who lived there, whose presence is said to be incompatible with the protection of wildlife. Now lost in the savannah or, worse, in the city, where they cannot adapt,
Other albums by same artist