African reggae

Zhou-Mack Mafuila – Corbeil Essonnes, France / Kinshasa, D.R. Congo


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Born in Kimpese, a town 220 km from Kinshasa in Zaire (present-day Democratic Republic of Congo) under the name Washington David Tufuene Mafuila, Zhou-Mack was the last of 16 siblings. In his family, music is more than a tradition, it is a way of life : his grandfather and great-grandfather played the masikulu, a traditional instrument; his father is an accordeonist, his mother a singer of negro spirituals; his brothers play the guitar and the saxophone, his sisters sing in choirs. At an early age he showed predispositions for the guitar and singing. At 13 he created his first Zairian rumba group with childhood friends. As a university student in literature, he continued with music. During this period, he spent much time with Jah Lucky, a Congolese Rasta musician who had lived in France and who initiated him to reggae.

It was at this moment that he discovered Esperanto: a family friend, Mister Ngagnu who was a school principal and one of the few Congolese who spoke Esperanto, taught the International Language to the entire family. At 18, hungry for knowledge and particularly clever, he quickly progressed in learning Esperanto. The Universal Esperanto Association invited him to perfect his knowledge in Europe. He traveled alonde to the Netherlands, where he could satisfy his quest for learning. He learned about geopolitics, history, and world economy, and became aware of the situation in his own country, through information that had not been available there. This was also the period when he deepened his knowledge of Rasta culture and reggae.

On returning to his home country, Zhou-Mack, with his friend and Esperanto teacher Nduantoni Bakidila Ngangu, and several other Esperantists who formed the core of the Zairian Institute of Esperanto, decided to promote Esperanto on the national level. This is when his was confronted with the country’s administration, and he understood that he had something to say to denounce the incoherencies and other abberations that where common occurrences in Mobutu’s dictatorial system.

He created a reggae band under the name Esperanto Muziko in N’djili, where there was the largest Rasta community in Kinshasa. He played in different raggae groups (among which Saccharose), and went professional. Famous musicians  formed a new band, Rumba Raï, that Zhou-Mack joined after a triumphant concert in the Cilu Stadium in Lukala in 1988. But he did not remain with that group very long, because when they became local stars, their viewpoints diverged. For Zhou-Mack, the lack of freedom of expression in that country was incompatable with his vision of reggae, that he conceived as the music of freedom and contestation. Stifled and frustrated by the shackles of local authorities, he missed the freedom of opinion and expression he had known in Europe, and he decided to return there.

This time he chose France, because his sister lived there, and he had always been attracted to that country and its culture. He arrived in Paris in 1989. He was soon disillusioned, for he had no official papers, no job, no money. It was a hassle, but he held on thanks to music. In 1994 he discovered jazz while going to the Autonomous Center of Social Experimentation in Ris-Orangis in the Paris Region. There he met the Indian drummer Ravy Magnifique, who introduced him to Chico Freeman and Archie Shepp, as well as to several other famous musicians he worked with, Annie Delfau, Jean-Philippe Daryl, and Orlando Paléo, with whom he sharpened his Afro-jazz style.

With Ravy Magnifique and the American saxophonist Chico Freeman he created a new musical style, the Afro-Indian Funk, and they performed on numerous stages. This new formation jibed perfectly with his vision of music that unites, that crossbreeds, that invents new sounds thanks to the eclecticism of everyone’s influences. The experience with these sidekicks gave him confidence in himself, and he soon returned to working on his personal projects.

The title Pro viaj faroj (Because of Your Deeds) was recorded in Esperanto by FreeMagniZhou for Vinilkosmo-Kompil’ Volumo 2 in 1996.

In 2000 he met the five members of the combo La Fève. United by a solid friendship and the same passion for Dub and African roots, they accepted Zhou-Mack without hesitation as a new source of creativity. With artistic and human love, they recorded together International Love, the first disc that Zhou-Mack produced under his own name. The success was immediate, the album sold well, and one concert followed another. In some festivals they were the star players, in others they were the opening group for more famous musicians. In his concerts, Zhou-Mack shows he is a musician who can make different publics vibrate with his voice and his compositions full of emotion and the depth of his message.

With this band, Zhou-Mack can really give his all. It expresses a very personal style, mixing their influences and their experiences in order to create a music that is all their own: creative, festive, expressive, free….

After several years of contact with Vinilkosmo, he finally decided to produce on this independant label the album Originoj entirely in Esperanto which is equal to the message carried by his music: cosmopolitan and crossbred, ignoring labels and national borders, ages and styles.

Click on the album to listen to or to download it.

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