What’s the Pointe?

by Jacob on April 8, 2012

Pointe-Noire is a port city of over a million people and the Republic of the Congo’s main link to goods and cargo transported to and from there by sea. While large transport ships and oil tankers dock there all the time, it is rare for a passenger ship, certainly one the size of the National Geographic Explorer, to stop there.

Which is probably why it took so long for us to clear immigration and get permission to unload passengers. Our arrival was already delayed because our ship needed to wind its way through a maze of oil rigs, their natural gas flames burning high in the sky around us the captain did his best to avoid the many nasty slicks that marred the sea.

We disembarked a few hours later then scheduled onto a busy port in which massive loaders were heaving huge containers like toys into giant stacks all around us. Tour buses loading hundreds of elderly Americans was definitely not on the port’s schedule that day and the port manager let us know it by screaming at us to get our buses out of the way of his crew.

Dock Workers in Pointe-NoireThat’s just how our day went in Pointe-Noire. The low point came when one of our four buses broke down after it had driven us far out of the city to look at some not-so-impressive sand gorges. While I though being stranded out in the middle of a small African village sounded exciting, my opinion on that subject was definitely not shared by the rest of the passengers who were packed onto the buses that did work and taken unceremoniously back to the ship. Sorry, Point-Noire, but its clear it just wasn’t meant to be.

The gorge near Pointe-Noire

The gorge near Pointe-Noire

Luckily, I had a back-up plan that ended up turning our experience in Pointe-Noire into something worth remembering rather then something to try to forget.

I had arranged with the Institut Francais, the local branch of the French cultural centers that can be found all across Africa and beyond, to present a concert with the local “tradimoderne” band Lelu Lelu. As the name implies, tradimoderne is a blend of traditional music with modern flavors.

In the case of Lelu Lelu, this meant taking the tribal drumming and dancing that African music is closely associated with and throwing in electric bass and guitar. Lelu Lelu also added a structure to their show that told a story of a young woman growing into adulthood. Apparently, this means standing on the knees of a crouching drummer and shaking her crotch in his face while he banged away, on the drum that is.

With the exception of a severely out of tune electric guitar, the show was actually quite nice and greatly enjoyed by the guests. Plus there was plenty of local beer, which always seems to make music sound great.

Congolese beer

Congolese beer

Our hosts at the French Institute were very warm and welcoming and we returned to the ship just in time to disembark for Gabon. While much of the trip in Pointe-Noire had not gone as planned, the concert saved the day.

The Republic of the Congo’s music center is the capital city, Brazzaville, and its neighbor across the river Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Pointe-Noire is more of an industrial town with not much to speak of in terms of local music groups. But on board the ship on our way to the Congo I had given a presentation on Congolese music, which has had a huge impact across the continent and has produced some of Africa’s most accomplished and colorful musicians.

Here are a few of the many tracks I played, which don’t even begin to touch on the range of music this region has produced. I hope someday I can return, this time to Kinshasa and Brazzaville, for a more musical adventure.

Grand Kalle & l’African Jazz “Indépendance Cha-Cha”

Les Bantous De La Capitale “Masuwa”


Franco & Le TPOK Jazz “Missile”


Sam Mangwana “Femmes Africains”


Tsuala Muana “Munyinga”


Bisso Na Bisso “Show Ce Soir”


Staff Benda Bilili “Tonkara”


Lokua Kanza “Mbiffe”


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

jazz mp3 April 13, 2012 at 3:56 AM

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along with your presentation but I to find this topic to be really one thing which I think
I would by no means understand. It seems too complex and extremely extensive for me.
I am taking a look ahead in your subsequent post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!


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