Posts Tagged ‘Miriam Makeba’

Terrace, veranda, music

April 11, 2011

Outside terrace, Hotel SIB, Dalaba, Guines

This place is divine. Even better when the two schmoozing students have taken their leave from “my” terrace. Well, not so much because they are young but rather because when they leave, their mobile phone leaves too. And not even because it is a mobile phone but because it has a small metallic-sounding loudspeaker that has been incessantly emitting a steady stream of US-made R&B. R&B is a disease that has covered the world in a thick, slimy, rancid layer of audio vomit. It has even reached this part of the planet, which produces vastly superior sounds of its own.

The metallic noise retreats and I am left with the sound of birds and miles and miles and miles of mountains and valleys below and beyond.


‘This is where she used to sit and rehearse with the musicians.’ A broad veranda, same view as the hotel terrace: mountains, alleys, trees, flowers. Birdsong all the time, insects zoom. This idyllic setting is the place where Miriam Makeba decided to settle, late 1960s, away from the ineptly named “government” of her own South Africa. The apartheid regime of the day refused her entry to the country, so she could go and bury her mother. So she may be forgiven for overlooking the rank cruelty of her new host, Guinea’s first president Ahmed Sékou Touré; after all: that cruelty was not directed at her but at Guinean citizens who had the temerity to disagree with the Visionary Guide and Leader.

Ever since I entered Dalaba, music has been buzzing in my head. A large orchestra in an echo chamber, yes, recording facilities were rather primitive. But then also: the distinct, crystal sound of a kora cutting the air above the orchestra. Punctuating percussion, sounding a bit hollow – yes, recording facilities and all that. And then an old Manding melody sung in that voice, instantly recognisable. No “Click Song” or “Pata Pata”. This is altogether different: “La Guinée Horoya”. You can hear that the South African vocal chords need adaptation to follow the broad flow of West Africa’s songlines but she handles it admirably. And now I am standing in the place where that music was created. Next to Mr Bah Mamadou Alpha, who was charged with welcoming the world-famous singer, when she came driving up from Conakry to the mountain resort she chose to stay. ‘She didn’t like protocol,’ he recalls. ‘She would just come into my house, sit and talk, and then go home and cook her own meals…’


Makeba describes life in Dalaba and her reasons for not returning there in her autobiography. If you haven’t read it, get yourself to a library or a bookstore. Her musicians have gone and we must rush back to our original terrace where there is a bit of a din going on. Let’s see…a big boombox on the terrace floor. Local flute (Peul flute it’s called, very beautiful distinct sound, the player sometimes sings and breathes into the instrument at the same time), stop-start syncope rhythm, gravel-like but clear voice…there is some serious Fouta roots music happening here. And they have come here, singer, dancers, to record the video clip. It will be almost indistinguishable from all the other Guinea clips: flailing limbs, flowing boubous, swift and subtle hand movements and always against beautiful decors: the sea, Conakry’s landmark hotels or indeed: SIB’s terrace.

The boombox belts, the singer and dancers go through the motions and an hour later, this bit of the video has been done. It will be mixed and mashed with similar dancing routines against different decors. But hey – thank Christ, the stars and whatever else you believe in: R&B it ain’t. Phew!