Congo Guitars

I present this poem with some  background:
I love East African guitar music because I lived there for 7 years when I was young, and although at first the music did not make an impression, I later found out about the masters of Congo Soukous: Tabu Ley, Franco & T.P.O.K. Jazz (I saw them live in NYC) and Pamelo Mounka among many others. I used to frequent the record-seller carts on River Road in Nairobi in the early 80’s and had a small collection of 45’s from that era including the epic Shauri Yako. It was after my family no longer lived in E. Africa that I really began to love this sound. Once I took a bus into the Nostrand Ave section of Brooklyn to find more of this stuff at the African Records Center (it’s still there!). The proprietor of the store, upon hearing that I liked Tabu Ley Rochereau, recommended Pamelo Mounka’s album Ça ne se prête pas. I bought it and to this day I am glad I took his advice.


Congo Guitars

running fluid, flowing

like love, like life, like blood, like knowing

the living waters from the  throne of God;

it starts slow and it builds

equatorial storms, tropical sadness

as the guitars take you home

in reverberations of eternity

through endless repetitions of longing

through palm-branched alleys and red-dirt gullies

breeze caressing guavas and passion-fruit

past dictators’ mansions

past rusting shantytowns

over ditches running with sewage

into colors too intense to bear

colors to make you cry:

greens unseen in cold climates,

red earth, flowering jacarandas

women walking wrapped in rainbows

huge baskets on their heads

in the blare of traffic

in the madness of African cities

through the Congolese night that calls your name

and the smell of poor people’s food over cook fires

carried on the musical breeze

children smile and beggars crawl in the dust of the street

obscure wars are fought, false peace proclaimed

while the bones are exhumed

as the Congo jazz rolls on, flows on

like silver sorrow dancing gold in the heart of darkness

past liter bottles of beer sweating cold

on the bar table by the flower’s starkness

lighting up the midday—when those horns come in

on the boat from  Cuba, by way of Bruxelles and Paris

blaring triumphant and strong

like a shipment of diamonds and uranium

glittering in the drunken afternoon of a song with no end.

Biere Congolaise

IMAGE CREDIT: René Julie, from

2 comments on “Congo Guitars

  1. Gwen Thomas says:

    Beautiful! Having just returned from a trip to Cuba where we were treated to a wonderful African drumming session, the rhythm and imagery in this poem bring back memories from the recent as well as distant past. Lovely Andrew!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.