Preview of the Grand Kalle booklet (1): the story behind Jamais Kolonga


Jamais Kolonga* has to be one of my favorite songs from Grand Kalle & l’African Jazz. I always go back to this little earworm. Edouard ‘Clari’ Lutula’s wonderful clarinet finesse is the one to blame for I think. Let me tell you the story behind this warm melody.

Mama fioti kanga munu e (2x)
Jamais kolonga simba ngolo e
Jamais kolonga simba munu e

Jamais Kolonga, recorded and composed in the early sixties by l’African Jazz guitarist Tino Baroza, tells the story of Jean Lema. In the early fifties this young Congolese had the idea to let Joseph Kabasele and his l’African Jazz play at the wedding of the daughter of his Flemish chef – Lema was working for the Congolese transport company Otraco. The ceremony took place in the white district of Port-Francqui, Kasaï. Kabasele and his orchestra were stranded in Port Francqui since they missed their boat. As they were in transit, the band accepted the offer and put on their best costumes. During the wedding party, Jean Lema stood at the bar, observing the people. Suddenly he was entranced by the way a European lady was dancing. Jean Lema asked her husband if he could dance with her. In the colonial era of Belgian Congo where even different checkouts in the supermarket segregated black from white people, this was unusual, to say the least. Nevertheless her husband approved and so it goes that Jean Lemba was the first black man who danced with a mundele, a white person. The legend goes that after his bolero all the white people were applauding. The band gave Jean Lema a pseudonym and a song with lyrics in Lingala and Kikongo after his daring adventure: ‘Jamais Kolonga’ which means ‘the invincible’.


– David Van Reybrouck, Congo een geschiedenis, p.238

* At the end of the radio interview with Jean Lema on Radio Okapi you can hear a slower version of Jamais Kolonga.

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