Culture: Home and Bonobos


“Si tu pars n’oublie pas
La terre où ton coeur a vu le jour
Zanzibar ou Kinshasa
Faudra jamais que tu oublies l’amour”

– Si Tu Pars by Lokua Kanza

Last November, I went back home.  I had to go back…I was dying inside, I needed to see the house I grew up in, I had to breathe the air I remembered…I had to stare at the stars at night as I did so many times long ago…when I used to be a teenager, confused but hopeful that tomorrow would make more sense.

“C’était hier quand Mboyo jouait sur les pirogues
De l’autre côté, Dimitri faisait du roller à Prague
Tous les deux, ils ont été touchés par l’aventure
Comme toi, j’aurais un mot simplement à te dire…

So, I set a date but the Paris attack took place the Friday before my scheduled flight…yet, I refused to stay.  My friends and I visited a traumatized Europe with armed soldiers at each corner, high security and long lines in Rome, Florence, Milan, Paris and Bruxelles.  It seemed as though the world was falling apart as I was finally going home.  But I had to be home.  When I finally landed in Kinshasa, the little girl inside me felt at peace.  I wasn’t dreaming anymore.  True, a lot had changed in a decade. The airport was fully air-conditioned. The roads were not as bumpy as I remembered yet they served more cars than they could handle and this resulted in painful traffic jams and jaywalkers.


Oh, there were scooter-taxis everywhere and 24-hour churches promising prosperity in exchange for your hard-earned wage.  Kinshasa was more diverse with a larger group of Indian and Chinese immigrants. On the other hand, there were less Lebanese and they left with my favorite shawarma restaurant  😦ebelandi_kin_7 ebelandi_kin_6 ebelandi_kin_2

One of the highlights of my trip was a stop at Lola ya Bonobos or Heavens of the Bonobos.  The Bonobos are a species of intelligent monkeys only found in the Democratic Republic of Congo and nowhere else.  They are known for their peaceful attitude. Unfortunately, Bonobos are an endangered species because they are killed as bushmeat in Congo.  It was an amazing experience to see the work and love poured into preserving them at Lola ya Bonobos. If you’d like to learn more about the sanctuary, visit the official website or watch the 60 minutes episode with Anderson Cooper.

ebelandi_bonobos_6 ebelandi_bonobos_5 ebelandi_bonobos_4 ebelandi_bonobos_3 ebelandi_bonobos_2 ebelandi_bonobos_1

I was home, finally.  A lot had changed, yet things had remained the same.  My mom still sang when the lights went off but this time she sang alone. Love, money and family were still the main subjects developed on television. Commercials were still ridiculously funny with catchy tunes to hypnotize us into buying milk, beer, skin lightening creams, hair products, lottery tickets and spa treatments.  The sky still shone bright in a midnight blue hue at night and my favorite stars were still there and so were the pool as well as the swing my baby brother and I played in.

I was home and could finally let my brain remember moments I tried to block out by fear that my heart would be too heavy.  This time at last,  my eyes and my hands could match the memories to concrete objects. And the people had changed, yet they were the same hard working, family oriented, fun loving, optimistic and fashion conscious people I remembered.  A decade had passed and things looked different yet it all felt the same.

“Tu verras la beauté des hommes et leur douleur
L’important c’est de pouvoir toujours garder ta chaleur
Bien des fois tu auras la visite du blues d’un soir, mais tu vois
La vie a ses beaux jours et ses déboires”

kin1 ebelandi_kin_4


Culture: Music and P-Square in Nigeria

Nigeria…what do I know about it? Well, beyond geography (Nigeria belongs to the top 10 biggest countries in Africa in terms of population, land area, economy, etc.), as a young girl in Congo, Nigeria was synonymous to dramatic movies. In fact, Nollywood was already making its wave back in Kinshasa and the Nigerian movies were popular for both the drama, quality of images and the graphical depiction of trauma, spiritism and death.  No, I was not fond of Nollywood movies, though the Scarlet Woman may have changed my disposition a little bit…but I digress 🙂 Years went by, and Nigeria became the country with fraudulent emails and money schemes.  Then, came the Ebola outbreak.

However, Nigeria has much more to offer than my lack of understanding of Nollywood (which, by the way, ranks as the third largest film industry in the world per Wikipedia).  One has to admit that the quality of images and screenplay far outshine most movies produced by other Africans.  Also, the country is richer than the preconception resulting from the email blasts or the craziness around the terrible disease. In fact, I admire the resilience of its people, which transcends in their international presence in fashion, music and entertainment. You can just look at the number of Nigerian designers who have made my weekly African Designer list, or the popularity of the Gele and Yoruba weddings (you should check Nigerian Wedding on Instagram, simply beautiful!)

Today, I would like to focus on a small part of Nigerian music (checkout yet another good Wikipedia write-up). I am fond of the group P-Square but do not know much about Nigerian music history so I browsed the web and came up with the following insight into Nigerian music:

  • As expected, Nigerian music is diverse but mainly revolving around influences from three main cultural groups: Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo
  • The Hausa influence is present in use of percussion instruments (goje, tambura drum, kakaki and talking drum per AllAfrica). They also have arabic influence (muslim connection). Listen to one traditional Hausa song here.
  • The Igbo music has been influenced by other cultures (including guitar instrumental tune from Congo-Zaire!). You can listen to this song by Prince Nico for his mother here. The tunes are very close to Congolese music of 1960’s-1970’s.
  • Yoruba music is the most widely known today (per different claims).  It’s a mix of Igbo style with Western tunes (Hip Hop), Jamaican reggae and jazz. allAfrica lists 2Face Idibia in this category (I love African Queen…)

As far as P-Square is concerned, Wikipedia makes available a good article on the twin brothers and their evolution leading to P-Square. I will not call myself a fan as I still have a lot to learn about them but I love four songs so far: Beautiful Onyinye, Ogadigide, Forever and No One Like You.


The reason is that the rhythm is so similar to the good Congolese rumba.  The language is different, but I almost can hear bits of Koffi and Fally Ipupa in Beautiful Onyinye…or Franco’s beat in Ogadigide…Anyway, join me and listen to their songs, and maybe dance along as well…


Any favorite Nigerian artist? Please share!

Images courtesy of search.

Culture: The head scarf

Most people believe all African women wear headscarves. In fact, I remember a girl looking down on me because I said I did not wear it. It was a funny moment and I tried hard not to laugh but there I was being taught how to dress African by a girl who had only heard of Africa from books and the few friends she knew. However, the fact is she did not know so how could I get upset? Maybe she genuinely felt compelled to help me appreciate what she believed to be a quintessential part of grooming in my culture.


And in some African countries, the headscarf is indeed a staple in women’s clothing. However, Africa is a very diverse continent, not all of its inhabitants share the same traditions or preferences. In fact, even the city in which I was born has very distinct grooming rules based on the tribe one is from, and the personal choices one makes.

Will I ever wear a headscarf? Absolutely, in fact I have in the past because it looked amazing on some models from Nigeria. Is it mandatory in the culture I was raised in to wear one? No. As a matter of fact, in the Kinshasa I grew up in, young and single women usually did not wear headscarves. They could but usually did not. Typically, only married women choose to wear them.

Updated. Now, I assigned myself a small project to understand the origins of the headscarf and the different styling options. Here are my findings:

  • The headscarf originated as a protection against natural elements (read wind, sun and dust) for women’s hair
  • It then migrated as a protection against evil spirits as a woman’s head was believed to be the superior part of her body and the entrance to her soul ( 😦 there had to be some spiritism somewhere)
  • The style evolved once again into a means of seduction that married women used to accentuate their face and, per Beaute-Ebene, ‘arouse their husbands’ pride’. I would agree with this explanation as it is in harmony to what I was told as a young child in Kinshasa.
  • In Kinshasa, young and unwed women only wear headscarf to cover unruly hair or to make a fashion statement; no as a cultural fashion staple
  • It seems that the first painting of Black slave women wearing headscarves was made in 1707 by Dirk Valkenburg (the painting is called “Slave Play” and you can see a picture below




  • The headscarf may be traced even further in the past with Ancient Egypt where kings, queens (famous Nefertiti headscarf) and false gods used it depending on their function and gender
  • In Islam, the headscarf is used for religious purposes
  • There are a variety of styles, GirlMeetsWorld proposes 36 ways to tie an African scarf, image below:


  • One quintessential headscarf that must be paired with the Nigerian Buba (traditional Yoruba outfit) is the Gele (or Aso-Oke), the only scarf I have tried to tie and would like to get right! There is a detailed post on the style at Savoir Et Partage.  Basically, the Gele is worn in Nigeria, Togo, Benin and Ghana (Yoruba people of Western Africa).  What I love about this scarf is that it indicates the status of the woman wearing it.  Indeed, when the end of the scarf is pointing right, the woman is married and should be left alone. When it is pointing left, she is free and available.  How ingenious is that! 🙂


Picture courtesy of Obonheur

If you are interested in some tutorials for African headscarf styling, some options below! Please share your pictures when you try them on your own!

  1. MoAm tutorial
  2. Side tie
  3. Nigerian Gele (Nma, please chime in if this is accurate!)

Culture: Story Telling

I was raised in Kinshasa, the capital of the Republic Democratic of Congo.  For some in more rural areas of the country, Kinshasa was the big city.  In part, it was true.  We had electricity on a regular basis (African-style…I shall explain shortly) and piped water distribution (hmmm…sometimes).

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While we seldom had to make a wooden fire and sit around it as depicted above by thomsoneasafricanblog, we frequently sat outside during blackouts.  You see, even in our big city Kinshasa, electricity was ‘available’ but irregular so we would spend nights or weeks without it. However, blackouts turned into storytelling hours.  We (the kids) would sit on the porch of my parents’ enclosed parcel and listen to stories from my mom, my grandmother, my uncles and occasionally, my dad.

My grandma’s Sophie were the funniest.  Coco Sophie, as we call her, did not live with us at the time and would visit once a month to check on us.  If her visits coincided with a blackout, she would proceed to tell us stories of her childhood, how she learned the hard way to be obedient, why family is the most important bond, how a friend of hers fared poorly due to arrogance and selfishness, how hard she had to work as a child, etc.  My grandma is a very petite lady who loves to chatter and laugh. However, when she would tell her stories to the city boy and girl my baby brother and I were at the time, she would take that rare, deep voice and look dead serious.  Because we never took her seriously, and her stories always felt extreme, we would laugh to no end.  She would in return shake her head, smile then remind us that one day we would understand.  And we do today, Coco.  Sad but true, we have seen it happen too.

storytelling_african_businessaimimage credit (via Google)

When Coco Sophie was not available, then one of my uncles would fill in.  Sometimes, they would ask my mom to chime in to validate a point.  Otherwise, they would just sing together songs from their childhood and laugh, completely forgetting our existence…When nobody else was around during a blackout, my mom would sing, which would attract us out of our rooms.  Usually, she would then stop singing once she had an audience, and begin telling her story.  On occasions, she would keep singing and we would join…

I was not fond of blackouts growing up.  They always happened when I was watching Lois & Clark, Sunset Beach, the original Beverly Hills, the French Open, Jamais Deux Sans Toit, etc.  Otherwise, they happened when I was chatting on the PC in the computer room, or while I was studying for my many exams or quizzes.  However, I always looked forward to the resulting storytelling, because it felt like a special family bonding moment.

Today, I am sitting on my bed in the states.  It is dark (I did not switch the lights on) and I am soon to go to work but I miss it; I miss storytelling during blackouts back home.  I miss the musical duets by my uncles and my mom. I miss my mom’s voice. I miss Coco Sophie’s deep voice.  And I wish I could still laugh to no end to her stories, instead of finding out that the reality of life is indeed as ridiculously extreme as her stories….She knew better and my baby brother and I were only kids…It is your turn to laugh now, Coco.  We have learned 😉


Culture: Tout-Puissant OK Jazz – Teach and Take a Stab

I am an avid fan of music…partly because I have a natural penchant for it 😉 but mostly because there was always music around me.  My mother has a beautiful voice and I cannot recall a day where she didn’t sing, or at least hum, a tune or two…Likewise, my dad always had music playing in their room…old school songs from when he was a young boy, he’d say.  One of his favorite artists was Franco Luambo from the musical group TP OK Jazz.  Well, I have just recently found out that OK was not an ego flash.  Rather, OK stands for Orchestre Kinois 😉

So, what are my memories of Franco? I was not particularly fond of his voice.  However, the songs were hilarious, at times educational, but mostly he was taking digs at people.  Franco touched all social levels, using his guitar to bluntly reprimand or commend, sometimes getting in trouble with the Zairean judicial system at the time.  Franco sung mostly about women, not always in galant terms.  In fact, his depiction of women reminds me of Guys Des Cars, a french writer who also painted women as little devils.


“Mario” is about a cougar lady also known as ‘mama mobokoli’ and her much younger lover, Mario.


In “Mario Part 1”, Franco describes Mario as a young man who gave up on finding a job to be with ‘mama mobokoli’, but he would abuse of her money while having affairs with women closer to his age.  Finally, she gets tired of him and his tantrums.  As a result, she kicks him out of her house, regrets spending money for his university tuition and slams him with derogatory remarks on her money and the fact that she made a ‘monsieur’ out of his poor behind.  So, Mario goes back to his parents’ house, where he has to sleep on his old bed which is now too small for him.  The lesson is simple: do not go after older and richer women, instead get an education and make your own money.  However, rumour has it that in real life, ‘Mario’ and Franco were rivals for the love of the cougar lady…and Franco lost her to Mario, hence his revenge song.  In “Mario Part 2”, Franco and Mario reconcile and now Mario is the one making fun of ‘mama mobokoli’ because she came after him for his looks and youthfulness so she should not complain…after all, ‘every work deserves a salary’, he says…Hmmmm.  You can listen to both parts on YouTube.  The video has a cute picture of a younger Franco 🙂


Next is “Mamou“.  This is about a bizarre transition in the Zairean society of the time, when married women began having affairs.  Mamou is a married lady whose husband sent her and their children to a big city to provide for a better education (and a better future…so he thinks) for their kids.  In the Big City, she befriends a woman of ‘low’ morality with whom she goes on dates with other men.  Whenever her husband calls to check on her, she always finds excuses to hide her affairs.  Down the road, an argument takes place between Mamou and her ‘scarlet’ friend.  To get revenge, her friend decides to tell on all her misconduct. Lesson: Do not cheat on your husband. If you do, be careful how you treat your confidente 😉

My favorite is “Tres Impoli“.  It is about people with very bad manners and Franco frequently asks why, why are they so rude?

I never knew Franco was that famous, nor that he had such a big ego until I watched a documentary on his life HERE.  I also learned of his troubled childhood, his decision to leave school to focus on life on the street and later on his career.  Franco had a major impact on the African Rumba from 1960’s to 1980’s, and international success in Africa, Europe and the U.S.  He wrote a song in later years of his career, warning about the dangers of AIDS.  Franco died of an unspecific death in Belgium.


For many, Franco will forever remain what embodies the core of Congolese/Zairean music: classical jazz, a guitar and meaningful, educational lyrics.  One of my old school teachers used to complain about modern music and our empty words.  He’d say: “It is not just about the melody and the dance.  A song must teach us something important, revive our conscience and make us better individuals.”

I never took him seriously back then…now I do, because it is getting harder to peruse Amazon MP3 store in search of a recent release without the “Explicit, Parental Advisory” logo now so frequent…It is hard to listen to a song without obscene words and feel good about it while actually learning something from it…you know, something other than my body parts and money, drugs, partying, jail, etc.  I miss watching music videos where my eyes would not hurt to see ’empowered’ women undress because they can.  How is it empowering to leave little to nothing to the imagination and move around imitating sexual acts? I have yet to see male celebrities undress and dance like that…equality, huh?

All pictures credits to Google Images.