Bibi Theresa (Jean-Bosco Mwenda)

This is another I learned from Jean-Bosco Mwenda during the month I spent studying with him in Lubumbashi. It is a song of love and longing, which would make it pretty standard fare in a lot of places, but is less common in the Congolese repertoire, where a lot of songs give advice on proper behavior (Bosco’s “Kuolewa” is a good example) or address such unlikely subjects as lacking a bicycle (“Lwa Kiyeke,” by Bosco’s cousin Edouard Masengo).

The lyric roughly translates as:

Darling Theresa, darling Theresa,
We shared so much.
You are going home to the village.

You return my letters,
I do not see your letters.
You do not remember me anymore, truly.

Your picture, when I look at it,
I remember many things.
Your picture doesn’t speak.

As I recall, this was the first composition of Bosco’s I tried to sing, since it was relatively simple to play the guitar part and I liked the words, which I learned with the help of my friend and host, Dominic Kakolobango. I met Dominic through Mario, a local medical student, whom I met through Steve Ott, a young Methodist missionary… which is kind of a long story, but the part that matters is that Mario said he had a friend who played music and was kind of unusual, almost like a European, and this friend had said I could stay in his house while I was in Lubumbashi.

That seemed very generous, since we hadn’t met — but I had no idea how generous until I saw the house. It was a single room, 3×3 meters square, which was actually pretty luxurious when you consider that the room next door was the same size and housed a whole family. Still, it was tight when you consider that Dominic had all his possessions, and a stove, and a bed… if you look at the picture, you see my bed folded outside, which is where I had to put it first thing in the morning so there would be enough floor space for him to get up. And that was before he got married, which happened while I was staying there…

Anyway, it worked beautifully. Dominic is one of the nicest, funniest, and most extraordinary people I know — Mario’s description of him as being like a European was just a way of saying he didn’t seem like anyone else in Lubumbashi, and that held equally true when he moved to Brussels, and everywhere else I’ve been with him. He’s also a fine musician — he was the only young guitarist in Lubumbashi to be seriously interested in the older local style, having accompanied Bosco’s blind peer, Losta Abelo, for some years, and he also had a broad repertoire of French chanson — among the many things I owe him is an enduring love of Georges Brassens.

I’ll have more about that Lubumbashi period in the next couple of posts, but for now I’ll just add that I went on to co-produce a CD of Dominic playing in the classic Congolese style and accompanied him on a few tracks, and he’s got a bunch of videos online, including one we did together in Brussels almost ten years ago of the Kenyan classic, “Malaika”: