Pierre Akendengué is a singer-songwriter from Gabon who mixes his African upbringing and his European further education to find and never part from his true self.
He is one of the great masters of contemporary African music and has been for now about 4 decades. He was born in Gabon and Gabon initiated him to the music and celebrations of its villages, to the sounds of its forests, which have since curved/arched his musical itinerary. But it is in France, at the end of the 60s, that he made a profession out of what he considers to be his raison d’être: the art of music. For him, like for many young Africans who were fighting against autocratism of political regimes then newly put in place in Africa, the ancient metropole became a refuge to express himself or just simply to exist.
Akendengue goes to Paris to get treated for a serious eye disease, in the middle of the political turmoil of the mid-60s and obtains the status of political refugee. Music is for many youth a means of expression and of contestation and he finds in Paris the conditions to express his revolt and exercise his passion. He registers at the renowned Petit Conservatoire de la Chanson de Mireille, where many stars of the French music scene from the 60s to the 80s went. This is where he meets Pierre Barrouh, who launched the carriers of well known French singers. Barrouh publishes Akendengue’s first album in 1974 on his label Saravah. This is Evo, track 2 of Akendengue’s first album, entitled Nandipo.
Two years later, Akendengue releases Africa Obota, a true ode to Africa, for which he receives the Prix de la Jeune Chanson Française from SACEM (the French music rights organisation). It is a real success. With Africa Obota, Akendengue saws the seeds of his musical roots in the France of his exile and harvests in return the recognition of the French public, even when he choses to return to Gabon in 1985 – figuring in history as the initiator of the explosion of African music in France at the start of the 80s, with Touré Kunda, Xalam, Youssou N’dour, Salif Keita and many others.
Storyteller and warrior, sociologist and poet, Akendengue combines genres. The poetry of his texts, his subtle metaphors, his easy-sounding light melodies, impose Akendengue as an inimitable artist, of those who lighten up consciences beyond frontiers, without any rage or despise to deform, at any time, the beauty expected from a work of art. Eighteen albums later, with Gorée, he continues to dip into the tradition of the Gabonese forest and in the culture of eternal Africa, with a strength unique to him – thus declaring:
« L’art doit être d’abord un instrument de libération. Et l’artiste ne doit pas parler pour ne rien dire, ou mentir au sujet des choses qu’il sait. Les quelques chansons que j’ai faites et qui ont été connues de certains mélomanes, je crois qu’elles n’ont jamais dérogé à cette ligne de conduite. Parce que l’artiste se fait, dans le silence de son coeur, une promesse de fidélité à lui-même ».
« Art should first be an instrument of liberation. And the artist should not speak to mean nothing, or lie about the things he or she knows. The few songs I wrote and that have been known, I believe they have never parted from this line of conduct. Because the artist makes himself/herself, in the silence of his/her heart, a promise to be faithful to himself/herself ».
« Europe organised the slave trade and African kings and chiefs supplied it. » A crime against humanity that must not be forgotten. This implies an effort of remembrance and a duty of vigilance on all sides. Gorée is a painful episode that affects us all. Ultimately, if we can live with our differences and benefit from them, this will enable us to achieve reconciliation and peace. This is how Pierre Akendengue introduces his album Gorée from which comes the title track we just heard.
What we learn from Pierre Akendengue is that to understand mistakes and learn from the past, to unite for a better future, we must never forget or deny the past (and he strongly criticises Africa and Europe for not teaching the history of the slave trade properly to their children). To understand and be true to ourselves, we must neither ignore our roots nor refuse new knowledge.
The following record illustrates this cultural collage of Africa and Europe. The track is called Sankanda and is extracted from the album Lambarena – Bach (yes, Bach) to Africa. The album itself is an homage to Dr Schweitzer, Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 who dedicated his life to service as a mission doctor, rebuilding the Lambaréné hospital and pursuing music, through which he brought about the music of Africa and Europe. The album was conceived by Mariella Bertheas and the foundation Espace Afrique. Akendengue was called into to the project along with French composer Hughes De Courson and they work together with a greater team to link the traditional harmonies of Bach to various Gabonese ethnic harmonies. This track is the second of the album and is a song from the Haut-Ogoué interpreted in the Obamba tongue. The dance is called Lenguélé and celebrates the joyous events like marriages, end of the mourning period and so on, in the same way that Bach’s music celebrates resurrection.
Some tracks by Pierre Akendengué – Egomé ewoga (track 3 in Vérité d’Afrique) – Evo (track 3 in Nandipo, track 5 in Bar Paris) – Sankanda + Lasset uns den nich zerteilen (track 2 in Lambarena) 05.07