In July 2022 Mbilia Bel’s was returning to Kenya, revisiting Nakei Nairobi.
And, apart from joining Raila Odinga‘s campaign pantomime in Nyeri, she also gets to share some bits from the five decades of her journey in the African Showbiz industry.
As Raila welcomes Mbilia on stage, the politician describes her as a very ‘big person and famous lady,’ from Kinshasa, DR Congo.
Then the badly tuned loudspeakers that seem to be heavy on distorted bass, plays ‘Nakei Nairobi.’
That is a song which Mbilia recorded with Tabuley in 1982, her first hit on these shores.
But shortly after Nakei is released, there came the infamous failed Coup in Nairobi, targeting to oust President Moi’s government.
And of course Raila Odinga was among the top suspects, in the attempted coup, but that was 40 years ago and he is now the 2022 Presidential candidate.
Having escaped from the ordeal, President Daniel Arap Moi came out from hiding in fury, banning all music sung in foreign languages as well as those done in vernacular.
‘Nakei Nairobi’ was among the outlawed tunes.
Twende Nairobi …
The following year, Tabuley pulled out the song again from shelf and dusted off all the Lingala lyrics.
He then wrote Swahili lines in praise of President Moi. This other version was released in 1983.
Nakei Nairobi became “Twende Nairobi tukamuimbie Baba Moi” (Let’s go to Nairobi and sing praises to Papa Moi)
The ‘Baba Moi’ version of Nakei Nairobi made the Kenyan President so happy that he lifted the ban imposed on foreign and vernacular tongued songs.
Anyway! Away from political campaigns and History, the Mbilia in Kenya, returns to her real self, a famous Musician albeit a beautiful one despite her age.
It is this Mbilia, the Musician who gets an interview slot in one of the Kenyan Television Stations.
And somehow, through the program, Mbilia Bel accidentally, reveals the secret behind her abrupt departure from Rochereau’s L’Afrisa International Band in early 1988.
In the interview with Roga Roga Program host, Fred Obach Machokaa on Citizen TV, Mbilia Bel flings open the closet in which a thick portfolio containing Abeti Msikini, Sam Mangwana, Tabuley and Rigo Star secrets is kept.
Machoka was also lucky enough to host Mbilia Bel for lunch at his home.
But back to the studio interview.
Likayabo in Kora
“Originally I set out as simply a singer, with Abeti Masikini then aged just 15,” she recalls. It was 1971.
It was her first mentor, songstress Abeti Masikini who taught Bel how to dance telling her singing must be accompanied with torso wriggling for maximum musical effect.
Abeti Masikini the voice behind the popular ‘Likayabo,’ a song about food, sang in Kiswahili, is essentially the person who set the sound benchmark for all lady singers on the African Continent.
Marie Claire Mboyo Moseka is Mbilia Bel original and real name, she changed to the latter after being drafted in Afrisa International circa 1981.
Starting out with Masikini, Mbilia who performed with the star at Kora, was later forced to quit music after four years.
Mbilia returned home due to what she described as ‘rumors and bad mouthing against her,’ as she happens to be sensitive on such matters.
But while at home, Sam Mangwana followed her and enrolled the singer into his touring group.
Again something ‘negative’ occured along the way and she dropped from the bandwagon.
“So I decided music was not for me and decided to change career embarking into secretarial training, starting with learning typing,” she recalls.
Her teacher was a male who suddenly developed lewd interest in the lady forcing Mbilia to oncemore flee back home for safety.
The outside world seemed scary to her and Mbilia realized it was better to just stay home.
The Genidia Years
Except one day a rather big musician, Pascal-Emmanuel Sinamoyi Tabu, that is ‘Tabuley Rochereau,’ was seated at home watching Television and voila, a young lady singer appears on screen.
Now, the lady on the tube happened to be Mbilia Bel during her time with Sam Mangwana.
It happens that Tabuley was at that time penning a new song ‘Mpeve ya Longo,’ and he really wanted a female vocalist on it.
So he sent for Mbilia Bel, after seeing her singing and dancing on Television.
But the lady wasn’t interested. Her ten years in the then Zairean music industry had left bad taste in her mouth.
She thus turned down Rochereau’s offer, saying Music was no longer a thing for her.
But after repeated persuasions from even people close to her, who figured that Tabuley was such a great personality to be let down, Mbilia succumbed to pressure and eventually joined Afrisa International.
“I am going to give you something bigger and more valuable than Money,” Tabuley told her.
Now this is where the catch was. Mbilia Bel became big, very famous and even got a baby girl (Melody) from Tabuley.
Their record label then was Genidia, it spawned hits like Cadance Mudande, Boyaye, Resedence Marina, Paka Wewe, Loyenge, Nadina, Emande, Frigo FNMA and Keyna.
But at the 1981 audition Mbilia was given ‘Mpeve ya Longo,’ a song which later became known as ‘Kamunga,’ to sing. (Super Mazembe band of Kenya later also covered the song releasing it as ‘Jiji’).
Coincidentally, the theme behind ‘Mpeve ya Longo,’ Mbilia’s first outing with Afrisa, in 1981, was the same theme used in ‘Wendenda,’ the singer’s last contribution in the band in 1987.
The lyrics tread on the issue of a lonely mother whose restless husband deserts her home alone with children.
Then she seems to love Mayavele, a Rigo Star composition during her lone ranger outing as solo singer after placing Afrisa International in rear mirror.
She sings it with passion during her interview with Machokaa.
“It is a song warning girls not to get involves with other people’s husbands … Mh!”
Then during the interview with Machokaa, the song ‘Manzil Manzil‘ came out through loudspeakers, to close the show.
Manzil Manzil is a paler version of ‘Mano Mongba,’ a traditional number she did during L’Afrisa days.
It seems the hit, which is contained in Mbilia Bel’s first solo album, ‘Phenomene,‘ released in 1989 has a hidden message.
“This Manzil Manzil song was written using Tabuley’s local language,” she tells Machokaa.
Tabuley hailed from Bagata, Kwilu near Bandundu in DR Congo.
Why immediately after ditching him, pen a song in the man’s own language?
In other words, the ‘Manzil Manzil’ song messages must have definately aimed to Rochereau, thus picking this specific mother tongue.
Eswiyo Wapi? (Where did I hurt you?)
Manzil Manzil carries the same message contained in Mbilia Bel’s previous hits such as her duet with Ley ‘Paka Wewe,’ and her first award winning fire hit ‘Eswiyo Wapi!’
Eswiyo Wapi means where did I hurt you. But that was done when Mbilia was still with Tabuley in 1983.
When she left, in 1988, Tabuley was clearly flabbergasted.
Of course despite having had another lady singer Kishila Ngoyi or ‘Faya Tess,’ to fill the vacuum left by Mbilia, Tabuley was definately hurt from Marie Claire departure.
Rochereau’s pain comes out clear in Songs like ‘Camarade O,’ and ‘Allo Paris,’ (with Faya Tess) plus the clearly angry lyrics behind ‘Ebouroumounke,’ (Tabuley’s duet with Beyou Ciel).
But Mbilia’s own composition ‘Manzil Manzil’ tells us something we didn’t know.
“I have really been patient with you but didn’t get even a cheap bar of soap!” goes Manzil Manzil.
Well, does that mean, Tabuley only gave her fame and nothing else. Not even a bar of soap?
So could this be the reason why Mbilia Bel decided to leave the band after persevering with the ensemble for six years?
The jury is out on that, meanwhile the queen of Rhumba braces to release her new track soon.
Mbilia Bel gets to introduce her new song ‘Nguma’ at The Carnivore in Nairobi on July 9. The Tanzania Times will hopefully review it