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Musical Memoir: The Day When Rhumba Music Died

Often when a Pepe Kalle song played in the neighborhood in 80’s, we knew a party was brewing.  Speakers were already stacked outside, appeti...

Often when a Pepe Kalle song played in the neighborhood in 80’s, we knew a party was brewing. 

Speakers were already stacked outside, appetizing the festive mood.

Children were now in a celebrating mood, dressed for the occasion, flexing their muscles, warming up to the Rhumba beat. Back then, the beat was related to merrymaking, and it always ignited the occasion.

By @Comic24Derick

Christmas was not the same without these tunes. For instance, a birthday party minus a soukous medley would be deemed dull, regardless of the food on offer. 

A wedding procession missing the giant’s robust moves was deemed a curse to the couple that could haunt them, even on their honeymoon. Such was the influence exerted by the Rhumba maestro.

Pepe Kalle’s musical genius yielded exquisite dancing moves, incorporating the Kwassa Kwassa routine where hips move back and forth while hands move to follow the hips.

Rhumba remained a favourate to the elderly. The danceable beats showcased energetic, while sweat congregated everywhere. After each offering, chants of echo, echo were shouted, as people demanded a replay of the danceable Moyibi.
The Late Pepe Kalle, 'The Elephant of Africa'
Those days, owning a musical cassette by the towering singer was a necessity in case you had a party. A vinyl for those who could afford, was an asset that were kept, far away from the reach of children, like the medicine cabinet.

Or a gun cabinet. Giving away such an asset was a risk that could not be tolerated for it was a preserve for rare, special moments.

Those blessed with video cassette players watched the singer in action, and extracted his styles. But to the majority, watching visuals were a luxury, so we resorted to a once a week television broadcast on our single channel.

Those with finances were fortunate to attend his live shows when pitched in the country. Such events were packed with Rhumba disciples, prepared to splash cash to watch the singer in person. They had the means to pay the high gate fees.

Party goers dressed in radiant, flared outfits to enable their dancing skills to be exhibited. The hosting venues were packed to the rafters, and the singer did not disappoint. It was a night to cherish that became etched into attendees’ memories.

When they returned, the majority were animated for a while. When Pepe Kalle left the country, he left us more hooked to his beat. Even Rhumba cynics were converted to the music, overdosed with his latest dancing styles.

The rhumba giant was born a real giant, earning the name Elephant of Africa. On stage, he offloaded his birth name Kabasele Yampanya, making tremors felt across the globe, and Zimbabwe was not an exception. A flared trousers became part of his life, giving him a mammoth presence.

On November 28 1998, the artiste died from a heart attack, aged 46. All music performances were suspended. A week later, he received a state funded funeral. 

His demise seemed an end to the mellow soukous times we enjoyed in his lifetime. But we had his music to remember him, and the influence he had exerted upon our souls.

Without him, other giants rose attempting to replicate his legacy. Three decades after his death, Pepe Kalle’s beat still echoes in our hearts. His stage exploits hooked us to the beat. The intimacy we shared with his music was not forced.

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