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Bright Moments at UMass

The second night of this year’s Bright Moments Festival at UMass Amherst on July 21 starred Antoine "Papa" Wendo Kolosoyi, a 75 year old Congolese vocalist, whose 39 year reputation as "a pioneer of African rumba" has been suppressed until very recently. In 1992, he put out a CD which brought him much attention, so much that he went on a European tour. It has not been until now that he has come to the United States, having produced another successful CD, MARIE-LOUISE.

Papa Wendo’s group consists of five instrumentalists: three guitarists, one acoustic, two electric, a Conga player and a second percussionist on wood sticks (whose exuberance added more to the performance than his simply keeping rhythm would have provided).

Papa Wendo connects directly with the audience. He dances, he turns and even though he dons sunglasses, the members of the audience know that he is looking at them because he responds to their responses. Wendo’s falsetto voice weaves in and out of the words he sings, a style reminiscent of US country & western music. The clarity of his words is refreshing. He moves to the constant rhythm trying to incite the audience to dance. He raises his left arm and rotates his wrist as an invitation to have company in his joyous celebration of this "rumba" beat he has in his bones. Dancing becomes a part of its appreciation.

There is a physically frozen quality that seems standard for the instrumentalists who accompany Wendo. Yet the music they produce is not standard; it maintains the steadiness and continuity that is rumba. Each individual instrument could be heard if I concentrated outside of the harmonies. The members of the group also acted as back-up vocalists and became a part of the orchestration themselves. Wendo can yodel and often does. That fact lends this music an all-encompassing world context that I cannot realize unless I listen carefully. The pulse to this music is inescapable. The songs move on and on in rhythmically mellifluous tunes and then break down into sudden stops. Wendo talks with his hands to tell the stories of his people. I wish I knew the spoken language, but the way in which the language becomes the music is enough to know the stories.

We all were under a tent for this performance. It began to rain, torrentially. The rain sealed us all in. Some kids blew soap bubbles up towards the stage. The bubbles glistened in the light. Somehow those bubbles made us more of a universal unit than we were when we were simply swaying in our seats or bouncing with the beat in front of the stage. The rumba draws all different types of people into one group. The rumba is like a magnet and is larger than Africa. In this day and age this is good. We need unity and Papa Wendo is offering us the opportunity to take advantage of our similarities and common musicality.

(Sorrowfully, Les Go de Koteba, three young female performers from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, were unable to perform due to a problem in transportation. Hopefully, they will be invited to participate in another Bright Moments Festival in the near future.)

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Antoine “Papa” Wendo Kolosoyi
  • Subtitle: Wendo, Wendo, Wendo
  • Venue: UMass Amherst
  • City State Country: Amherst, MA, USA
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