Oxford AASC: M’Pongo, Love

M’Pongo, Love

By: Jeremy Rich
Source:
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M’Pongo, Love

(1956–1990),

singer, was born in the Atlantic port city of Boma in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the mouth of the Congo River on 27 August 1956. Her name was Alfride M’Pongo Landu, and her parents were members of the Kongo ethnic community. The violence of the first years of Congolese independence in the early 1960s had a major impact on Love's early life. Her father was killed over a political dispute in 1960, when she was only four years old. Her mother was a director of a social services office dedicated to girls’ education. In the same year she lost her father, an injection of penicillin to fight a polio infection caused an allergic reaction. It left her paralyzed. Roughly two years later Love managed to recover the use of her legs, although they had become deformed. While studying at the Catholic school Notre Dame de Boma, Love became enamored with music after joining the school's choir. One of her early singing inspirations was the African American singer Aretha Franklin. In 1975 Love left Boma for the Congolese capital of Kinshasa. Although she briefly worked at a Mazda car dealership and as a dancer, Love's passion for singing caught the attention of Empompo Loway. He was a saxophonist for the TPOK Jazz band led by legendary singer Luambo Makiadi (aka Franco).

Loway arranged financial backing and media attention for Love, who became an instant sensation once she cut her first record in 1976. Love's first successful song was “Pas Possible Maty.” Love's song “Ndaya,” whose lyrics reflected the confidence of a married woman in her relationship with her polygamous husband, became a hit. Love's stunning performance at the FESTAC music festival in Lagos, Nigeria made her an international star. This early success led to scorn from another Congolese star female performer, Abeti Masikini, who claimed Love was merely an imitator in her song “Bilanda Landa” (roughly “Follow Follow” in Lingala) in the 1970s. Love struck back in her song “Koba” with the biting lyrics, “You went to see the sorcerer to see if you were cursed / you aren’t cursed, but you have a bad heart.” This rivalry helped both Love and Masikini sell records. They were eventually reconciled on a national television music program. Love generally preferred large venues to Kinshasa's club scene, and soon toured throughout the Congo with her group, Tcheke Tcheke Love.

In 1980 Love left the control of her mentor Loway to strike out on her own. She already had relocated to Paris a year earlier and signed with the Safari Ambiance record label. Love put out two popular albums quickly: La Voix du Zaïre (1979) and one of her most beloved records, Femme Commerçante (1981). Love's popularity spread to Ivory Coast in the early 1980s, when she sang several times at a major polio research and treatment center. Her treatment of romantic tragedy and celebration made her popular throughout the Congo and much of Francophone Africa. Love worked with the respected producer Souzy Kaseya, and increasingly she drew inspiration from rumba music and relied on the synthesizers so prevalent in popular music in the 1980s. However Love's determination to control her career had put her at odds with Safari Ambiance by 1983. When Love tried to break her contract, the label sued her and effectively prevented her from operating in Paris. These legal woes slowed down her recording career in the mid-1980s.

Rather than return to her homeland, Love then began a professional partnership with the Gabonese singer Alexandre Sambat. Love and Sambat made some albums together, but they did not draw the same popular and critical respect that her earlier work in the late 1970s and early 1980s had garnered. One of her daughters, Sandra Love, remembered that her mother told her to make a career in gospel music instead of becoming a pop star. Love's ability to make a living increasingly was dependent on long concert tours. Finally, in 1989, Love managed to settle with Safari Ambiance and released a new solo album, Partager.

However illness put an end to her comeback. She returned to Kinshasa in late 1989 and received treatment at the National University of Kinshasa hospital for cerebral meningitis. Sadly the medical care failed to stop the infection. Love died on 15 January 1990. A few days later, her old producer and friend Empompo Loway also passed away. Her daughter Sandra (b. 1979) later became her sole heir and created the Fondation Mpongo Love in 2005 to promote her mother's legacy and provide medical care. A museum dedicated to Mpongo Love was established in 2012 in Kinshasa. Love was one of the greatest female performers of her generation in the Congo.

[See also Makiadi, Luambo]

Bibliography

  • “Sandra M’Pongo donne une seconde vie à M’Pongo Love et à plusieurs autres femmes congolaises.” Kinshasa Ça Bouge.
  • Stewart, Gary. “M’Pongo Love.” Rumba on the River. http://www.coldrunbooks.com/mpongo.
  • Tchebwa, Manda. Terre de la chanson: La musique Zaïroise hier et aujourd’hui. Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium: Duculot, 1996.
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