Ballou Canta is a child of May – a month of transition between rainy and dry seasons. End of the 50’s in Pointe-Noire: Congo is yet to remain a colony for another 6 years.
Ballou is the 7th child of ten (even though his mother was mocked at first for giving birth so late, Cf. M’tchatche). He is brought up by his “little mom”, i.e. his older sister. She will pick up “her son” after getting married, and Ballou will accompany her to Brazaville, where he will join a high school which also received younger schoolboys : the Chaminade high school.
At the beginning, it’s all sports for Ballou. However, in his “Poto poto” district – a place for ethnic crossings – he meets Dieudonné M’Badi who is about to graduate, and plays the guitar. And Ballou wants to learn to play it! So much so that his classmate entrusts him his guitar not to be bothered anymore! So equipped, Ballou wouldn’t go back to Pointe Noire for the following holidays: only the guitar and he mattered. Sports has disappeared in the joy of chords.
Then it will be a district of migrants of all origins (Iran, Cuba, Italy, Germany, France, and of course Belgium), where Ballou makes the premonitory experience of cosmopolitanism and meets Robert Massamba-Débat (son of the former president at the time) with whom he sets up the band “Chanta Bouita”.
Armed with these experiences, Ballou sets up the school’s first orchestra, under command of the Department of Culture: the “Chaminadiens”!
He graduates in 1975 and, whilst studying law and languages, organizes a band – of course. At the time, Ballou is not in sync with the political atmosphere of the Single-Party country. His quest for a scholarship to start a translator’s career in the United Kingdom results in a proposal out in Moscow. Which Ballou rejects, thus loosing all other recourse – than to begin working.
He passes the admission examination to the PTT [Postal & Telephone Services] and enters this public service, which is endowed with a budget for the workers’ leisure. Ballou is spotted as a singer, and thus sets up… a band. He goes away to Rome, Italy, to look for smart amps (Ranger), and recruits outside of the company with the approval of the management. This will be the Télé-Music orchestra!
Now to another time, another regime, other customs: the secretary of telecommunications takes interest in Télé-Music, and the PTT’s director orders a recording in Kinshasa. It will be done in the Kingabwa district, in the Simbard studio, and Ballou’s title “Sambala” will be chosen by the distributor. Here then in 1978 comes Ballou Canta’s lead-off single, rewarded in return by the “Price of the young Congolese song”.
From then on, Télé-Music overshadows some symbolic orchestras like the Capital’s band Bantou, the Orchestra Le Peuple, the SBB, or Les Trois Frères… In 1979 the title “Bazo” wins the best song of the year prize. The Congolese rumba is going full swing, and with it Ballou tours the country. But trouble rears its head…
At this time single albums are the king of media. When LPs come out, the rest of the band suggests to Ballou Canta that two tracks out of his work are enough. It is thus in Paris in 1981 in the Laguna studio, Paris 18th, that Ballou records his first album “Romana” that works well. In 1982 comes the second one, with again the title Sambala, produced by Eddy Gustave Eddison, a West Indian whom Ballou Canta learns studio recording with. There will be a third album:”Marylin”.
In the mean time, the singer’s relations with his native country don’t get any better, in the manner of unauthorized strikes at the PTT, and because Ballou has had a police file since university ; to the point that the uncles (the true dads on matriarchal land) recommend that he leave the country for good, for his life is at risk.
SO NOW TO FRANCE.
In this period Ballou meets musicians like Ray Léma, M’Bamina, Manu Dibango etc. and becomes the voice for a bunch of projects. 1985 is the year for the 4th album, “Jean Marie”, produced by Gérard Akueson, and briefly featuring Lokua Kanza on the guitar.
THEN BALLOU SETS UP HIS GROUP WITH LOKOSSA YA BONGO:
the “Soukous Stars”, with which he releases the album “Lagos night”, produced and distributed by Cyllart Productions. In the wake of this big success Ballou records a new solo album with the accomplished guitarist Diblo Dibala, “Bolingo Sonia”, produced by Eddy Gustave, loyal. These two albums result in an awesome ten-year tour in the United States, Eastern and Western Africa, and in Europe.
This won’t keep Ballou Canta from singing with Papa Wemba, Manu Dibango, Sam Mangwana, and in the 90’s with the Gabonese Oliver N’Goma, whom Ballou decides to support. He sings with him the track “Bane”, a zouk hit by which the French-West Indians will know Ballou’s voice. It is while doing the casting to play the album that he meets the young keyboardist Hervé Celcal, whom he will identify also and before anything else as a pianist, an arranger and a composer.
Moreover, at his time Ballou lives a singular experience for an African: he records the album “Rencontre” in Martinique, in the Hibiscus studio, with a fully Caribbean team: the members of the Kwak band. The resulting single Regina will be a hit for months.
In 2000 and 2003 there will be two duet albums with Luciana de Mingongo, the first of which is an adventure. Luciana has come to talk to Ballou about creating a studio in Braza. The album is improvised, more like a demo designed to convince the locals that the studio is worth a try and that they should come to work there! The second album “Rumba lolango” will be released by Lusafrica.
MORE RECENTLY, THE ENDEAVOR IS CONDUCTED AT ONCE ON THREE GROUNDS.
First the “Ball of Magic Africa”, that Ballou has joined in 2012. It is the France Inter orchestra, which covered African oldies of the 70-80s. Then comes the “Black Bazar” adventure, borne by the writer Alain Mabanckou after the success of his 2009 book and reviving today’s Congolese rumba.
Finally, the very last collaboration with Ray Léma: a three-voice band formed with Fredy Massamba, concluded with a quite recent acoustic album, “Nzimbu”.
So in parallel to this path a long process of maturation took place for a custom-made album, Boboto, with his “little brother” from Martinique Hervé Celcal. The pianist-composer-arranger knew what artist hid behind Canta-the-chameleon. Their exchanges were like “listen to this!”, or “and that?”…
Time enough to allow for themes close to today’s Ballou: a mature man, a cosmopolitan Congolese, a Parisian admirer of the Antilles, who wants to surprise those who know him… and those that don’t know him yet. Boboto. The art of living, together.