Jazz has always brought me joy. This fortnight, stuck inside my home in Goa, I have been listening to the first jazz album that I got, 45 years ago. It was the summer of 1975 and three weeks after the Emergency was declared. A friend came back from his summer holidays in Zambia and brought me Franklin Boukaka a Paris. The music was full of fire and passion and yet the melodies were sad and haunting. The album became my escape from the world around me, as India reeled under autocracy and my parents and their friends were distressed by the loss of liberty. I knew nothing about the music or the musicians, but it soothed me.
Franklin Boukaka, a baritone jazz vocalist from Congo, recorded the 12-track album in 1970 in Paris. Manu Dibango, the saxophonist from Cameroon who succumbed to Covid-19 on March 24, accompanied Boukaka on piano and saxophone and was responsible for the arrangements.
I heard Dibango at a concert in Oslo in 2019. Fifty years after this recording, his energy levels were still incredible, even though he was in his mid-eighties.
One of the songs I love on the album is Le Bucheron or The Woodcutter, which is a portrait of independent Africa. “Oh Africa, where is your independence? Where is your liberty?” Boukaka sings, with Dibango’s keys responding to the snare-drum and hi-hat tap for tap.
In the last track Les Immortels, Boukaka sings of politicians who made promises at the time of liberation, and chants the names of martyrs who were killed for their beliefs: Lumumba, Che Guevara, Malcolm X, Simon Kimbangu, Albert Luthulli, and Andre Matswa. The song was prophetic: Boukaka was killed for his convictions in 1972.
As our lives slow down and the streets turn eerily quiet, I find that the music of Boukaka and Dibango still soothes me.
Astri Ghosh is an actor, writer and translator who translates Ibsen into Hindi.
Read the other articles in The Art of Solitude series here.