Queen of Afro-zouk looks back on career

Monique Seka (centre) performs with her queen dancers at the “Legends Alive VIP Concert” at Kampala Serena Hotel on August 27. Photo / courtesy of RG-Consult Limited. 

What you need to know:

  • Seka was the main performer at the “Legends Alive VIP Concert” organised by RG-Consult Limited at the Victoria Hall, Kampala Serena Hotel, on August 27. The Ivorian songstress, who was on her second performance in Uganda, took her fans down memory lane with some of her hit songs.

The award-winning international Ivorian Afro-zouk music star Monique Seka says her fans have given her reason to sustain her career across three decades.

“Music is my passion. I was born into it, I grew up in it, and it’s my life. The desire to please my audience and myself is what motivates me to continue. Otherwise it’s not easy these days with the lack of producers,” Seka told Sunday Monitor in a wide-ranging interview by email.

Nicknamed the “Queen of Afro-zouk music”, the diva of Ivorian music is known for her exceptional tone of voice. With the musical fusion that she generates, Seka’s Afro-zouk music is popular across Africa, including her native Ivory Coast.

The singer and songwriter, who started her professional music career in 1987, has embraced not only Ivorian music—including Akan and Mandingo styles, as well as the Mapouka dance—but also other influences such as Afrobeat, rumba, soukous, salsa and zouk.

“Afro-zouk is a clever mix of traditional music from my region with that of the islands. In the zouk that I do, we find percussion and African sounds,” Seka says.

She adds: “Afro-zouk has inspired many. At the time, despite their musical genre, artistes always made a nod to Afro-zouk through a song. There were artistes like Oliver Ngoma, Petit Pays, Gadji Celi and Mathey who wrote the beautiful history of this musical genre. Nowadays, we release fewer Afro-zouk albums, but we still dance to Afro-zouk.”

Seka was the main performer at the “Legends Alive VIP Concert” organised by RG-Consult Limited at the Victoria Hall, Kampala Serena Hotel, on August 27. The Ivorian songstress, who was on her second performance in Uganda, took her fans down memory lane with some of her hit songs.

Seka started her gig with Adeba and then followed it up with Mouhon Nohan, Baye, Yaye Demin, Amiyo, 900Kg D’amour, Sondela, Missounwa, Chilen‘koe, Okaman, Amlan, and Ameyatchi, among others.

“I thank everybody who has turned up. I am from West Africa and to be welcomed by East Africans is uplifting. Whoever has come, I know music is in you,” she said, adding that her wish “is to do a collabo with a Ugandan artiste.” 

Seka’s first show in Uganda was on July 26, 1997, at the Nile Hotel gardens (now Kampala Serena Hotel) where she shared the stage with the late Congolese singer and composer Aurlus Mabele.


It’s a family affair

Born on November 22, 1965 in Abidjan, Seka is from the third generation of a musical dynasty of Ivory Coast. She is the daughter of Seka Okoi Athanase, an Ivorian singer who shot to fame in the 1970s. She was apprenticed by her father before joining the RTI Orchestra (Ivory Coast TV Orchestra) where she served for a while.

She also joined her uncle Jhon Morgan’s group—the Maya Melodye Band—as an associate in 1982. That was the time she started to experiment mixing zouk and African rhythms to create Afro-zouk, which resulted in her debut album “Tantie Affoue” in 1985.

“My childhood was immersed in music, except that my mother did not want me to sing. It was my aunt Tantie Affoué, to whom I paid tribute in my first album, who encouraged me. The result is for you to appreciate today,” she told Sunday Monitor.

Listening to her uncle “play records by Haitian artistes” on Sundays ultimately swayed Seka into the Afro-zouk genre. Soon, she “joined the Ivorian television orchestra” and would “play all kinds of music.”

When Seka noticed that “Ivorian music was not played in discos” at the time, she opted to “merge the traditional music of my country with that of the islands.” That, she adds, is “what gave us L’afro zouk (Afro-zouk) with arrangements by Manu Lima.”

Seka’s second album, “Missounwa”, released in 1988, received the Gran Prix de la Musique Afro-Caribéenne. She enjoyed enormous success with the title track hit Missounwa. Missounwa comes with a salsa feel.


Working with Manu

Seka signed the production of her music to Cape Verdean keyboardist Manu Lima for her albums “Missounwa” in 1989, and “Okaman” in 1994. Manu also worked with the late Gabonese star Oliver N’Goma. He was also instrumental in relaunching the careers of the likes of Pépé Kallé.

Manu was behind the production of Oliver’s debut album, which included the hit songs Bane and Icole. Oliver also worked with Manu to produce his second and fourth albums “Adia” (1995) and “Saga” (1996).

The release of Seka’s third album, Okaman, in 1995, catapulted her to a wider international audience and appeal. According to Craig Harris, the title track—Okaman—sold more than one million copies.

Uganda’s Afro-pop singer/songwriter and dancer, Rachel Magoola says Seka has a “phenomenal voice” and adds that “her Afro-zouk style of music has been embraced and loved by many across Africa.”

Yusuf Mahmoud, the chief executive officer and festival director of Sauti za Busara festival, told Sunday Monitor that he “was a huge fan of Monique Seka’s music back in the late 1980s  to early 1990s.” He was particularly swayed by “the slick productions of her Afro-zouk rhythms with those powerful vocals and haunting melodies.”


Singing about women

Seka’s other albums are “Adeba” (1997, Declic) with the title track Adeba, Baya Somibo, Amlan, Hela, Anou, Bera, Senga, and Miwa, among others. Yelele followed in 1999 under the Sony Music label, and many “best of” with new titles—“Anthology” in 1999, “15 years 15 success” in 2003, Anthologie (2000), and Obligada (2005).

“I sing a lot about women,” Seka says. “The unity of Africa, the emancipation of women while keeping their place as women. I talk about their experiences and the struggle they go through every day. Missounwa, for example, is about the tears of a woman. In Yayè Demin, I talk about the benefit that is never lost.”

Seka says she “love[s] all my albums” because “they are like my babies.” While she “likes” all her songs, she admits to having a preference for Bayè. “I like to sing it live,” she beams.

Asked about when her fans should expect a new album, she says: “I like to keep my fans waiting because I like a job well done. The proof is that they still listen to songs that are 10 or 20 years old. I’m taking my time, but they can rest assured that something is in the pipeline, including my 35-year career anniversary.”

The artiste, who was greatly influenced by the Togolese singer Bella Bello, says the Covid-19 pandemic enormously affected her.

“Covid-19 has put the world in prison … Our projects have been blocked, but we rely on God,” she says of the pathogen, adding, “I even got a dozen artistes together for a song to raise awareness about the dangers of this disease.”


Personal life

Seka got married to Dominique Richard on March 31, 1995. Richard is her producer and manager. She gave birth to their first child—a daughter named Carolyn Richard—on February 9, 1998. Their two sons followed thereafter. She currently lives in Lyon, France with her family.

“My husband and children support me, which makes things easier,” she says of her family, adding that she will “do music until God calls us back to Him.”

If she had not ended up as a singer, Seka would have “become a traditional dancer.”

As to how she unwinds after a hard day’s work, she said: “I rest a lot. Otherwise, I spend time with my family and friends talking about everything. I’m a homebody.”

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