Tshala’s bold expressions endeared her to people

Elisabeth Muidikay, alias Tshala Muana, who died yesterday in Kinshasa, DRC. PHOTO |AFP

What you need to know:

  • Tshala Mwana will be remembered for her strong advocacy for the rights of women, children and the poor.

Elisabeth Muidikay—who died on December 10, aged 64—wrote most of her songs, but one of her best works came off the pen of Freddie Mayaula Mayoni. It is Nasi Nabali (I’m Married) in which the musician better known as Tshala Muana tells off a man that she is taken and deserves respect and not winking or sending suggestive gestures for that matter.

Nasi Nabali is mellow, Rigo Star Bamundele’s plucking as soothing as they are emotional and Tshala Muana is laid back, almost appealing to whoever is listening.

“A piece of metal looks better when it is painted, it’s true; it’s known that a woman is better off when she is married. A woman’s pride is a ring in the finger,” she sings.


Outspoken artiste

Certainly the song that appealed to every woman. The background to the song, though, is what makes it powerful. Somewhere on the continent, an African despot attempted to get more than just close to Tshala Muana and Nasi Nabali was her perfect response to his amorous overtures.

Listening to Nasi Nabali, many would be wondering if this is the same diva who earned a chunk of her fame for her provocative stage performances that earned her the nickname, the Queen of Mutuashi. But Nasi Nabali was just another powerful expression that Tshala Muana chose to give in lyrical context rather than through her energetic dance routines.

Most musicians world over have very little they stand for. If you asked them to defend their actions, they would probably give flimsy excuses. For instance, Awilo Longomba honestly stated he is into Tecno Soukous for its commercial value while many would find it hard to understand Koffi Olomide’s sense of style.

But Tshala Muana did not have to give any excuse when she turned up in a flowing dress in 2009 in Kampala. During her previous two visits to the country in 1991 and 1996, she had literally left the fans, most of them public figures, eating into her thighs.

She would get to those close to the stage and thrust their head to her loins, gyrate with their heads on her thighs and loins like she was exorcising sex demons. Yet at 51, she was nowhere close to the same vixen of the yesteryear—a far cry who was less active and took intermittent breaks to let her protégé Marie Jose, aka Meje30, do exactly what she did in her heyday.

“That was then and this is today. After serving as a member of parliament and taking leave from music for three years I had to change my lifestyle, though it was not simple,” Tshala Muana told journalists of her hijab-like dress and lack of vigour in her performance.

She said she had to give up the sensuous costumes and erotic dance moves to more descent long dresses, but that in Meje30—and others she was grooming—her Mutuashi legacy was intact.

Picture Mbilia Bel dancing with Raila Odinga during the last presidential campaigns in Kenya. We are talking of 2022 and a woman two years Tshala Muana’s senior and of course 2022 is 13 years from 2009. Bel had pushup bras and gyrated awkwardly with Baba in a manner that left many looking away.

And that is where Tshala Muana won. She had no limits when she was still at it but she knew her limits when the sun was ebbing toward her music horizons. She was not going to deceive her fans with awkwardness.


A true legend

With some 25 albums to her lips, Tshala Muana, who died in Kinshasa of respiratory disease on Saturday morning, was a self-made musician like many Congolese rumba stars of the 1970s and 1980s.

The second of 10 siblings, Tshala Muana was born to Amadeus Muidikayi—a soldier—and Alphonsine Bambiwa Tumba on March 13, 1958, in Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 1964, her father was killed in Watsha by the Ulelist maquis (supporters of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba) during the Katanga war.

Her mother would move with the children to Kananga, the capital of Kasai, central province of Congo. The young Elise then moved to Kinshasa to start her foray into the entertainment world, first joining M’Pongo Love as a dancer.

M’Pongo Love, of the Ndaya fame, was a polio-crippled musician who was well connected in Congolese music circles. It is with the connections that Elise, who started singing in the church of the Kibembe army camp, would move around playing with different bands and musicians such as Abeti Masikini and Minzoto Wella Wella.


Finding her feet

However, it was after she moved to West Africa in 1978 that she found her true calling. Moving through Nigeria and Togo, Elise settled in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast from where artiste and producer Jimmy Hyacinthe noticed her versatile talent as a singer, dancer and choreographer and included her in his band.

Hyacinthe would take Elise to Paris in 1982 to record her first songs, Amina sung in French and Tshebele—the latter based on the Mutuashi rhythm of the Baluba people from the southern Kasai region.

When Elise returned to Kinshasa in 1986, she was Tshala Muana and in tow was Souzy Kasseya, a guitarist and arranger who would be arguably her strongest music code. Kasseya was directing her every musical step and their releases were explosive.

They had dropped the Tshala Muana album in 1986, with six tracks of Mbombo, Sitambili, Mady, Tshikombo, Kashama and Mamu Wenu in her native Tchiluba mostly. Mamu Wenu was a hit for its energetic afropop style.


Mamu wenu

Already celebrated for her strong stage performance, Tshala Muana could not have produced a more fitting hit than Mamu Wenu. The January 1, 1986, release talks about a woman who is tired of her mother-in-law’s domineering manners and nagging.

She has done a lot but the mother-in-law doesn’t appreciate it so she tells her off at last. And Tshala Muana really does the telling off with such explosive punctuation that even the sweet keyboard and Kasseya’s solo sounds can feel her wrath.

A video clip of the song’s live stage on YouTube probably depicts it best. Accompanied by racy-lacy queen dancers, Tshala Muana gives the magic in mutuashi.

If Africa was still trying to understand the songstress because she sang in strange native language, she left the continent with nowhere to hide a year later when she came belting out a tune in French, ‘C’est ca, c’est ca, c’est ca’ (This is it, this is it).

Whether you sang along as ‘Sister, Sister’ or ‘Sesa Sesa’ you still had to bow because what follows is in Swahili, the most widely spoken language in Africa.

A woman urges a lover not to feel lonely at heart anymore, to take her to the parents who will give the dowry so that they can solemnise the marriage. She ends it with a warning cry to not be swayed by wild talks as he would end up dying a lonely man.


Beyond the legs

But as she released albums after album, Tshala Muana was not going to leave her legacy at the mercy of her legs and the mutuashi dance. She had been outspoken for years and rubbed the government of Mobutu Sese Seko the wrong way, leading to her spending some good time quietly in Kenya.

When in 1997 Laurent Désiré Kabila took over from Mobutu, Tshala Muana became more and more involved in Congolese politics. In 1999, she became a national delegate to the Transitional Parliament of the Constituent and Legislative Assembly.

She put music on the backseat for the next three years until 2002 when she dropped the album ‘Dinanga’ (love in her native Tchiluba) and followed it up with Malu a year later that won her the prize for best female artiste at the Kora 2003.


Mixing music, politics

By then she could not separate music from politics and she started preferring to be called ‘Mamu Nationale’ which translates to: The Mother of the Nation. She had been christened in Parliament for her strong advocacy for the rights of women, children and the poor.

But she was not just vocal about these issues. Tshala Muana was in November 2020 in a spot of bother after releasing a song titled Ingratitude. Ingratitude criticises a man who bites the hand of his mentor that fed him.

There are no names dropped, State agents concluded who the man was, who was at the time in a troubled coalition with his predecessor Joseph Kabila’s party. Tshala Muana had gone on to serve as a presidential advisor in Joseph Kabila’s government.

At the time of her arrest, she was ailing and the pressures that followed saw her unconditionally released the following day. She continued to be critical of the Félix Tshisekedi government, tearing into the regime over corruption, nepotism and insecurity in the nation.

While her private life has always been less exposed than the legs on stage, Tshala Muana did reveal in 2009 in Kampala that she had six grandchildren.

As the Congolese music sees of a self-made legend who knew no limits in what to feed his fans but understood just what she was made of, the jury on Elisabeth Muidikay is settled: she was bold, she was honest, and she was the Queen of Mutuashi.


About Tshala


With some 25 albums to her lips, Tshala Muana, who died in Kinshasa of respiratory disease on Saturday morning, was a self-made musician like many Congolese rumba stars of the 1970s and 1980s.

The second of 10 siblings, Tshala Muana was born to Amadeus Muidikayi—a soldier—and Alphonsine Bambiwa Tumba on March 13, 1958, in Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 1964, her father was killed in Watsha by the Ulelist maquis (supporters of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba) during the Katanga war.

Her mother would move with the children to Kananga, the capital of Kasai, central province of Congo. The young Elise then moved to Kinshasa to start her foray into the entertainment world, first joining M’Pongo Love as a dancer.

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