Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Atalaku

            Atalaku
White, Bob W. "Modernity's Trickster: `Dipping' And `Throwing' In Congolese Popular Dance Music." Research In African Literatures 30.4 (1999): 156. Academic Search Premier. Web. 31 May 2012.

            In the Kinshasa music scene the Atalaku has become an essential part of Congolese bands. The word “atalaku” literally means “Look at me over here” in Kikongo and just as this would suggest the atalaku’s song is hard to ignore when listening to Kinshasa popular music. His job is to help drive the music of a Kinshasa band using “short percussive phrases known as ‘shouts.’” Though very popular and recognizable within Congolese culture, the new addition of the atalaku has yet to be studied by many scholars. The one detailed source I found was from Dr. Bob W. White, an anthropologist.  He has ideas about the atalaku’s impact on Congolese culture that have yet to be confirmed or challenged. In the next decade I am interested to see what other literature comes forward analyzing the atalaku’s relationship to Congolese culture.
            White explains that it was very evidently the emergence of political performance in the early years of Mobotu’s regime that gave rise to the atalaku. “Anamateurs” is a word meaning “activity leader” or “organizer.” Just as anamateurs organized the political performances and rallies, Atalaku’s serve as the “anamateurs” of Congolese popular music. In fact, Congolese musicians will use the term atalaku and anamateurs interchangeably.
The atalaku in many ways is a symbol of the fear rising in Kinshasa. This fear is that the kind of music and dancing that accompanies this piece of folklore may be a sign of society’s definite departure from "Traditional" African values. One dance move associated with the atalaku’s genre of music is the “dombolo.” The dombolo is a "highly eroticized" dance move that has been banned in certain parts of Africa. White remarked that many have begun using the term "dombolisation" to mean moral decay. White confesses that nobody even knows what "dombolo" means except for the atalaku.
            As I remarked before the atalaku has not been studied very thoroughly and because of this it was very difficult for me to find information about them.  I did however find a forum called “Vibes d’Afrique” with a few posts and discussions from music fans discussing the use of Atalakus.  One post posed the following point: “A lot of people talk about the atalaku's and what excellent work they did on some albums but too me it has become just noise. The constant shouting really becomes a strain on the ear.” He continues to express how he feels the soloists are impossible to hear through the atalakus and how he does not think this kind of music would be appealing to new listeners anymore. He then asks whether others are for or against the direction this music has taken.  The responses are fascinating as well.  One comments that it sounds better with one or two atalakus but now it’s common for four or five atalaku’s to participate in a single song.  Another commented on the appropriate situation for an atalaku:  “When it’s time for me to relax I just want to hear sweet soothing guitar, when it’s time to party atakalus come in.”  Still another comment remarked on how this genre of music seems to be developing in a way that is unconcerned with spreading beyond its current market.  This was interesting to me, as if the addition of more and more atalakus which may just sound like noise to us has been developed to cater to some sort of niche market in just a few African countries.  To me, this would be a great defense to those who are worried that this kind of music is threatening African culture.  If it continues to stay a uniquely African musical practice, then the Atalaku is a perfect axample of continuity and change.  The atalaku custom has the potential to become just as much of a “traditional” practice as any dance or song that is deemed traditional now. 
            On this same forum I was able to learn the names of some popular and respected Atalakus.  One of the most famous and important is Bill “Clinton” Kalonji.  Many on the forum praised Clinton for his distinct, strong, and controlled voice.  Most of the forum seemed to agree that many new atalakus attempt to imitate “clintonism” but they criticize these young atalakus saying they lack the talent to pull off Clinton’s style. The following is a link to one of Clinton’s videos. “Kizoba Zoba.” I read in in one of Bob White’s articles that it is not common for atalaku’s to appear in their own music videos.  Though I am not familiar with Clinton, it does not appear that he is in this video which is remarkable when you listen to how central he is to the song.  

1 comment:

  1. Sweet! I found your blog while googling "atalaku". I wanted to get more info after this open discussion on Kweeper.com : http://www.kweeper.com/charles/audio/409679

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