Critical World
Thinking Globalization Through Popular Culture
Pardon, pardon
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Pardon, Pardon

1996 | front cover

Beginning in the 1990s, performing artists of various types were increasingly seen as a resource for diffusing information about public health interventions to diverse urban populations throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. This text looks at one case in particular, the production of an album of songs about HIV-AIDS in former Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), in order to see how a new generation of AIDS prevention strategies shed some light on anthropological and humanitarian notions of intervention.

Paroles de Mono ya Lolango

“Pardon, pardon”

1996 | Back cover

“The Guitars of Almaz”

Photo by : Serge Makobo | Kinshasa


“Chef de quartier”-Pépé Kallé

“Mono ya lolango”-Shora Bemba

“Pardon, Papa”-Général Défao

“Kwiti ya Bolingo”-Papa Wemba


“Kwiti Ya Bolingo”-Papa Wemba

Audio MP3

“Pardon Papa”-General Defao

Audio MP3

“Chef du Quartier”-Pépé Kallé

Audio MP3

“Pas Bitoto”-Djuna Mumbafu

Audio MP3

“Mono Ya Lolango”-Shora Mbemba

Audio MP3

“Nono Sadi”-Blaise Bula

Audio MP3

“Chef de Quartier”

“Chef De Quartier” (Pépé Kallé)
(Big Man in the Neighborhood)Dad, why are you so sick all the time?
People are saying it’s because of witchcraft
But I don’t think it’s witchcraftI think I know why you’re sick
I think it’s because you weren’t careful
Who will take care of me the way you used to?
I don’t think it’s witchcraftYou’ve become everybody’s daddy
Why didn’t you take care of yourself?
He watches women walk by and
They meet later on the corner

Who will pay my school fees?
Who will take care of me?
Why did you leave us this way?


Auteur : Pépé Kallé

“Pardon, Papa”

“Pardon Papa”  (General Defao)
(Please, Honey)

I know you’re beautiful
But I’m just asking one thing
Just protect yourself
Just protect yourself and I will too

Life has no price
Life has no price
We can be faithful
Till death do we part

Let’s protect ourselves, the world has gone bad
Protect yourself now, you’ll be happy for a long time
Protect yourself and God will protect you too

You know that everyone thinks we’re beautiful
They’re all so jealous of us, you know that there are
A lot of diseases out there, can’t we just play it safe?

I know you’re georgeous
But I’m just asking one thing
Just protect yourself
Just protect yourself and I will too

AIDS is not selective
It happens to the wealthy
It happens to the young
It happens to the powerful

Let’s play it safe, let’s be faithful


Auteur : Général Defao

“Kwiti ya Bolingo”

“Kwiti Ya Bolingo”  (Papa Wemba)

My heart hurts
My heart hurts

Whatever it is, I must be lovesick
Whatever it is, I must be lovesick

This feeling doesn’t have a cure
It feels like the end
I haven’t touched a drop, I’m not drunk
It must be a sickness of love

Oh God…

I fooled around blind
Walking around in the night
Then I fell into a deep hole
Who will get me out?

With this illness we have to be careful
Before it’s too late

Oh God, what is this?
Oh Father, what is it?
This thing wants to finish us all
It’s got no cure
It can happen to anyone, we have to beware
It can happen to anyone

We’ve heard, we’ve seen
We’ve heard and we’re not pretending
It means that we have to stay
On the same path, arm in arm


Auteur : Papa Wemba

“Mono ya Lolango”

“Mono Ya Lolango”  (Super Choc)
(The Magic of Our Love)

There are so many women in the world
You’ll never see the end of us
But if you only follow beauty
You’ll most likely end up dead
If you must have a woman, have just one (bis)

Mother of my children and heart of my hearts
Please take care of me like only you know how

All I’m asking is for you to be faithful
Listen to my advice and everything will be fine
If you must have a woman, have just one

I love it when you’re jealous,
It’s the magic of our love
You shouldn’t let me do everything I please

I’m not jealous dear, I’m telling you this because
Your messing around could mean the end
Oh husband of mine, heart of my hearts
If I don’t protect you, who will?

Even if I fall down sometimes
I take your advice and I know how to protect myself
I know you’re right, I know you’re right
I know my messing around is the brother of death


Auteur : Shora Mbemba/Lofombo Gode

“Nono Sadi”

“Nono Sadi”  (Blaise Bula)

Nono Sadi, son of Papa Vichy
Grew up with no worries or pain
While others went hungry, their table always plenty
This is what it’s like to grow up beautiful

For Nono Sadi wealth is a virtue
Money is a solution
Nono don’t forget that money is a good servant
But a horrible master

What advice can I give him?
Some people who inherit honor their family
Others cultivate contacts, they should be praised
Nono just has fun, becomes every woman’s man

In life you have to be careful with money
Especially with money you inherit
Beware of money, it leads to jealousy
And you’ll wish you hadn’t done it

Nono Sadi, look at him
Look at what this disease has done to him
Who would ever believe he would end up like this?
So sad, so sad…

Nono, preventions costs less than consequence
After an illness like this there is nothing but death
But still he refuses to listen
Like the conversation of a blind man and a deaf man
Don’t you see that your money is not a solution
You can’t buy the riches of health

Take your money but be careful with it
Beware wealth is not something you can buy
It is a gift from God, it comes for free
We need you, Nono
Your friends and your family we need you
You’re the only person


Auteur : Blaise Bula

“Pas Bitoto”

“Pas Bitoto” (Don’t Mix Dishes)Words and Music by Djuna Mumbafu
Translation by Bob W. WhiteChorus:I won’t be one woman of many, father of my children
I won’t be one woman of many, father of my children
I won’t mix dishes, no mush, no stew
The world has changed, think about our children

If you must go out where the rain falls
You never know where it falls
At least bring an umbrella
Be careful not to get wet, be careful

The pleasures of life don’t make you a man
Look at our family,
How many have gone to the grave?
Beware, Be careful



Auteur : Djuna Mumbafu

Letter to IEC Coordinator

December 15, 1996

Health & Nutrition Promotion
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
B.P. 7248, Gombe
Kinshasa, ZAIRE

Dear Monica:

Sorry I left in such a rush.  Can you imagine what it would have been like if the cassettes had arrived?

Anyway, my trip back went well, although it seemed very long.  It’s nice to be back.  I’ll be concentrating once again on my teaching and research.  Incidentally, I was invited by the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to come to a small working dinner series to discuss the situation in Zaire.  They caught me off guard; I don’t really consider myself to be an expert.  If nothing else, it should be a nice dinner.

I’m feeling a nice sense of closure with all this distance from the project.  I left detailed instructions with Lofombo and Serge (they should come to see you on Friday or Monday).  I told them that you would arrange for 3 full days of transportation, they also have a copy of the distribution list (which I realize could change) and the release forms are still on your desk.  I’m sure they’ll do a good job of it.  Please let me know when the cassettes actually come in.  Upon arriving home, I saw the original print proofs for the album, they’re amazing.  I hope the cassettes and posters are half as stunning.

I got the videos from Gaby at the last minute.  A few afterthoughts:

One of the videos (the one for Blaise Bula) has yet to be put together, I think some filming still needs to be done.

The Defao video is still missing inserts of a young couple in love.

The Papa Wemba video has no inserts or scenario whatsoever, did they forget?

None of the videos have the Unicef name on the video itself; is this what you intended?

Overall, the videos look nice.  Especially the Djuna and the Super Choc are very rich and very entertaining.  If they had put the same energy into all six, the whole lot would be wonderful.

Anyway, I guess you’ve had enough of my expert opinion by now.  Call me sometime.  After the new year we should talk about whether its possible to do a sequel (you thought you were rid of me…).  Happy holidays.  Take Care.



Auteur : Bob White

Where are the Cassettes?

January 30, 1997Health & Nutrition Promotion
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
B.P. 7248, Gombe
Kinshasa, ZAIREDear Monica:Hello and how is everything?  I bet you thought you’d never hear from me again, eh?  Well you can’t get rid of me that easy.  I’m just writing to see how you are, if you had a relaxing holiday season, and to double check that Kinshasa is still on the map.

I have started teaching at McGill and it is going really well.  I have 116 students and a teaching assistant, which makes me feel pretty important.  I’ll be talking quite a bit about Zaire and I’m playing a bit of Zairean music every day.  Next week I’ll use “Pardon, Pardon”.

What is the status of the cassettes?  I spoke with John recently and he said they had arrived.  Are the videos on t.v. often?  Or has Shabani continued keeping them warm?  I have lots of people (especially UNAIDS Geneva) who are asking about the cassettes.  How soon can you send me my copies?  (I think I was supposed to have 350 or something?).  Have you been able to stay in touch with Lofombo and Serge?  I’m curious to know about the distribution and how it went.

I am already starting to prepare for my return to Kinshasa for the spring or summer.  What does the political situation feel like to you?  Does it seem more tense than before?  I understand there are new bills being issued.  And do you have any idea about the project for the religious album we talked about?  Does your budget look amenable?  If so, would you be needing my services?  Maybe we could finally do the streetkids project too.  Anyway, I’ll call in the next few days to talk in person.

I am sending John the money I owe him this week.  Along with that is the amount I owed to you.  I asked John to pass it on to you as soon as he receives proof of the transfer.  Thanks again for your help.

Take Care,



Auteur : Bob White

Bad Ventriloquist

(Excerpt from an unpublished text)

Bad Ventriloquism and the Bureaucratic Imperative or
How Not to Intervene in the Fight Against HIV-AIDS

At some point in the 1990s, international NGOs and other non-profit development organizations in sub-Saharan Africa suddenly discovered popular culture.  Nowhere was this renewable resource a greater source of hope than in the fight against HIV-AIDS.  Development agencies and public health consultants attempted to lure in local artists and entertainers not only because their services could be acquired cheaply, but also because from the point of view of planners they represent an authentic (i.e. ‘native’) voice that is more skilled at “getting the message across” to large populations of urban youth, many of whom are illiterate in addition to being potentially suspicious of government sponsored initiatives and programs.  The fact that AIDS has not gone away—indeed, in most of Africa the epidemic has worsened considerably— raises a series of difficult questions about this new type of public health intervention, not only with regards to the agencies that promote them, but also for the consultants that participate in project design and implementation.  What seems to be emerging is a new politics of intervention, not directly extractive, not administrative, not imperial, but one that more closely resembles an act of ventriloquism, one that is different from local ideas about speaking through others, but no less ideological.

In the spring of 1996, as I neared completion of my doctoral fieldwork on popular music and politics in Mobutu’s Zaire, I was approached by the director of Unicef-Zaire, who wanted to have my opinion on whether or not popular music might be a good way of disseminating information about HIV-AIDS.  My initial reaction to this question was negative, mostly because in my experience fans in Kinshasa were too sensitive about the lyrics of their music and most musicians view the industry as too fragile to take a chance on such a delicate subject.  After more consideration, however, I thought that if done properly an album containing songs related to AIDS could be extremely effective, not only because the 1990s witnessed an increasing number of people who were personally affected by the disease, but also because the vast majority of Congolese music is about the pains and pleasures of being in love, a topic which is linked in obvious ways to the HIV virus and AIDS.  I returned the next day to see the director, and after discussing the subject further he sent me to see his I.E.C. coordinator who offered me the position as primary consultant on the project beginning in the spring of 1996.  Several months later I approached UNAIDS-Geneva for support to complete the second phase of the project, which involved a return visit to Kinshasa in November 1996 for the promotion and distribution of the album.

Most of my writing and research has been devoted to explaining the political and historical aspects of Congolese popular dance music, which outside of the Pool Region of the two Congos is usually known as soukouss. Though the musical style is interesting in and of itself, I have been primarily interested in the music as a source of information about politics and culture, and more recently about political culture (White forthcoming).  Since the early 1940s commercially produced popular music (la musique moderne Congolaise) has occupied a central place in the public space and social imagination of the people of Kinshasa, the largest city and capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (former Zaire).  But this musical style has also had significant impact on local and regional markets for dance music in other parts of the continent, making it a sort of African musica franca.  For the purposes of this article, I am interested primarily in what happens when popular musicians are commissioned to compose songs about an epidemic with such strong moral and political overtones, and how this arrangement is affected by the fact that the song’s sponsor is not a local elite, but an international NGO.  At the same time, I am also interested in what this type of intervention can tell us about the institutional discourses and bureaucratic imperatives in which the work of international NGOs are embedded and performed (Ebron 2002; Nguyen 2002).
A new generation of critical anthropological literature has shown how the work of international humanitarian aid organizations ignores politics and political processes, instead viewing the work they do as politically neutral “technical interventions” (Ferguson 1994) that reinforce the emergence of new forms of governmentality, what Mariella Pandolfi has referred to as “moving sovereignties”(2000).

Humanitarian mechanisms of social control are justified not only by the sense of urgency engendered by certain problems, but also by the universal right to intervene: “interventions are always exceptional, even though they arise continually” (Hardt & Negri 2000: 38).  Thus interventions always involve a moral as well as a political claim.  While taking into account these epistemological problems, it is important to move beyond critiques of development that set out to show why particular projects fail, a question that does very little to tell us about how NGOs reproduce themselves through certain discursive and institutional practices (Ferguson 1994; Fisher 1997; Pigg 2001).

In the particular case I will discuss, it is not the fact that the project failed that interests me most, but the way in which development experts, in their search for a more effective means of changing peoples’ behavior, came to see popular culture as a “weapon” in the fight against HIV-AIDS.  The idea to use popular artists as to convey a message obviously did not occur in a vacuum.  Development education experts in Zaire were drawing from a vague familiarity with similar experiments involving celebrity entertainers in Europe and North America (such as We Are the World, Do They Know its Christmas? and Farm Aid) and more recent examples focused specifically on the fight against HIV-AIDS (a series of music projects produced by the New York-based Red Hot Organization).  What the project staff did not know is that in Mobutu’s Zaire there was a long history of using musicians as mouthpieces.  Nor did they know the extent to which this particular type of ventriloquism came to be commonplace in political and musical performance.  Thus the problem with the Unicef project was not the fact that it chose ventriloquism as a form of intervention, but as I will show below, that it was a bad ventriloquist.


Auteur : Bob White

Project Summary

PROJECT SUMMARY    In the Spring of 1996, a UNICEF team based in Kinshasa produced the first full-length collection of AIDS-related original compositions by well-known Zairean musicians.  As part of a larger HIV-AIDS awareness campaign being undertaken by UNICEF and UNAIDS, this album (entitled “Pardon, Pardon) will have the potential to reach all of Zaire, a population estimated at 25 million, as well as other population groups, especially in Central and East Africa, which actively listen to Zairean popular music.For more than 50 years, Zairean popular music has been the most listened-to music throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.  Its popularity throughout the region is due primarily to its unique two-part song structure which contains a romantic lyrical section and a fast-paced dance part.  Within Zaire, despite a declining economy and increasing inflation, music is one of the country’s few industries which is showing signs of growth.  Within the last year, state-of-the-art recording and duplicating facilities have been opened, and some industry specialists estimate that music sales are up by 20%.In this part of Africa, where HIV-infection rates are the highest in the world, music is probably the most effective means of disseminating AIDS-related information to large numbers of people.  Apart from the obvious impact of such a production on target populations in Central Africa, there may also be uses for the album in Europe, North America and Japan where Zairean music has been experiencing increasing  popularity within the last 10 years.

Included in this proposal are the following documents:  a project summary, an estimated budget, and a list of important collaborators.  The funding requested in this proposal will be used to cover the following:  an impact study of the first album in the series (to include analysis of promotional events, videos, publicity, etc.), the production of the second album in the series which will target the fast increasing number of Christians in the region, and a re-vamped promotion/distribution strategy which may include promotions for both albums.


Auteur : Bob White

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