Sunday, April 17, 2011

a good bush taxi journey

Bush taxis in Central Africa is basically a large van with several seats and one never knows who or what will be sitting next you.  I’ve sat next to young women who are amused by my foreign ways and laugh at everything I say, drunk men carrying dead monkies for dinner, dead antelope with blood still dripping, or old women with handbags full of market trinkets.  I even sat next to an older woman with six fingers that, I suppose, is not too unusual.  On one particular long road trip in Cameroon, I met a very well-spoken tall Cameroonian who spoke of his music and his aspirations on introducing his music in France and outside of Cameroon.  Usually, talking to strangers in a bush taxi is usually just that, bullshitting. We shared the same first name; he was my “homonym” as they call it there. At the next pit stop, he said he promised to buy me a copy of his album.  At a stall that was selling cassette tapes, he spotted a copy of the tape he was looking for next to pirated copies of American albums.  It has his dapper image at the front with his name, Rene Ben.  He signed it and told me to listen to it when I have time. After the long trip and great company, we parted ways, inserted the tape in my cassette walkman, and listened to the album in the bush taxi that took me back to my Gabonese village.  His music had beautiful rhythms of drums mixed with classic central African melodies.  It was the best African album I’ve ever listened to, even better than Cameroon’s idolized Papa Wemba. I don’t know if he ever made it big but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. This is a painting of Rene Ben based on his album cover.

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