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Ma Boukaka

January 3, 1934 - March 21, 2010

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Biography

Ma Boukaka was from the Congo, Brazzaville, in Central Africa. Born in the bush, he grew up between village and town, although Brazzaville was really only a large village at the time. He learned to drum by tapping out rhythms in the jungle with his friends. At 14 he left the village to work as a cook in Brazzaville. He eventually became a pisteur (guide, hunter and cook) for a French safari company in Northern Congo and Gabon. There he met Alan Baer, a young American, who offered to bring him to the U.S.A. Ma Boukaka accepted and came to the San Francisco Bay Area to work as a cook for Alan's mother. That was in 1959, the year before Congo and much of Central and West Africa gained their independence from the French.

In 1977, together with Malonga Casquelourd, he formed "Fua Dia Congo" Heritage of the Congo and the Congolese Dance Company of the Bay Area. Since that time, Ma Boukaka has performed in many shows produced by the Congolese Artistic Community. These shows reflect the culture and heritage of Congolese village life, a culture deeply rooted in family and community. Since 1982 he has also participated in the annual Congolese Dance and Drum Workshops in California and Hawaii. There, he sometimes teaches beginning drum, but is mostly busy cooking for the large group of people that attend the camps.

In 1982 he began a weekly Congo drum class in Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Around the same time he took up interest in the bass guitar and began jamming at music sessions with his friend , the late Norman Fontaine and various other musicians. Out of these sessions the Rainbow Band evolved and performed at Peninsula School and Ridge Winery. In those days of playing music, Ma Boukaka met Tony Pratt, a rock guitarist who liked the Congolese rhythms, and songs that Ma Boukaka was creating out of both personal and traditional roots. A new band emerged from this Congolese-American Rock marriage - Bole  Bantu.   They have played at Club Afrique in Palo Alto, the Full Moon Salon in San Francisco, and at Peninsula School and Ridge Winery.

Bole Bantu means two people. but it also means two people together are better than one, and that is a sentiment deeply felt by Ma Boukaka

Drum class

Ma Boukaka taught a Congolese drum class every Tuesday in Menlo Park California starting in 1982.  Every Tuesday evening at 7:45 p.m. students would start gathering for a drum lesson in classroom with tiny little chairs and low tables (good to sit on while drumming).  The nursery was decorated with art drawn by the children, toys, and a resident pet turtle.

The classroom Ma Boukaka used for his drum class was the first one to the right as you entered Peninsula School's U-shaped driveway.  You would park in the first off-road space as you enter the driveway, and the building immediately in front of you, across a playground, is where the drum class was held.  If you were not sure which building, you would listen for the sound of drumming.  The area is in an upscale residential neighborhood in Menlo Park which has chosen not to have street lights.  Bring a flashlight. Ma Boukaka liked the setting as it was similar to his home villiage in the Congo -- dark at night with no paved walkways. Muddy in the rainy season.

All levels of students were taught at the same time.   Ma Boukaka taught using the traditional Congolese method - he would demonstrate a part for you, made sure you had it, then let you fumble around with it while he continued to play the rhythm.  Absolutely no pressure.  The sense was that drumming is as much a part of life as breathing and no need to get all in a twit because you didn't instantly get it.  Sort of like joining a parade that has been going on for a long time and will be going on for a long time in the future.  Ma Boukaka also taught the call-response song for each rhythm as he taught each of the parts.

The world misses you Ma Boukaka and is a poorer place without you.

Ma Boukaka  MPEG (2.1 Mbytes)  Click on Ma Boukaka's picture above for a brief MPEG of him starting a basic rhythm for some beginning students.

Updated 03/05/2012

Copyright 1998 - 2012 Freeman Bradford. All rights reserved