Just wanted to quickly share this cool video I stumbled upon:
An October 2006 rehearsal of a theatre troupe in Lome, Togo, featuring the grand dame of Togolese music, Julie Akofa Akoussah. Man, I could listen to her piercing, haunting soprano all day! Sadly, Akofa Akoussah passed away a few months after this footage was shot, in April 2007. She was 57.
It's easy to forget how relatively young she was, since she exerted a presence on the Togolese music scene for so long. She was only 16 when she began her professional career in 1966, representing Togo at the first World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal and spanned five decades as a respected singer, songwriter and presenter on radio and television.
Check out these tracks poached from our friend Pieter's excellent (though infrequently updated) Sea Never Dry blog
Julie Akofa Akoussah - "I Tcho Tchass"
Julie Akofa Akoussah - "La Lem"
and then check out Akofa Akoussah's site.
But Julie Akofa was not the only Togolese chanteuse whose career was launched on that Dakar stage; 21-year-old Bella Bellow also represented Togo at the festival and became a legend almost overnight. As her country's favorite singer and the one with the greatest chances for international success, she hooked up in 1968 with the ambitious Paris-based Togolese producer Gérard Akueson, who set out to position her as the next Miriam Makeba.
Akueson's aesthetic seemed to be based on the goal of packaging African music for upmarket European audiences, with snazzy arrangements, Broadway-ready choruses and Ipi Tombi-esque exotic ambience, as heard on Akue releases such as
Bella Bellow - "Bem-Bem"
Bella Bellow - "O Senye"
Bellow parted ways with Akueson in 1971 and returned to Togo, but not before she recorded some grittier sides with Manu Dibango, such as
Bella Bellow - "Dasi Ko"
(Akueson, for his part, quickly rebounded from the loss of Bellow, embarking upon a long musical and matrimonial relationship with the young Congolese diva Abeti Masikini.)
Tragically, Bella Bellow's meteoric rise was cut short in 1975, when she perished in an automobile crash at the age of 27. She has remained a sainted figure in the musical canon of Togo and also in neighboring Benin, where singers such as Angelique Kidjo cite her as a major influence.
Vive les reines!