So Kalmery
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So Kalmery


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Think of So Kalmery as a Pan-African soul.Born in 1955,in Bukavu,in what's now the Democratie Republic of Congo,his mother was a Mubema and his father a Haleu, so from the start he was crossing boundaries. But he was also,it seemed,destined to be a musician,since his father played guitar,accordion,and trumpet in a local band,in addition to organ in the local church on Sundays. Kalmery grew up singing in that choir,and learning to play guitar,growing rapidly as an artist,so quickly thatat the age of 13 he was recruited by a band to join them on the road. From there,he seemed to be constantly on the move,working and acquiring many styles not only from Central Africa,but also beyond when he backed Dorothy Masuka,a South African jazz singer. For a while he lived in Kenya,forming the King Melody Band,who released a record in 1971;then returning to the fertile musical groundof Zaire,where he settled in the capital Kinshasa, performing as part of Papa Wemba's band and playing soukous. After several years there,he returned the road,this time traveling to Europe and finding work with several different African bands,before landing in Paris.There,he struck out on his own and developed the musical style called brakka,a youthful music begun in Zaïre to unite young people of different ethnic backgrounds. Since making his home in Europe(and another home in Guadeloupe),he appeared with artists like Paco de Lucia,Los Van Van,and Ben Harper on international stages, before releasing his debut,Bendera, which saw the light of day in the D.S. in 2002. Chris Nickson - ALL MUSIC GUIDE

"BENDERA S0 Kalmery"

This is wonderful .At times it sounds African, at times Jamaican, and then Brasilian. It is most interesting at all times,very bouncy, both rhythmic and melodic, the kind of music that makes you jump up and move around. The words, except for two sets of lyrics in English, are in a tongue l am unfamiliar with, but one song does refer to Africa. The album was recorded in Paris (l'm assuming the one in France rather than the one near Fort Smith).Since the influence of African music is very big on both reggae and samba, this is a good album for anyone who would like to explore roots music. - Nightflying Magazine June, 2002

"So Kalmery"

So Kalmery

Kalmery sings in Kiswahili, English and French. His lyrics are simple, but his strong voice reverberates with life. Even when he is accompanied by an assortment of instruments including the didgeridoo, flute and sax, Kalmery manages to evoke the image of the musician as a troubadour, providing wholesome outdoor entertainment to the local townsfolk.
- Mondomix

"So Kalmery New album: Brakka system"

So Kalmery, the roving ambassador of brakka (a vibrant music-and-dance style from his native Congo), is back in the spotlight with a new album, Brakka System. The fruition of more than thirty years wandering the globe, Brakka System is not just an album - it's a journey through a lifetime, a musical voyage deep into the heart of one man's soul!

RFI Musique: You released your last album, Bandera, seven years ago now. Why wait so long before going back into the studio?

So Kalmery: Because my music takes time to mature. My new album took even longer to mature than usual because I decided to work with full orchestration this time round. I'm fed up with being labelled as an acoustic musician. There have been times in my career, you know, where I've conducted orchestras of between 17 and 20 people. My new live show is not just about me up on stage, it involves four musicians and two dancers as well - and images of Africa are projected up on a screen behind me as I play!

You've always defined yourself as an upholder of brakka tradition. Brakka is still not really that well-known abroad…

Brakka's an urban sound that revolves around guitar, flute and percussion. It was hugely popular in pre-independence days, but began to disappear when missionaries arrived and started introducing Cuban music to East Africa. Brakka bears traces of all sorts of musical influences - a touch of Mali, a touch of Nigeria (thanks to the Hausa who travelled through East Africa selling their cloth) and traces of southern and central Africa. Spokes Mashiyane, "the king of kwela", adopted brakka and so did the Congolese guitarist Jean Bosco Mwenda. There are a lot more harmonies going on in brakka than there are in rumba and brakka is structured by extremely rhythmic guitar-playing. Brakka is a very physical music to dance to, it's like traditional Zulu dances in that respect. As for the lyrics of the songs, these tend to be about serious things like morals, education or imparting a certain philosophy of life.

Your own songs cover everything from love to the feeling of being physically uprooted from one's home…

I've been criticised a lot in the past for being too revolutionary, so I thought I'd do a couple of love songs like Brand New Day and All What You Need is Love. There's another song on the album called Hey Mama Liza, "hey" means "come on!" - it's a sort of hidden message, a call to join the anti-colonial struggle, that accompanies brakka dance steps. Harambe, a term invented by Kenyatta* can mean either "unite" or "disappear" and Regea - "come back!" in Swahili - is about being uprooted from your homeland. It's the story of my life. I left my homeland when my father died in 1961/1962. My father, David Kalmery, was close to Lumumba* and when Lumumba was arrested they rounded up everyone who had been connected to him and eliminated them all. My father's body was never found. I've looked everywhere for him ever since. After Lumumba's death, we ended up in this refugee camp in Zambia and I've spent the rest of my life wandering ever since. All these years have gone by, but I can still picture myself as this little kid running and running. For many years of my life I walked around vowing I'd get my revenge one day. But as you get older, you come to realise that love is the only way of resolving conflict.

But don't you believe in the idea of artist as warrior?

Yes, in the positive sense of the word "warrior." There's a song on my new album called Warria where I pay tribute to all those legendary figures who've fought through their music - Fela, Armstrong, Peter Tosh, Miles Davis, Luambo (Franco), Nico, Tino Barosa and Jimi Hendrix - without forgetting my personal idol and role model, Spokes Mashiyane.

There's another absolutely magical track on your new album called Kamitik Soul where you play the oud which adds a very melancholy note to things …

Kamitik is the real name of the African people. You know, I really believe that we can change the way people think in Africa, but we have to begin by being very careful in our choice of words. I'm passionate about string instruments like the oud and the inanga, the harp from the Great Lakes. These instruments were used in the past to accompany the great epic poems. And I'm keen to remind people that the oud is actually an African instrument. I had my own oud specially made for me in Australia.

Talking of Australia, you also play the didgeridoo. How did someone like you who trained as a flautist adapt to the special breathing techniques associated with the instrument?

Well, the Aborigines play the didgeridoo with a system of continuous breathing. It's a symbol of harmony - if you stop blowing at any point, you break the harmony! When Aborigines play the didgeridoo they believe they are sending out a message to the universe and the universe has to stop and listen. I'm like the Aborigines in that respect, I believe that the Earth is a thinking entity. Brakka has t - RFI 03/02/09


Cinquième album de So Kalmery, le premier depuis cinq ans. Auteur, compositeur et interprète, le Congolais s’est adjoint les services du producteur Stuart Bruce (Nusrat Fatek Ali Khan, Lucia-McLaughlin-Meola...) pour ce « Brakka System. Un « system » basé sur un mélange de tradition d’Afrique de l’Est et d’influences urbaines dans la forme, d’inspirations humanistes et de combat social dans le fonds. Si son blues-folk tonique ne manque pas d’intérêt et de qualité («Hey, Mama Lisa», «Pessa»...), quitte à tomber dans un style déjà bien usité, c’est surtout lorsqu’il la joue « simplicité », à l’image de l’excellent « Kamitik Soul » ou de « Serma », que So Kalmery dévoile une originalité fortement conseillée.
Pascal Cabioch Jeudi 22 janvier 2009 - Le Télégramme


2009 Brakka System (Harmonia mundi)
2001 Bendera (Pygmalion records)
1996 Rasni (Melodie)
1993 Quand Margot (Melodie)
1987 Horseshoes in the glove (EMI)



So Kalmery is originally from the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country sadly so often in the headlines over the last years. His story is one marked by the rich history but also the misfortunes of this part of Africa. His father was assassinated because of his close ties to the independence leader Patrice Lumumba, and So Kalmery became an orphan and a refugee at the age of seven... He spent many years fleeing from the various wars that devastated the region and finally found asylum in Zambia. It was during this period that the humanism which permeates his songs was forged. Very young, he learned music and played in numerous local orchestras. He established himself in Europe following a tour with the great Congolese musician Franco. A prodigious musician, an insatiable traveller, a poet, singer and dancer in search of the roots and the values of humanity, So Kalmery is an atypical and mystical figure, who plays an unclassifiable music which is at the crossroads of blues, folk music, soul and pop: Brakka.


Singer, songwriter and composer, So Kalmery is THE representative of this unique style which is at the same time a philosophy and a social and political struggle, but is also dance music. The name Brakka comes from "Bra", which means the start, and "Ka", which means "infinity" and also "the mind". The music takes its source from Eastern African tradition merged with urban influences. It has a triple rhythm (12/8) and could be likened to American Shuffle or even to early Ragtime. It is also a very physical and acrobatic dance, which often impresses hip-hop dancers.

Brakka System is made up of ten songs in Swahili or in English, all with strong socio-political themes.