Africa, Asia-Pacific, Headlines

MUSIC-TOGO: Remembering Bella Bellow

Yaovi Tchalim Blao

LOME, Dec 15 1998 (IPS) - For many Togolese, December is not just another month on the calendar. It is the month, 25 years ago, when the nation’s singing star Bella Bellow died in a road accident.

This year Togolese music fans bought up cassettes and albums featuring Bellow, held conferences to discussed her contribution to Togo while there were radio and TV programmes and concerts in her honour.

A compact disc containing her biggest hits was produced by Gerard Akuesson, former director of the Office Togolais du Disque (Togolese Record Office) and her former impressario. It sold for 10,000 CFA francs (about 18 dollars) – a tidy sum here – but the discs went like hot cakes.

The Togolese Post Office was one of the earlier contributors to the drive to honour the singing star. Seven months ago, it started issuing a special collection of stamps bearing her image.

Georgette Nafiatou Bella Bellow was just 27 when the car in which she was travelling crashed in a village 54 kms from Lome on Dec. 10, 1973. Today, her memory lives on in the hearts of many Togolese.

“Bella isn’t dead,” said high school student Laure Apedjinou in an emotion-choked voice. Her friend Eric Lawson, a university student, explained that the singer “was able to demonstrate her talent in the short time she spent on earth”.

“She put her stamp on African music in her day,” he added. “Manu Dibango, Myriam Makeba and other big names of African music recognised her talent.”

One fan was unable to contain his emotion as he left a memorial service held for her at a Catholic church here. “Even dead, Bella, you are radiant, you are shining, you have survived,” he recited. “Thousands of young people hum, and will keep humming, the melodious songs that your heart and mind enabled you to make.”

Bella Bellow started singing in school concerts in 1963, but long before that teachers at her primary school had noticed her talent, as one of them, Mathieu Kofi, recalled. “She was extraordinarily gifted, with a strong, warm, melodious voice,” said Kofi, who later became a minister of culture in the Togolese government.

He first heard her sing in class when she was about 14. “We predicted that Georgette would later become a star,” said the ex- minister.

After finishing school in 1964, Bella Bellow went to Cote d’Ivoire to study music with Akuesson, then an impressario. At 19 she performed at the Festival of Black Arts in Dakar and people started seeing her as West Africa’s Myriam Makeba.

From Abidjan she went to Paris to get to know the music world there, and it was in the French capital that she worked on her own rhythm, a fusion of Togolese folklore and modern tempos.

He debut album ‘Rockya’ was an instant hit and soon she was on her way back to the African continent for her first tour, which took her to Cote d’Ivoire, Niger, Congo and the then Zaire, where she sang to adoring audiences.

Bella Bellow later represented Togo in a song festival in Tunis before going on to represent the entire continent at similar events in Athens and Rio de Janeiro. Twenty-five years ago, however, that fatal road mishap brought her career to an untimely end.

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