Siama is the first to admit, interest in African music in the Twin Cities is not like it used to be. Which is ironic, counting the fact that the area’s African population has never been higher. But no matter the state of African music in the Twin Cities, some musicians will always hold a special string to our hearts. Siama Matuzungidi is one such musician.
Like other African musicians in the area, Siama’s story started on the east end of a flight pattern across the Atlantic. Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he first got his fingers on a musical instrument in a Jesuit seminary, Siama has shared band and stage with all the big names in African and Caribbean music, he has performed on four continents and entertained dignitaries. In a career spanning over 30 years, Siama has not only brought new audiences African music, but indeed African culture in all its vibrant colors. He has captivated old fans of amazed newcomers.
How did such a legend (the word legend used with all its weight) land in Minneapolis? How else but love. After touring the world with stays in places like Japan, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Uganda and others, Siama met and fell in love with a Minnesotan, in Kenya of all places. And as love will have it, he took his guitar and embarked on that Trans Atlantic voyage.
For the savanna plains of east and central Africa, he came to the prairies of Mid America; for the sun washed plateaus, he came to snow capped sidewalks; for the Lingala, the Swahili and empeu Francias, he came splashing in an ocean of English and expected to swim. With only a guitar, he paddled his way to First Avenue as one of the founders and leader of the band, Mbetani Twins.
From there Siama weaved his way through all the African/Caribbean hit bands in the area. From Shangoya to Shalita, IRoot to Cyril Paul and the Calypso Monarchs; opening for popular names like Culture, Baba Maal, and many others. From Minnesota and beyond, he brought African music to new audiences all over the country. Maybe more importantly, kept us expatriates connected to the sound of Home.
Like the classic hip hop refrain goes, and it don’t stop! Today as a member of Marimba Africa, Siama continues to entertain and educate audiences all over the region. As a guitarist, vocalist, composer, and an educator, Siama continues to spread the African message to any who will listen. Perhaps because, as he puts it, “the younger generation are not supporting my type of music any more” Siama is taking his music (soukous) to the classrooms hoping to plant seeds before American pop music consume the next generation.
As Petros Haile, executive director of African Global Roots, puts it, “for being a great musician and a true ambassador of African music, African Global Roots recognizes Siama Matuzongidi as its featured artist for the month of April 2009.” Congratulations, Siama!