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World On Your Street: The Global Music Challenge
Robert Maseko
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Describe the atmosphere and live music at a local pub, restaurant, festival, church or temple, club night.... inspire other people to check it out!

Musician: Robert Maseko

Location: Middlesbrough

Instruments: Voice / congas

Music: African Pop / Soukous

Listen  Listen (5'58) to Robert Maseko sing 'African Keen' (from 'African Keen', ©Robert Maseko, Afric'Arts Music Connections Label UK (c) Cat NO: RMCD 6877-3.2003)

'We'd use sardine tins as microphones and turn those big tins for powdered milk into drums…'

How I came to this music:

I was born in 1968 in Kinshasa, in what was then Zaire but is now called the Congo. My culture and roots are Bantu. I come from a very educated family and my father was a very strict man. I studied, and I'm still studying, International Law, when I'm not playing music.

I started making music when I was a child. When I was about seven me and my friends would make instruments from things we found, and we'd use sardine tins as microphones and turn those big tins for powdered milk into drums. We used to take the inner tubes from bicycle tyres and stretch them tight over the tins so we could play them like a djembe drum. There was a particular street corner where we played, we called it our Headquarters. A boy of about sixteen called 'big brother' looked after us, he was a very clever man and made me a saxophone from wire and tin. So I was a saxophone player as well as a singer.

Robert Maseko I went to a Catholic boarding school and when I was sixteen a priest asked me to join a big choir. We recorded gospel music and I was known for my 'cock' voice because it was very high-pitched, like a chicken, you know. After that I joined a band called Stone Binza, named after a part of Kinshasa, and because my voice was so beautiful the ladies all followed right behind me. I was also very handsome then, not like now!

At the age of 17 I was nominated 'African Ambassador par Excellence' and invited to join a band called The Roots of Africa, to tour worldwide representing African Music and Arts. This has always been an important part of my music, that it is not just for dancing, performing and recording, but is also educational. My music speaks out, telling the truth about the many disturbing issues of today. In 1993 I moved to Johannesburg with the Kwasa Kwasa Stars and played alongside Papa Wemba, Kofi Olomide and Hugh Masekela. Over the years I have also performed and recorded with Youssou N'dour, Frank Leppa and George Benson.

After moving to England I set up my own music label called Afric'Arts Music Connections five years ago. This has given me the independence to make my feelings clear about the problems in my homeland, things like the abuse of women and children, rising crime, drug addiction, HIV, ecological damage, and the greed of our so-called leaders, which is the cause of many of these problems.

Where I play:

Since 1994 I have lived in the UK, playing and touring with Congobeat, which joins together the best of UK-based Congolese musicians and dancers. Apart from gigs across the length of the country, we have played on radio and TV and at numerous festivals, as well as touring around Holland, France, Australia and Japan.

I spend a lot of time travelling around the country teaching on educational music workshop programmes, helping to make young British people aware of the diversity of cultures in their country.

A favourite song:

I feel that bad leadership in Africa has diminished the pride of my beautiful people. My song 'Bad Leaders' is from my new album 'Integrazone'. I am hoping that Africans will discover and understand that they are born with a right to freely address their dissatisfaction at any time with their voices, without interference from their greedy leaders. This new record is ignited and inspired by Jah Love. The King has spoken by claiming back the right of his people, who deserve peace and harmony, no matter what the colour of their skin. Africa has a place for everyone who feels African.
Click here for Hande Domac's storyClick here for Mosi Conde's storyClick here for Rachel McLeod's story

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