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RAY LEMA & TYOUR GNAOUA
(CONGO, 2001) @
Ray Lema's birth on a train in his home country of Zaire (now DRC) could perhaps be symbolic of his musical journey in life which has been full of variety and fusions.
Going back to his boyhood, in 1957 aged 11 years Ray enrolled in a seminary in Kinshasa, to study and become a priest. He took music lessons and was so talented that he soon became the organist at mass and one of his teachers gave him a piano. At that time Ray learnt Western classical music and for his first concert played Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata'.
Ray left the seminary in 1962 but remained in Kinshasa and began a Chemistry course. He soon heard the American rock and Cuban salsa that was popular on the urban music scene and he learnt to play guitar, becoming a fan of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton! The attraction of playing music was so strong that Ray decided to pursue that as his full time career. Gradually he became well known. For a short while he was director of an ensemble the government asked him to form. In the early 1970s he went round the country recording as an ethnomusicologist. Then in 1974 he became director of the Ballet National du Zaire consisting of 100 artists but he left after 2 years because that kind of work didn't give him enough freedom of expression.
Over the years Ray gained experience by joining in the bands of Tabu Ley Rochereau, Joseph Kabasele and Franco. His own band, Ya Tupas, won the French Maracas d'Or award in 1978.
In 1979 Ray received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to travel and perform in USA. There he recorded his first album, Koteja. Two years afterwards he moved to Europe, staying in Belgium and France. In France he formed the band Carma and started a record label, Celluloid with his album Kinshasa-Washington DC-Paris in 1983. It is a great example of 'world' music with sounds of rumba, funk, reggae and jazz. Another album, Medecine, followed in 1985, this time recorded in London with Martin Meissonier.
In the 1980s Ray composed the soundtrack of the film 'Black Mic Mac' and toured several countries in Europe. Since that time he has performed at numerous festivals all over the world, most recently at WOMAD with Manu Dibango in 2003.
International collaborations are really the hallmark of Ray's career. The title of his album Nangadeef released in 1989 means 'Hello' in Wolof. The guests on that album include Courtney Pine and the Mahotella Queens. Ray's next CDs were influenced by a great diversity of sounds. He spent time in Abidjan in 1992 writing the opera, 'Un Touareg s'est marié avec une pygmée' along with Cameroonian Wewere Liking. That year he also worked with German pianist Joachim Kuhn with whom he recorded Euro African Suites. He worked with the Bulgarian Professor Kirim Stefanov to record an album, Bulgarian Voices (1997), with a large international choir. The same year he composed The Dream of the Gazelle for a Chamber Orchestra from Sweden.
Another project was with a Moroccan band called 'Tyour Gnaoua'. In 2000 they staged a musical show and brought out a CD Safi, meaning 'We Agree' in Arabic.
The CDs Tout Partout, Green Light (1996) and Stoptime (1997) are quieter. Mizila (2004) is a piano solo album dedicated to Ray's mother.
Ray has been on special missions to Chad, Benin and Burkina Faso to coach local musicians. His outlook on music has been to fuse the horizontal type of African beats with the vertical lines of Western harmonies. He was awarded the 'Django d'Or' in October 2003 for his total musical career. He has successfully and charmingly crossed musical frontiers and borders