Missa Luba  /  Les Troubadours du roi Baudouin

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él /Cherry Red Records ACMEM136CD

℗ 1958

1. Dibwe Diambula Kabanda  [3:05]  Marriage Song

2. Lutuku & A Bene Kanyoka  [2:50]   Emergence From Grief

3. Ebu Awale Kemai  [2:26]   Marriage Ballad

4. Katumbu  [1:45]   Dance

5. Seya Wa Mama Ndalamba  [2:24]   Marital Celebration

6. Banaha  [2:04]   Soldiers Song

7. Twai Tshinaminai  [1:05]   Work Song

An African Mass

8. Kyrie  [2:05]

9. Gloria  [2:42]

10. Credo  [4:10]

11. Sanctus  [1:39]

12. Benedictus  [0:56]

13. Agnus Dei  [1:56]

... by Studs Terkel

The joyous voices of Congolese boys in praise of their grandfathers' gods as well as the Christian God. Never has a mass been sung in this manner. These young virtuosi feel so patently free. There is a reason. The ways of their ancestors were respected by this stranger, the white priest from Belgium. It is my understanding that Father Uudo Haazen came to the Congo in the early Fifties. Unlike most missionaries, this one came to learn as well as teach.

Thus, in gathering 45 young boys together, in forming Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin, he was teaching Christianity in the manner of The Carpenter. In loving his teen-aged black neighbors as himself, he, in effect, was saying: "I honor your ways and those of your fathers. If you learn this Christian mass, please sing it in the manner of your people, not my way but your way." (An assumption on my part, of course, the rapport between this one shepherd and his flock. I can come to no other conclusion on hearing this remarkable performance.)

There can be no mistaking the origins and traditions of these young singers. Some less than Father Haazen might have envisioned a Vienna Boys' Choir or Little Singers of Paris or Obernkirchen kids in dark skin. He might have impelled European musical values upon the students of Kamina Central School as a house painter whitewashes a wall, obliterating whatever had been there before. Instead, he urged his young proteges to remember the
Congolese rhythms and to freely improvise. The joy of being, the thrill of living, was italicized by the accompaniment: Congolese drums. Certainly, he recognized this music not as something "primitive," but as highly advanced. (It is time to put at rest the hoary canard that African music is primitive. A Nineteenth Century lie becomes a Twentieth Century obscenity. Any half-way enlightened jazz fan recognizes the complex nature of the rhythms that were brought to America by the kidnapped Africans. It is apparent even to the most tinny of ears attuned to this recording.)

In listening to this Missa Luba, I am reminded of another performance: a Harlem congregation singing out "Joy To The World." It was the only time I had heard this buoyant carol sung as it was meant to be sung with joy.

I am reminded, too, of a particular Sunday morning in South Africa. I was seated in one of the rear pews of the Anglican church in the township of Sophiatown. The good Father Huddleston had preached here and found himself in bad grace with the authorities. Yet, despite the courage and Christian goodness of this enlightened priest, I felt a vague sense of disappointment in the singing. The hymns were sung with what sounded to me undue restraint - in the manner of a white middle class congregation. True, there was a gentle swing: this could never be lost among the South African black people. It was the juice of native life that was missing.

Chief Albert John Luthuli, 1960's Nobel Peace Prize winner, has paid tribute to the missionaries who taught him ways of another world. At the same time, he criticized their lack of understanding the heritage of his people. He was speaking not only for South Africa but for the peoples of the whole throbbing continent.

I remember, too, Fela Sowande's reminiscences. Mr. Sowande is Nigeria's oustanding composer. He recalled the good and the bad of missionaries' impact on West Africa. He implored: "Respect the culture and the religions of my people, too. Teach, if you will, but do not impose. Even better, let us learn from one another."

The song, the South African song, "Wimoweh," has told us the lion is sleeping. Events now tell us the lion has awakened. It is no longer for the "white hunter" to decide the lion's fate. That terrible time has past. Another time, equally terrible, may await - unless we begin to understand. The Gun no longer works. Neither does the missionary's Book. Father Haazen appears to have been one of those rare men of God, who came equipped with more than The Book. Certainly not with selfrighteousness. The young singers, whom he has guided, are uniquely themselves: artists of the Congo. Truly, theirs is a religious performance, not merely a "Christian" one.

. . . by Ray Van Steen

The Missa Luba is pure Congolese. It is completely void of any modern, western musical influences. The Kyrie, Gloria and Credo are performed within the same framework as a kasala, which is existent today among the Ngandanjika (Kasai). The Sanctus and Gloria are fashioned somewhat after the feeling of a wonderful "Song of Farewell" in Kiluba. An authentic dance rhythm of the Kasai is the basis of the Hosanna, while the Agnus Dei is based on a song of Bens Lulua (Luluabourg). Most remarkable is the fact that none of the Missa Luba is written. Certain rhythms, harmonies and embellishments are spontaneous improvisations.

Father Haazen, recognizing the value to be gained from the retention of this music form, assigned himself the task of restoring it to health. He formed Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin, a choir, with percussion section, consisting of about 45 boys from 9 to 14 years old, and 15 teachers from the Kamina School.

In 1958, the Choir made a six months European Tour performing to receptive audiences in Belgium, Holland and Germany... where Les Troubadours sang with the famed Vienna Boy's Choir.

On June 30, 1960, after 75 years as a Belgian colony, the Congo became independent. A political and economic upheaval ensued. Provinces seceded announcing their individual independence. The whites fled fearing massacre as Tribe fought Tribe. A United Nations Police Force, at the Congo's request, was sent to the troubled area. The U.N. Force, made up of troops from 18 nations, had their worst trouble in Katanga Province, which wished to secede from the rest of the Congo.

Katanga had its own army, headed by foreigners, mostly Belgians. The U.N. Security Council ordered these foreigners expelled from the Katanga Army. Enforcement of the order caused much bloodshed on both sides. And so... the Congo was catapulted into international headlines. But headlines hardly tell the complete story of a nation or of its people.

The Congo is a paradox. It is the land of tribal chiefs and witch doctors, of the tsetse fly and the malaria carrying mosquito. But here, too, modern cities lie not far from where near-naked tribesmen still live under the most primitive jungle conditions. In the 905,381 square miles of the Congo, many religions and ethnic groups can be found. Of the 14,150,000 population (approx. 115,000 non Africans), there are 4,200,400 Roman Catholics, 812,600 Protestants and 150,000 Moslems. Bantus, Sudanese, Nilotics and Hamites all occupy this strange land. Each group lives within its own culture and holds to its own social customs.

More changes for more people have occured more quickly in the Congo in recent years, than anywhere else in the world.

Two generations ago, the chief of a Uganda Tribe used to do away with his enemies by tossing them into a crocodile-infested lake. Now, the Uganda Chiefs British-educated grandson uses the lake as a swimming pool.

Many hospitals have been completed and more are under construction. Missionaries from Europe and America are aiding the training of natives to staff these new institutions.

Increased transportation is also adding to the growth of the continent. Roads and railways are being built through swamps and rainforests... even across the Sahara Desert in the north.

Huge dams are beginning to control dangerous floods. Thousands of acres are being irrigated for new farmland. Electrical power from the dam sites are giving birth to new industries.

The Congo is a fertile land rich in natural resources. It is the world's most important source of Uranium.

Yet, such age old staples as gold, tin, zinc and diamonds (mainly industrial) are also listed as natural resources.

All these developments are forcing the African into a new society. A society which he is building around himself. A world so new, that he is being forced to abandon a great many of his old world ways. It would seem that no people could accept such sweeping social and economic changes without some adverse effects.

The young African seems to be caught between tribalism and democracy... and it is confusing to him, to say the least.

Other problems such as increasing population, food shortages and poverty, add to the confusion. An estimated 90% of all Africans south of the Sahara, an area which encompasses the Congo, cannot read or write. The continent is so rich a prize, that communism could very well prove to be the biggest danger of all.

Today, the Congo and its people stand at the doorway to a new life. Plagued, or blessed (as the case may be), with Western civilization, Africa, shaped roughly like a giant question mark, lies in the equatorial sun ... waiting ... for tomorrow.   

Anyone who saw Lindsay Anderson's if.... on its original release in 1968 will surely recall the visceral impact of the experience. It was immediately apparent that there had never been a film quite like it and, 40 years later, there still hasn't. Certainly, it's hard to recall another British film that connected with such a vast audience without making any concessions to accepted notions of what the great viewing public supposedly wanted. And as Malcolm McDowell put it, it was as though an H-bomb had gone off under the Establishment.

By any reckoning, if....    - and Anderson insisted on those four dots - is an uncompromising and confrontational film ("Which side will you be on?" read the posters) that defies categorisation. It is a film devoid of conventional dramatic structure, stylistically erratic and often confusing. It has homoerotic undertones and ends with the wanton slaughter of the great and the good. By rights, having won the Grand Prix at Cannes, it should have generated a handful of worthy broadsheet reviews, made the rounds of a few arthouse cinemas, and been quietly forgotten. Instead, it triggered massive cinema queues, made a star of its leading man, was hailed by the likes of Stanley Kubrick as "absolutely, one of the great films", and four decades later has lost little of its power to astonish and provoke.

Like Patrick McGoohan's contemporaneous TV series The Prisoner (with whom it shared film editor Ian Rakoff), if.... employed surrealism and wit to demonstrate that beneath civilised society's reassuring surface - its hallowed traditions, its business as usual, its level playing fields - lurked forces hostile to those who dared to reject its blandishments. Instead of The Village, however, the rebellion of Lindsay Anderson's hero Mick Travis occurs in the metaphorical context of one of England's top private schools - all cloisters, manimired lawns, flowing gowns and sexual repression: the very nerve centre of Britain's Establishment. And unlike The Prisoner, if.... climaxed in an orgy of gunfire and slaughter that was all the more shocking for its Englishness.

By the time he came to direct if.... in 1968, Anderson was already established in a number of fields: as a highly respected theatre director, documentary film-maker and critic. His one feature film, This Sporting Life (1963), had been hailed a success, but its gritty depiction of a miner turned professional rugby player seemed to have established Anderson as a director of the naturalistic school - a reputation that if.... promptly demolished. (In fact a short film called The White Bus made in 1967, mostly in monochrome but with short colour sequences, gave the few who saw it a clue onto what lay ahead). A fiercely principled man not given to suffering fools gladly, Anderson was none the less much loved by actors, to whom he was unfailingly attentive and loyal.   

In retrospect, it's surprising that the film even exists at all. It began life as a script by two young writers called David Sherwin and John Howlett under the title Crusaders. By his own admission, Sherwin had been looking to break into Hollywood by scripting a cowboy movie, before realising his emphatically English background had left him ill-equipped to do so. Instead, he set about turning his own unhappy experiences at public school into fiction.   

Early responses from producers to the pair's work were less than encouraging, with one telling Sherwin and Howlett that they deserved to be horsewhipped and another that they had produced the most perverted and evil script he had ever read. With its middle-class setting, Crusaders also seemed to be bucking the current trend for gritty films about no-nonsense, working-class northerners, while its sheer insular Englishness would surely be a major deterrent for American audiences. (Though, remarkably, the film was eventually financed entirely by American money).   

When the script finally fell into Anderson's hands, he promptly set about rewriting it from top to bottom, and finding a new title - which was eventually supplied by Albert Finney's secretary, Daphne Hunter. Both he and co-producer Michael Medwin knew, however, that the success or failure of the film would hinge on who they cast to play the leader of the rebels, Mick Travis. A decision had all but been finalised, when Anderson saw 24-year-old Malcolm McDowell in a stage production of Twelfth Night and asked him to come for an audition. Their original choice was promptly cast into oblivion.   

The film marked the beginning of a long (if erratic) movie career for McDowell, and there can be no doubt that his swaggering, gimlet-eyed performance gave the film an electrical charge it might otherwise have lacked. As the leader of the three pupils who rise up against their school's ritualised bullying, McDowell is required to demonstrate a precisely calculated blend of intelligence, irreverence and sheer cockiness in such a way as to make Travis seem likeable without coming across as some kind of irritating would-be Brando.   

How well he did so can be gauged from the fact that it was his performance in if.... that persuaded Stanley Kubrick to offer McDowell his second iconic role, in A Clockwork Orange.

But without Anderson's presiding genius, if.... would clearly have been a much more ordinary film - a film that might still have profited at the box office from the current belief that revolution was sexy, but one whose mystique would have long since faded. Just consider the numerous ways in which it tore up the rulebook for mainstream success.

To begin with, it blurs genres. An ostensibly serious film dealing with matters including violent insurrection, beatings and homosexuality, if.... nevertheless contains many sequences of gentle comedy, with delightfully understated cameos by such old stagers (and Anderson mainstays) as Arthur Lowe, Graham Crowden and Mona Washbourne. Through such scenes and characters, Anderson - a public school boy himself - was able to express a deep affection for the institution he was otherwise pillorying.

More unnervingly, many scenes establish a tone of almost documentary realism, only for Anderson to pull the rug from under us with sudden, jarring intrusions of dreamlike surrealism. In this, Anderson and Sherwin were inspired by Jean Vigo's remarkable, though little-seen,I933 film Zero de Conduite. When the three rebels are summoned to the headmaster's study following the shooting of the padre, for instance, even McDowell expressed surprise when he realised the padre was to be produced, alive and well, from a cupboard drawer to accept their apologies. Other scenes leave the viewer in some doubt as to their status in reality; the animalistic lovemaking in the transport cafe (is the unnamed Girl herself imaginary?), the theft of the motorbike, the final shoot-out.

The structure of the film also deviates far from the narrative are favoured by conventional British and American cinema, though it stops well short of the free-form gimmickry that had been infecting movies for many years (and by which the relatively ascetic Anderson was appalled). Until the climactic beating of the three rebels, which triggers the final uprising, the film is divided into self-contained chapters - signalled by captions on a black background - which could be shown in any order without affecting our understanding of events. Anderson described his approach as "epic in the Brechtian way, where one is less concerned to tell a story than to show a way of life ... the concern of the film is much more to show what people are, what things actually are, than to tie everything together in a specific cause and effect".

And then, of course, comes the eternally vexed question of why the film switches between colour and black-and-white for no obvious reason. Did the differences represent, as many worthy academics theorised at length, abstruse clues to be teased out and mined for significance in the same way as certain Beatles lyrics. Or could they be more prosaically explained as the result of unforeseen budgetary constraints?

In fact the truth lay somewhere in the middle. When it became clear that lighting the interior of the school chapel for colour would prove prohibitively expensive, Anderson opted to shoot the assembly scenes in black-and-white. But having done so, and with the precedent of The White Bus in mind, he decided to go a step further. As he wrote himself: "The problem of the script seemed to be to arrive at a poetic conclusion, from a naturalistic start. (Like any fairy-story or folk-tale). We felt that variation in the visual surface of the film would help create the necessary atmosphere of poetic licence, while preserving a 'straight', quite classic shooting style, without tricks or finger-pointing."

But he added, sinking a thousand theses in the process: "The important thing to realise is that there is no symbolism involved in the choice of sequences filmed in black and white, nothing expressionist or schematic. Only such factors as intuition, pattern and convenience."

Throughout the shooting, Anderson insisted that if.... should be an epic and poetic film whose import should not be localised by matters of time or place. For that reason he decreed that there should be no references in the script to current political events, or the appearance of anything else that would make the film 'of its time' such as fashion, cars or pop music. When Mick and his cohorts are relaxing in their rooms, they couldn't therefore play rock records as they would probably have done in reality. Instead, Mick listens intently to the bewitching, other-worldly sound of Sanctus (a piece suggested by McDowell) from the Missa Luba, a version of the Latin Mass based on traditional Congolese songs recorded in 1958. In the film the music serves a dual purpose, not just distancing the action from a specific point in history, but somehow symbolizing the siren cry of a better world, far removed from the spirit-sapping rituals and casual brutality of the school.

As filming continued, all concerned became increasingly aware that events in the script were being mirrored in the outside world. Everywhere, it seemed, the status quo was under attack from the younger generation. (And remember that 'freedom fighter' had yet to become a synonym of convenience for 'terrorist). If.... may have benefited commercially from the fact that revolution and the general questioning of authority were in the air, but Anderson and his crew were as shocked as anytme by the violent TV and newspaper pictures (some of which were used to adorn the rebels' dormitory walls) they were seeing - though happy to claim the artist's power of prophecy.

Nevertheless, when on the film's release it was accused in some quarters of actively fomenting rebellion, Anderson demurred angrily. He was a self-proclaimed anarchist, but rejected the common belief that anarchism meant "wildly chucking bombs about . .. anarchy is a social and political philosophy which puts the highest possible value on responsibility". Travis, he added, is a hero in that he is "someone who arrives at his own beliefs and stands up for those beliefs, if necessarily against the world".

Anderson carried on his own heroic struggle against the world for another 26 years, but only succeeded in completing a further three feature films. O Lucky Man (1972) and Britannia Hospital (1982) found him again working with his devoted friend Malcolm McDowell (again playing Mick Travis) and many of the same supporting cast, though neither found a large audience and the latter was critically savaged. By the end of his life, with the notion of a sequel to if.... already circling the plughole that had claimed so many abortive projects, the self-described "loner against all systems" was largely resigned to the fact that "my idea of a 'popular' film which can also carry a charge of poetry and ideas is going to be proved illusory".

After a long period in the critical doldrums, when even the National Film Theatre were unable to provide Anderson with a print to accompany a speech, if... is now widely regarded as a masterpiece and frequently appears in magazine lists of all-time greatest films. It was reissued in a new print in 2002 and finally released on DVD in 2007, on both occasions to a chorus of critical hosannas. Magnificently shot by the great Czech cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, the film's visual beauty is now apparent as never before.

At a time when the pressure to conform, to surrender one's will to that of the many, has never been greater, the spirit of Lindsay Anderson's greatest film rings ever more urgently. It is a clarion call to throw off the shackles of tradition, to dare to break with the past - and, if not to take to the rooftops with sten guns, at least to venture into the realists of possibility symbolised by those four dots....

Christopher Evans

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