Great book. I went into it knowing almost nothing about post-colonial African history and I now know a little bit about a wide swath of the continent....moreGreat book. I went into it knowing almost nothing about post-colonial African history and I now know a little bit about a wide swath of the continent. Meredith manages to synthesize a lot of information into this book, and while much detail is lost in the process, having such a broad overview of African history is ultimately extremely helpful and was a rewarding read. (less)
As basically the only book on Congolese music written in English, Stewart's work is essential to anyone seeking to understand the often convoluted his...moreAs basically the only book on Congolese music written in English, Stewart's work is essential to anyone seeking to understand the often convoluted history of the music. His knowledge is encyclopedic, and he deftly tracks the history of Franco's OK Jazz and Joseph Kabasele's African Jazz, carrying the reader through all the incarnations and splinterings into the 90s. He weaves the narrative into the political crisis that would come to dominate both countries in the post-independence years, and paints a pretty tragic portrait of the fate of the music, and by extension, the countries that spawned it.
Stewart is ultimately a historian and not a music writer though, and this becomes problematic throughout the book. His incredibly detailed knowledge of the bands whose progressions and personnel shifts he is describing becomes so detailed that remembering anything becomes almost impossible. It is hard to fault Stewart for providing too much detail, but at a certain point readability is totally sacrificed for attention to detail.
His writing style also leaves much to be desired, most notably in his general refusal to ever actually discuss music, ostensibly the main topic of the work. Presumably he is trained as a historian, and thus is not comfortable writing about something he is unfamiliar with, but he has written other books and articles about African music. He also writes in a kind of dry historical style that often leads to moments of real emotional weight, such as the return of Docteur Nico to music or the passing of Franco, being subsumed into the narrative without any real pause. Congolese music, made during the struggle for independence, can consist of a real emotional weight considering its surroundings, and slowing down to tell the stories of its creators gives an extra nuance to the story. Often, Stewart seems more concerned with detailed historical progression than the human scale of the history he is putting forth.
Ultimately, though, Stewart does a real service by providing the English-speaking world with a comprehensive account of Congolese music. Stewart's research, of Congolese newspapers and through personal interviews, is an invaluable resource. Rumba on the River is a great read and a great help to anyone interested in Congolese music and African music in general. (less)