Four more African inflationary tunes

Ghana, Sierra Leone and the Congo are now represented, but so far there’s nothing from Zimbabwe or in French.

Zimbabwean banknotes from 10 dollars to 100 billion dollars, issued 2007-8.

Zimbabwean banknotes from 10 dollars to 100 billion dollars, issued 2007-8. Image: Wikipedia.

E.T. Mensah’s “Inflation Calypso”, featuring vocals and kazoo or Swanee whistle, is a firm street-organ favourite with listeners affected by London’s housing market (I do a deflationary second verse for refugees from the Spanish economic miracle):

Here’s part of my version, live in Leytonstone:

I think it was written in the period post-independence (1957), when the replacement of British by African administration suggested that if there is anything worse than a ruling class, it is the lack of a ruling class. Some stats from Sowa & Kwakye, “Inflationary trends and control in Ghana” (1993):

Independent Sierra Leone didn’t adopt the deranged import substitution model of Nkrumah’s Ghana, but similar administrative tribalism, profligacy and embezzlement had similar consequences. Via the British Library’s Tony Harris’ post of “Are nor want for be“, here’s the Famous Scrubbs & His Band’s “The cost of living’s killing me”:

And here are some compatriots, Ebenezer Calendar & His Maringa Band, performing “Cost of Living Na Freetown”:

[1]Ngombu-Kabu, poster of both tracks, dates both to the late 1940s or early 1950s. I think he/she is wrong, but if I am at fault I will perform Mensah’s “Donkey calypso” annually on my birthday for the next decade, dressed appropriately:

Calendar’s big hit was of course “Double-Decker Buses”:

Mr Stober, Mr Garmon and the citizens
Had a fine test East to West,
My grandfathers and my grandmothers
Refused to go to the top stairs.
Welcome to Sierra Leone, double decker buses, Alleluia,
Welcome to Sierra Leone, double decker buses.

I don’t know any Francophone African inflation songs at all. The closest I’ve got are two Congolese songs in Lingala (?) mentioned over at MbokaMosika:

En effet depuis l’indépendance, les congolais ont subi d’une façon ascendante la hausse des prix sur le marché. Une situation imputable en partie à la démagogie ambiante, qui a entraîné la démobilisation de ceux qui étaient censés produire. La liberté retrouvée en 1960 a progressivement mis fin à la productivité. Les agronomes qui encadraient les cultivateurs dans tous nos villages se sont reconvertis en politiciens, et la production dans tous les domaines a dégringolé jusqu’à la dépréciation totale de la monnaie. Cette inflation galopante a eu comme conséquence la hausse des prix dénoncée très tôt temps par les musiciens en sonnant l’alarme. Léon Bukasa en 1961, et Franco en 1964, ont stigmatisé ce fléau à travers deux œuvres musicales axées sur la cherté de la vie. En auditionnant la chanson de Franco, on apprend qui détenaient les clés du commerce à cette époque.[2]I can’t understand the lyrics, so I don’t know who Franco thinks were exploiting their fellow citizens at the time – Greeks? Gujaratis? Americans? Belgians?

First up, “Bakimi na mbongo”, a splendid number by Léon Bukasa and Jazz Mango (1961):

Next, “Biloko bimati talo”, by Franco and OK-Jazz (1964):

I don’t know of any inflation songs in Swahili either, though I am sure they exist, as they surely also do in the various commercial patois. And as for Zimbabwe…

I am also ignorant of pre-/early-colonial repertoire on the subject. How important was it? Was it the kind of thing that could be represented in song or other forms of oral poetry?

Any more?


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