Hidden Belgium: The African liberation song composed in a Brussels guest house

Hidden Belgium: The African liberation song composed in a Brussels guest house

On 1 February 1960, Grand Kallé’s song Independence Cha Cha was played for the first time at the Hôtel Plaza in central Brussels. At the time, the Belgian government was holding round-table talks with more than 150 Congolese nationalist leaders to set a date for Congo’s independence.

Grand Kallé was one of a group of Congolese musicians brought to Brussels to liven up the discussions and show off the rich musical culture of the Belgian Congo. He composed the song on 30 January in a modest guest house at 52 rue de l’Association and played in the hotel ballroom at around 10pm after a fellow jazz musician announced, ‘Kallé, Chauffez Bruxelles!’

Just a few seconds into the song, Africans and Europeans stood up and began dancing to the beat of Congolese rumba. The lyrics (in Lingala and French) celebrated the imminent independence of the Congo guaranteed by the talks.

‘Independence cha cha, we’ve won it, Oh, Independence cha cha, we’ve achieved it,’ the lyrics say. ‘Oh, The round table cha cha, we’ve pulled it off, Oh, Independence cha cha, we’ve won it.’

The song was broadcast across the Congo by Radio Congo Belge. It came to symbolise the buoyant optimism that was spreading across Africa after decades of colonial rule. It is often called the African independence anthem.

The guest house has gone. There should be a sign outside 52 rue de l’Association. Something to recall this brief moment of joy in African history.

Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.

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