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Francis Bebey

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Au cours de sa carrière, Francis Bebey a publié une quinzaine d´ouvrages qu´il s´agisse de littérature, de poésie, de théâtre ou encore d´essais. La plupart d´entre eux ont été traduits dans plusieurs langues. Son plaisir de jouer avec les mots s´étend vers plusieurs horizons :
l´écriture journaliste a aussi fait partie de son quotidien. Il rédigera régulièrement articles, études et reportages autour de la musique et des arts africains.

 Métier:    Musicien
 Pays D'origine:    Cameroun
 Pays:    Cameroun

Born: 1929, Cameroon
Died: 2001

Francis Bebey was born the son of a Protestant pastor in French-ruled Cameroon. During his childhood, his family and teachers sought to alienate him from the roots culture around him. As he told Liberation in France in 1984, "I was schooled to ignore, and even to detest, traditional African styles." Bebey`s musical family did surround him with a variety of Western instruments, accordion, violin, piano, mandolin, and--the instrument he settled on at age nine--guitar. Despite the efforts of his colonial-era instructors, Bebey did discover Africa, which of course was all around him. A traditional doctor and musician Eya Mouéssé led Bebey to his first African music love affair: the local harp and mouth-bow, which the boy would seek out all night celebrations in order to hear.

As a teenager in Douala, the capital, Bebey played guitar and drums in an ashiko--Cameroonean highlife--band. The experience led inevitably to his discovery of international dance styles of the era, especially Afro-Cuban music and American swing jazz. Bebey went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne in the mid `50s, and there his musical path was altered yet again when he discovered the classical guitar of Andre Segovia and began to study the instrument. Upon graduation, Bebey took a producer/journalist job at Paris`s Radiodiffusion Outre-Mer. He led a jazz band in the city, and has the distinction of giving future Afropop superstar and saxophonist Manu Dibangu his first professional gig.

In 1958, Bebey came to the United States to continue his studies at New York University. There, he began composing music for the guitar, but journalism would continue to dominate his work as he returned to Paris in 1960 and became a popular radio personality broadcasting to francophone Africa as host of the program "Jazz Train." This accomplishment led directly to a job tracking and researching traditional music for UNESCO. As Bebey traveled in Africa and learned more about its traditions, he began creating original works, including socially aware and sometimes satirical poems set to the music of traditional instruments like the West African kora. In 1967, Bebey won the Grand Literary Prize of Black Africa for his novel "Le Fils d`Agatha Moudio."

For all his successes, Bebey never stopped expanding his horizons. It was only in the 1980s, when he was widely renowned as a novelist, poet, composer and performer, that Bebey began to play traditional African instruments himself. He recorded African Sanza in 1982, a set of original compositions for the central African lamellophone (sometimes called hand piano or thumb piano). Bebey`s forays into sanza and also ndewhoo (Pygmee flute) paralleled dramatic changes in his approach to guitar. Inspired by his explorations in African music, Bebey`s developed distinctive new techniques: tapping the guitar to produce the sound of a talking drum, and wrapping one bass string around the next to produce a percussive snare drum effect. Bebey`s performances now included singing in French, English, and various Bantu languages.

During the years when Afropop rose to international attention, Bebey was often cited as a guiding force, a kind of father figure in the global spread of African music. In 1994, he composed a piece for the adventurous Kronos Quartet. Musical icons as diverse as composer and conductor John Williams, and South Africa`s kings of acapella music Ladysmith Black Mambazo worked with Bebey during his final years. A visionary and a humanist, Bebey used his art and his literary platform to preach universal love, and reconciliation between the world`s races. He often made the argument that art is not simply a diversion, but an essential feature of life--a civilizing force. He donned the mantle of a universal griot, a traditional West African councilor, musician, and historian. Indeed, Bebey was a griot for the entire world.

Francis Bebey continued to tour as much as six months a year with sons Patrick Jr (Toops) and Patrick, and also to record new works right to the end. He died in Paris at 72 following a sudden heart attack. It was a great loss. Few in the extended Afropop community have given so much. (John Storm Roberts` notes for the excellent CD Nandolo/ With Love provided the most important source for this biography. The CD is reviewed in Bebey`s discography on this site.)

Born in 1929 in Douala, Cameroon. Bebey`s father was a protestant minister who raised his son to the music of Bach and Handel. After starting out as a reporter for the Sorfom (the French public radio which would later become RFI), he spent fifteen years working for UNESCO, developing their Department of Music and laying the groundwork for the huge success that African music now enjoys in the West. His passion for music would lead him to take to the stage. In May 1968 he staged a groundbreaking concert full of Pygmy and Bantu singing and music from the West African griot tradition in Paris. During the seventies, he became a singer-songwriter renowned for his satirical compositions. Africa featured heavily in his compositions, in songs such as "Agatha", "Divorce pygméée" (Pygmy divorce) and ""La condition masculine"" (A man``s lot). Before his death (28 May 2001) he`s opted for the delicate notes of the thumb piano (""sanza"") to accompany him both live and on recordings. A born story-teller and man of many talents, Francis Bebey wais also a remarkable novelist and poet with no less than a dozen or so publications to his name. It is clear that this remarkable man did an important work to introduce in Occident the real seeds of african culture.

Francis BEBEY : Artiste, Cinéaste, Ecrivain.


Le fils d´Agatha Moudio (roman)
Editions Clé, Yaoundé, 1967.
Grand prix littéraire de l´Afrique noire 1968.
10ème édition en 1985.
Traductions :
• 1971 Anglais (Heinemann, London)
• 1971 Polonais (Czytelnik, Warsaw)
• 1973 Americain (Indpdt Publishers Group)
• 1974 Russe
• 1987 Allemand (P. Hammer Verlag, Wuppertal)

Embarras et Cie (nouvelles)
Editions Clé, Yaoundé, 1968.
2ème édition en 1970
Le petit fumeur (fiction jeunesse)
Editions Rencontres, Lausanne, 1969.
Avril tout au long (poésie)
Editions Rencontres, Lausanne 1969.

Trois petits cireurs (fiction jeunesse)
Editions Clé, Yaoundé, 1972.

La poupée Ashanti (roman)
Editions Clé, Yaoundé, 1973.
Traductions :
• 1977 Américain (Lawrence Hill & Co, Wesport, CT) The Ashanti Doll
• 1980 Russe

Le roi Albert d´Effidi (roman)
Editions Clé, Yaoundé, 1976
Traductions :
• 1982 Américain (Lawrence Hill & Co, Westport, CT) King Albert
• 1980 Allemand (Peter Hammer Verlag, Wuppertal)

Concert pour un vieux masque (poésie)
L´Harmattan, Paris, 1980.
Traduction :
• 1980 Allemand

La nouvelle saison des fruits (poésie)
Nouvelles éditions Africaines, Dakar, 1980.

Contes de style moderne (conte)
Balafon, Air Afrique, 1985.

La lune dans un seau tout rouge (nouvelles et contes)
Hatier, Paris, 1989.

Le ministre et le griot (roman)
Sépia, Paris, 1992.

L´enfant-pluie (roman)
Sépia, Paris, 1994
Prix Saint-Exupéry.

Congrès de griots à KanKan (théâtre)
Inédit 1994.
Joué à Lausanne (Suisse) en 1995.


La radiodiffusion en Afrique Noire (essai)
Saint Paul, Paris, 1963.

Musique de l´Afrique (Essai)
Horizons de France, Paris, 1969.
Traduction :
1975 Américain, African music : a people´s art, (Lawrence Hill & Co. CT 1975)
Rééditions régulières.


"Accra", reportage sur la ville d´Accra au Ghana,
Inédit 1959

Les negro Spirituals (reportage)
Gallimard - Preuves-Informations, Reportages internationaux, Paris 1965.
Présentation du livre de Marguerite Yourcenar "Fleuve profond sombre rivière"

Training for Radio and Television in Africa (étude)
Sur la formation du personnel de la radio et de la télévision en Afrique. En collaboration avec Alex T. Quarmyne (Ghana) Expert de l´UNESCO.(1968)

La musique africaine moderne (article )
Revue Présence Africaine, Paris, 1967.
Communication présentée au Colloque sur l´Art Nègre à Dakar (1966).
L´emploi des moyens d´information pour le développement rural en Afrique.
Rapport d´un colloque organisé par l´UNESCO à Dakar et Kaolak en 1970.
Publié en 1971.

Vivante et ancestrale musique de l´Afrique (article )
Le Courrier de l´UNESCO Paris, 1972.

Afrique noire : musique ancestrale pour un monde à venir (article)
La Baconnière, Paris, 1974.
Cultures vol.I n°3. Presses de l´UNESCO.

Lagos 1977 : Deuxième festival mondial des arts et de la culture négro-africains (reportage)
Jeune Afrique hebdo n° 847, supplément spécial 1977.

Le cinéma en Afrique. Décoloniser l´image. (article )
Le Courrier de l´UNESCO, Paris, 1977.

La tradition musicale africaine face aux influences étrangères (article)
La Baconnière, Paris 1979.
Cultures vol.VI n°2. Presses de l´UNESCO.

De l´emploi des langues européennes dans les littératures africaines modernes (communication)
Foire du Livre de Francfort, 1980.

Instruments de la musique africaine traditionnelle (article)
Filipacchi, Paris, 1982.
Guitare Magazine n° hors série.

Art et musique en Afrique noire (conférence)
Université de Francfort. Historique de la "découverte" de l´art africain par l´occident. 1983.

De 1970 à 1980 : collaboration régulière à l´hebdomadaire Jeune Afrique, Paris.

De 1978 à 1988 : collaboration régulière pour la revue Balafon d´Air Afrique, Paris.


Le 7ème art ne l´a pas laissé de marbre. A plusieurs titres, il s´est intéressé aux images : soit en tant que réalisateur, soit comme compositeur de musiques de films.

Film et documentaire réalisés

Sonate en bien majeur
Fiction - court métrage (41 mn) - 1974, 16 mm (Français).
"Traitée avec légèreté, une fable morale teintée d´ironie, qui n´en peint que mieux la condition et la solitude d´un travailleur africain à Paris. Malgré son désarroi, le héros, un balayeur des rues, résistera à la tentation de s´approprier une forte somme d´argent." (Adpf-Cinémathèque)

Musique africaine
Documentaire - Super 8 sonore.
Documentaire sur divers aspect de la musique traditionnelle en Afrique noire.

Une nouvelle de Francis Bebey a été adaptée par un réalisateur camerounais.
Boubou cravate de Daniel Kamwa (Cameroun)
Fiction - court métrage (29 mn) - 1972, 16 mm (Français).
" Un jeune diplomate africain est en butte aux sarcasmes de son boy qui voit en lui un de ces Européens à peau noire dénué d´authenticité et égaré entre deux cultures. Le boy présidera en personne à une réafricanisation de son maître. " (Adpf - Cinémathèque).

Musiques de films

Yam Daabo
d´Idrissa Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso)
Fiction - long métrage (78 mn) - 1987 , 16 mm (More, sous-titre : Français)
Musique : Francis Bebey
"Conséquences de la sécheresse, pauvreté et misère s´abattent sur un village mossi, quelque part aux confins du Sahel. Pour les populations, un choix s´impose : l´attente de l´aide internationale ou le départ vers des zones plus riches à l´intérieur du pays. Sala et les siens optent pour la deuxième solution au prix de mille sacrifices. Une nouvelle vie peut alors commencer pour eux. Ils redécouvrent l´amour, la joie, la haine, la violence, des sentiments que la faim et la soif leur avaient fait oublier." (Adpf - Cinémathèque)

de Idrissa Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso)
Fiction - long métrage (89 mn) - 1988, 16 mm (More, sous-titre : Français)
"Yaaba, en moré, signifie grand-mère. C´est le nom que donne Bila, jeune garçon qui vit dans un village du Burkina Faso avec son amie Napoko, à Sana, une vieille femme abandonnée et rejetée par tout le village. Une profonde amitié va se développer entre Yaaba et les deux enfants." (Adpf - Cinémathèque)
Musique : Francis Bebey
Prix de la meilleure musique : Francis Bebey pour Yaaba (Burkina Faso) - 11ème FESPACO (1989).

Sango Malo
de Bassek Ba Kobhio (Cameroun)
Fiction - long métrage (93 min) - 1991, 35 mm.
Musique : Francis Bebey


Born in 1929 in Douala, Cameroon. Bebey`s father was a protestant minister who raised his son to the music of Bach and Handel. After starting out as a

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