By Shari Burnett
WHO : The Mighty Popo
WHERE : The Boot
WHEN : Monday, July 16
It seems somehow fitting that Jacques Murigandes stage name has a different meaning in just about every country he travels to. His music has as many world influences as Popo has translations. And that style appeals to audiences oceans apart.
The Burundi-born and Rwandan-raised Popo immigrated to Canada in 1987. Just content to be away from the troubles of his homeland, neither Popo nor his family could have imagined that he would find his calling in music, a career he had never considered. But it wasnt long before Popo was fully immersed in the Ottawa blues jam scene.
"I was this African playing blues. I actually got really tired of those questions. I guess a lot of people think blues music is just played in North America," laughs Popo.
"Traditional music from Burundi and Rwanda is very close to the blues. Its similar, just a different language. Back home music is also used for therapy too. Its meant to heal and move the body. I dont write music with that purpose in mind, but it can have that effect."
As the self-taught musician grew more confident, he began to integrate that sound and his native French and African languages into his original songs. Popo prefers the term "world blues," a sound infused with reggae, calypso, R&B and funk, driven by an African heartbeat. His first CD, Tamba , was warmly received in Canada and even more so during 1998 performances in Kigali.
"I think music is something that goes into peoples souls. If its good music, you touch people you dont even think you could have touched. When good music is played, as Bob Marley would say, when it hits you feel no pain, regardless of where the music is from."
"Singing in french was natural because I grew up speaking french before english. I was born in Burundi where I did all my schooling in french. When I came to Canada I continued in french. Depending on the rhythm, I hear them going better going with french lyrics or Swahili or English."
The success helped set the stage for his latest project, Dunia Yote , which appropriately translates into the whole world. And Popo has begun to bring his music to the rest of the world, making his premier in France two weeks ago at a roots/blues/African festival.
"France is a place where the type of music I am doing is more largely respected. Its been happening for a long time. The whole of Europe really, because it is close to Africa, so people have been exposed to it for some time."
Continuing to make international contacts and getting back into the studio tops Popos goals for the near future. He says his music will continue to evolve as his daily influences change and as homeland inspires him.
"I havent even touched one eighth of what Id like to do when it comes to African music. There are unlimited resources for which direction I could go. There are so many rhythms that I havent done yet. One of my favourite ways to get rhythms is through African dance. I look at the feet of my nephews or my sister, and listen to them, and work that into my music. Im trying to explore those rhythms and electrify them a bit."
In some places Popo means papaya. In others, a bat. In Germany, a babys bottom. The Chinese offer the most favorable translation. Popo is simply something mighty.