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Francis Bebey

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Francis Bebey
Born(1929-07-15)15 July 1929
Douala, French Cameroun
Died28 May 2001(2001-05-28) (aged 71)
Paris, France
GenresMakossa, classical guitar, jazz, pop, electronic
Occupation(s)Artist, musician, poet, writer, radio broadcaster
Instrument(s)Guitar, sanza, flute, percussion
Years active1969–2000

Francis Bebey (French: [bəbɛ], 15 July 1929 in Douala, Cameroon – 28 May 2001 in Paris, France) was a Cameroonian musicologist, writer, composer, and broadcaster.

Early life[edit]

Francis Bebey was born in Douala, Cameroon, on July 15, 1929.[1] Bebey attended college in Douala, where he studied mathematics, before studying broadcasting at the University of Paris. He moved to the United States and continued to study broadcasting at New York University.[2] In 1957, Bebey moved to Ghana at the invitation of Kwame Nkrumah, and took a job as a broadcaster.[3]

Music career[edit]

In the early 1960s, Bebey moved to France and started work in the arts, establishing himself as a musician, sculptor, and writer. He was also the first African musician to use electric keyboards and programmable drum machines which he set alongside off the traditional African instruments.[4] His most popular novel was Agatha Moudio's Son. While working at UNESCO from 1961-74, he was able to become the head of the music department in Paris.[5][2][3] This job allowed him to research and document traditional African music.[6]

Bebey released his first album in 1969 and would go on to release over 20 albums on Ozileka, between 1975 and 1997.[7] His music was primarily guitar-based, but he integrated traditional African instruments and synthesizers as well. Though Bebey's music is now widely praised, it created controversy at the time due to its blending of African and Western traditions.[8] His style merged Cameroonian makossa with classical guitar, jazz, pop, and electronics,[9] and was considered by critics to be groundbreaking, "intellectual, humorous, and profoundly sensual".[3] He sang in Duala, English, and French.[9]

Bebey helped launch the career of Manu Dibango.[10] Bebey released more than twenty albums over his career,[11] and was also known for his poetry, including "Black Tears" (1963), a poem dedicated to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.[2]

Bebey had a major role in popularizing the n'dehou, a one-note bamboo flute created by the Central African pygmies. Bebey conducted field research among pygmy tribes, focusing especially on their musical traditions.

Literary career[edit]

Bebey wrote novels, poetry, plays, tales, short stories, and nonfiction works.[12] He began his literary career as a journalist in the 1950s and at one time worked as a journalist in Ghana and other African countries for the French radio network, Société de radiodiffusion de la France d'outre-mer (SORAFOM).[12]

Bebey's first novel, Le Fils d'Agatha Moudio (Agatha Moudio's Son), was published in 1967 and awarded the Grand prix littéraire d'Afrique noire in 1968; it remains his best-known work.[12] His novel, L'Enfant pluie (The Child of Rain), published in 1994, was awarded the Prize Saint Exupéry.[12]

In addition to exploring childhood and adult experiences in his works, Bebey also wrote tales drawn from the African oral tradition.[12]

Death and legacy[edit]

Bebey died in Paris on 28 May 2001. His survivors include his children Patrick, Toups, and Kidi, and his wife.[13]

John Williams' piece "Hello Francis" is written as a tribute to Bebey: "The piece is based on the Makossa, a popular dance rhythm from Cameroon often used by Francis, and includes a quote from his piece The Magic Box and a hidden bit of J.S. Bach."[14]

Arcade Fire's song, "Everything Now," features a flute part from "The Coffee Cola Song" by Francis Bebey.[15][16] The flute part was played by Patrick Bebey, Francis Bebey's son.[16]


Francis Bebey was awarded the Grand Prix de la Mémoire of the GPLA 2013 for his literary legacy. The Grand Prix de la Mémoire is an award dedicated to major writers of contemporary Cameroonian literature who have died.[17] He was also awarded the Grand Prix Litteraire De L'Afrique Noire in 1968 for his first novel Le Fils d'Agatha Moudio (Agatha Moudio's Son). [18] The Grand Prix Litteraire De L'Afrique Noire is a literary prize for Black Africa. His novel L'Enfant pluie (Rain Child) won the Prix Saint Exupéry in 1994. The Prix Saint Exupéry award is given to writers whose books love young people and the young people love their books.[19]



  • Concert Pour Un Vieux Masque, LP, Philips, 1968
  • Savannah Georgia, LP, Fiesta Records, 1975
  • Guitare D'Une Autre Rime, LP, Ozileka, 1975
  • La Condition Masculine, LP, Ozileka, 1976
  • Fleur Tropicale, LP, Ozileka, 1976
  • Je Vous Aime Zaime Zaime, LP, Ozileka, 1977
  • Ballades Africaines, LP, Ozileka, 1978
  • Priere Aux Masques. LP, Ozileka, 1979
  • Un Petit Ivoirien, LP, Ozileka, 1979
  • Afrikanischer Frühling, LP, Marifon, 1980
  • Haïti - Guitar Music Trio, LP, Ozileka, 1981
  • Bia So Nika, LP, Ozileka, 1981
  • Africa Sanza, Ozileka, 1982
  • New Track, Ozileka, 1982
  • Pygmy Love Song, LP, Editions Makossa, 1982
  • Super Bebey - Vingt Plages Ensoleillées, 2xLP, Ozileka, 1983
  • Sanza Nocturne, Ozileka, 1984
  • Akwaaba: Music For Sanza, Original Music, 1984
  • Le Solo De Bruxelles, LP, Ozileka, 1985
  • Heavy Ghetto, Anti Apartheid Makossa, LP, Ozileka, 1985
  • Si Les Gaulois Avaient Su!, LP, Blue Silver, 1986
  • Baobab, LP, Volume, 1988
  • African Woman, LP, Volume, 1988
  • World Music Guitar, CD, Ozileka, 1992
  • Sourire De Lune, CD, Ozileka, 1996


  • Rire Africain, Ozileka, 1981
  • Nadolo / With Love - Francis Bebey Works: 1963-1994, CD, Original Music, 1995
  • African Electronic Music 1975-1982, LP/CD, Born Bad Records, 2011
  • Psychedelic Sanza 1982-1984, LP/CD, Born Bad Records, 2014
  • La Condition Masculine, CD, Sonodisc


Works by Bebey[edit]


  • La Radiodiffusion en Afrique noire, 1963 (English translation: Broadcasting in Black Africa)
  • Le Fils d'Agatha Moudio, 1967 (English translation: Agatha Moudio's Son)
  • Embarras de Cie: nouvelles et poèmes, 1968
  • Trois petits cireurs, 1972 (English translation: Three Little Shoeshine Boys)
  • La Poupée Ashanti, 1973 (English translation: The Ashanti Doll)
  • Le Roi Albert d'Effidi, 1976 (English translation: King Albert)
  • Musique de l'Afrique, 1969 (English translation: African Music: A People's Art)
  • Le Ministre et le griot, 1992 (English translation: The Minister and the Griot)
  • L'Enfant pluie, 1994 (English translation: Rain Child)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Francis Bebey". The Independent. 31 May 2001. Archived from the original on 11 August 2010. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Southern 1982, p. 31.
  3. ^ a b c DeLancey & DeLancey 2000, p. 48.
  4. ^ May, Chris (2018-10-09). "The electric futurism of Cameroonian trailblazer Francis Bebey". The Vinyl Factory. Retrieved 2022-11-30.
  5. ^ "Bebey, Francis 1929–2001 | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2018-11-18.
  6. ^ "Francis Bebey | Cameroonian writer and composer". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-11-18.
  7. ^ May, Chris (2018-10-09). "The electric futurism of Cameroonian trailblazer Francis Bebey". The Vinyl Factory. Retrieved 2022-11-30.
  8. ^ THURBER, JON (2001-06-25). "Francis Bebey; Influential Composer of Contemporary African Music". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-11-18.
  9. ^ a b Hudgens & Trillo 1999, p. 1182.
  10. ^ Mbaku 2005, p. 198.
  11. ^ West 2004, p. 19.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Gikandi, Simon (2002). Encyclopedia of African Literature. Taylor & Francis. pp. 71–72. ISBN 9780203361269.
  13. ^ THURBER, JON (2001-06-25). "Francis Bebey; Influential Composer of Contemporary African Music". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-11-18.
  14. ^ "Notes". John Williams: The Guitarist's Music Site. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  15. ^ Pontecorvo, Adriane. "Arcade Fire - 'Everything Now' (Singles Going Steady)". PopMatters. Retrieved 30 July 2017.
  16. ^ a b DeVille, Chris. "Arcade Fire Announce New Album Everything Now". Stereogum. Retrieved 30 July 2017.
  17. ^ "Littérature – GPAL 2013: Francis Bebey désigné grand prix de la mémoire". Actualite en Afrique et Cameroun. Archived from the original on 2016-05-08. Retrieved 2018-11-18.
  18. ^ "Francis Bebey | Biography & History | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 2018-11-18.
  19. ^ "Prix Saint-Exupéry". www.prixsaintexupery.fr (in French). Archived from the original on 2018-11-19. Retrieved 2018-11-18.