Ray Lema at the Cinémathèque française on 18 February 2008
|Birth name||Raymond Lema A'nsi Nzinga|
30 March 1946 |
Cattier, Belgian Congo
(modern-day Lufu-Toto, DR Congo)
Lema was born in Lufu-Toto, Bas-Congo Province. As a child he wanted to be a priest and in 1957 at the age of 11 entered a seminary of the White Fathers (a Roman Catholic society of apostolic life), where his talent for music was recognized. He began learning the organ and piano, within a European classical canon that included Gregorian chants, Mozart and Chopin; his concert debut was Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. He left the seminary in 1962 and subsequently attended the University of Kinshasa, where he studied chemistry. He became interested in popular music from outside Africa and after learning to play guitar he began his involvement with the Kinshasa music scene. He became a performer in clubs and was a fan of musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.
In the early 1970s Lema went round the country recording as an ethnomusicologist. In 1974 he became music director for two years of the National Ballet of Zaire. Over the years he has played with the bands of Tabu Ley Rochereau, Joseph Kabasele and Franco, and in 1978 his own band, Ya Tupas, won the French Maracas d'Or award.
In 1979 he was invited by the Rockefeller Foundation to the United States, where he recorded his first album, Koteja (1982). He then moved to Europe, settling in 1982 in France. His album Kinshasa-Washington DC-Paris was released in 1983. His album Medecine was recorded in London with Martin Meissonnier. His first recordings in the early 1980s were for Celluloid Records, and by 1989 he had international success signing with the Island Records subsidiary, Mango.
Lema has become a major figure in world music, performing at numerous music festivals, and has also worked as a film composer. He has also been involved with various international collaborations. He appears as a vocalist (and composer on three tracks) on Stewart Copeland's 1985 album, The Rhythmatist. Guests on Lema's 1989 album Nangadeef include Courtney Pine and the Mahotella Queens. In 1992 he spent time in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, writing the opera Un Touareg s’est marié avec une pygmée with Cameroonian Werewere Liking, and also that year worked with German pianist Joachim Kuhn to record Euro African Suites. In 1997, he recorded the album Bulgarian Voices with the choir of the Pirin Folk Ensemble, and composed The Dream of the Gazelle for a Swedish chamber orchestra. In 2000 he worked with Moroccan band Tyour Gnaoua and brought out the CD Saf.
In 2002, Lema appeared on a track titled "No Agreement" on the Red Hot Organization's tribute album to Fela Kuti, Red Hot and Riot alongside Res, Tony Allen, Baaba Maal, Positive Black Soul and Archie Shepp.
He was awarded the "Django d'Or" in October 2003.