Jazz and Palm Wine

Jazz and Palm Wine

Jazz and Palm Wine

Jazz and Palm Wine

Synopsis

Jazz, aliens, and witchcraft collide in this collection of short stories by renowned author Emmanuel Dongala. The influence of Kongo culture is tangible throughout, as customary beliefs clash with party conceptions of scientific and rational thought. In the first half of Jazz and Palm Wine, the characters emerge victorious from decades of colonial exploitation in the Congo only to confront the burdensome bureaucracy, oppressive legal systems, and corrupt governments of the post-colonial era. The ruling political party attempts to impose order and scientific thinking while the people struggles to deal with drought, infertility, and impossible regulations and policies; both sides mix witchcraft, diplomacy, and violence in their efforts to survive. The second half of the book is set in the United States during the turbulent civil rights struggles of the 1960s. In the title story, African and American leaders come together to save the world from extraterrestrials by serving vast quantities of palm wine and playing American jazz. The stories in Jazz and Palm Wine prompt conversations about identity, race, and co-existence, providing contextualization and a historical dimension that is often sorely lacking. Through these collisions and clashes, Dongala suggests a pathway to racial harmony, peaceful co-existence, and individual liberty through artistic creation.

Excerpt

Emmanuel Dongala was born in 1941 in the Congo (Brazzaville), a former French colony that achieved independence in 1960. That historic moment coincided with Dongala’s decision to study in the United States as one of the first African recipients of a Ford Foundation scholarship. This decision, which would ultimately shape both his professional and his literary trajectories, was very unusual at the time given that the vast majority of francophone sub-Saharan high-school graduates able to pursue advanced studies abroad would traditionally travel to France. Dongala spent time in New York perfecting English, and then studied at Oberlin College and Rutgers University, returning to the Congo in the late 1960s. Shortly thereafter he left once again to complete his doctoral training as a chemist in Strasbourg, France, only permanently settling back in the Congo as a professor at the University Marien Ngouabi in Brazzaville in the 1970s.

The Congo’s political history has proved to be a turbulent one, and the country has been witness to multiple coups d’états and coup attempts following independence on August 16, 1960. Fulbert Youlou served as the first president and was followed shortly thereafter by Alphonse Massamba-Debat (1963–68), who implemented a scientific socialist line. He was replaced by Marien Ngouabi in 1968, who proclaimed a People’s Republic only to be assassinated in 1977. Joachim . . .

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