Menvie-Me-Ndong, mainly known by his Bwiti name, Mbilou, is a Bwiti Nganga (healer/dancer/musician/ceremony leader), from Gabon.
Mbilou plays the Mungongo (the mouth bow with the monostring), the Ngoma-Ngombi (the famous harp that speaks the voice of the ancestors), the Etsika (the Ciessi horse antelope horn used to call spirits) as well as various drums and shakers / bells.
Mbilou plays some Mungongo and sings, Accra 2018
Bwiti is an ancient shamanic tradition, originally practised solely by the forest peoples of the central African rainforest but which is now practised in many different forms by many different tribes of Gabon, Cameroon and Congo, both deep in the heart of the forest, and equally in the cities and villages. Central to this tradition is the use of a psychoactive plant called Iboga – a visionary plant that has been used by humans for thousands of years. This ceremonial music of the Bwiti has been in evolution with the use of this plant since its first use by humans. The music, as with most shamanic traditions, helps ceremony participants on their spiritual journeys. It is original, authentic trance music, played all night long during ceremonies and initiations. Polyrhythmic music is often a signature in Bwiti (it coming originally from the various Pygmee tribes who have mastered these rhythms) and these rhythms are one of the inducing factors that lead to trance states when used in conjunction with the Sacred Wood.
This rich tradition is now under threat due to several factors. Many Gabonese people are being persuaded to turn away from their “primitive” practices and to embrace both western capitalist values and the fundamentalist mainstream religions that are in ascendance there. At the same time, Iboga and the single extracted alkaloid, Ibogaine, are being recognised by more and more people as an extremely effective treatment for opiate and other addictions, and as a psycho-therapeutic tool of the highest order – all of which has led to an exponential and massive rise in demand for this plant globally, which has in turn led to its severe decline in the wild (it is now on the Gabonese endangered species list) and it is becoming unavailable for ritual use to many Gabonese Bwitists.
Within Bwiti, there are some aspects, some songs, some ceremony, some dances, that Mbilou can talk about – their meaning, role etc, but there are also aspects that cannot be spoken about. It must remembered that Bwiti is a secret society and there is a structure to what is revealed to whom and when and there are things that must be kept to initiates only. For performances in the UK, Mbilou proposes to select specific songs and dances for their healing qualities and which are prayers for the lives of those present. It would be a Bwiti benediction or blessing as well as a “concert”.
An evening with Mbilou is an oportunity to experience and witness an endangered ancient culture, to experience something Universal, something that is present in all indigenous cultures – ceremony and reverence for life and for nature.
In 2019, Mbilou joined forces with the Kakatsitsi Master Drummers from Ghana, one of Africa’s leading traditional drumming groups. Between May and October 2019, they conducted a tour of the UK and Ireland visiting schools, festivals and arts centres across the UK and Ireland.
Kakatsitsi & Mbilou perform ‘Ebando Ya Tata’, Accra November 2018
One of the tracks recorded by Mbilou in Accra in 2018 has been remixed by American electro-band Dirtwire.
The track can be downloaded on all the usual outlets, particularly here.
To see pictures of Mbilou’s performing with Kakatsitsi, please visit his Facebook page.