Nov. 12, 2018 (GIN) – At a gathering of world leaders in the French capital of Paris, singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo reprised an hypnotic work of ethereal beauty by a youthful West African singer. With a repertoire of just 17 songs, the diva, Bella Bellow, had won the hearts of presidents, accomplished artists and worldwide fans.
Kidjo’s choice of Blewu (“Patience”) “celebrated Peace and the memory of the fallen African soldiers of World War One in front of the leaders of this World under the Arc de Triomphe.” It was also the long-awaited encore for the “Togolese songbird” – Bella Bellow.
On the crest of international recognition, Bella, born Georgette Nafiatou Adjoavi Bellow, was just 27 when her life was cut short in a car crash Dec. 10, 1973. The driver of the car taking her to the Togo capital, Lome, claimed he fell asleep at the wheel.
Known only to a few today, her memory lives on among the French-speaking Togolese.
After receiving a scholarship from President Houphouet Boigny of the Ivory Coast, she studied music briefly in that country. At 19 she performed at the Festival of Black Arts in Dakar and was compared to the songstress of South Africa, Miriam Makeba.
After touring nearly a dozen African countries, she appeared in a festival in Tunis which led to invitations in Athens and Rio. She wowed the crowds in Bonn, Belgium, Guadeloupe and Guyana where they called her “la blueswoman d’Afrique”.
In Brazil, some 100,000 spectators filled the open-air Maracana Stadium for her Latin American debut.
Many artists offered to propel her career – she briefly partnered with Manu Dibango and recorded with him on several CDs. But Bellow continued to follow her dream. She worked on her own rhythms that combined Togolese folklore with modern beats. Among her signature tracks is Zelie, a ballad in the Kotokoli language of northern Togo about child brides married off to a man they have never seen.
Other successes of her discography included Senyé (My destiny), Blewu (Patience), Nye Dzi (My love), and Denyigba (My homeland). (All can be found on YouTube)
In 1999 the Togolese Postal Service issued a series of stamps with her portrait.
“She’s the African superstar you probably never heard of,” said the BBC’s music expert Ata Ahli Ahelba. “In Togo, she is not forgotten. She’s one of the best singers we ever had.”