Lema's birth on a train in his home country of Zaire (now DRC)
could perhaps be symbolic of his musical journey in life which
has been full of variety and fusions.
Going back to his boyhood, in 1957 aged
11 years Ray enrolled in a seminary in Kinshasa, to study and
become a priest. He took music lessons and was so talented that
he soon became the organist at mass and one of his teachers
gave him a piano. At that time Ray learnt Western classical
music and for his first concert played Beethoven's 'Moonlight
Ray left the seminary in 1962 but remained in Kinshasa and began
a Chemistry course. He soon heard the American rock and Cuban
salsa that was popular on the urban music scene and he learnt
to play guitar, becoming a fan of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton!
The attraction of playing music was so strong that Ray decided
to pursue that as his full time career. Gradually he became
well known. For a short while he was director of an ensemble
the government asked him to form. In the early 1970s he went
round the country recording as an ethnomusicologist. Then in
1974 he became director of the Ballet National du Zaire consisting
of 100 artists but he left after 2 years because that kind of
work didn't give him enough freedom of expression.
Over the years Ray gained experience by joining in the bands
of Tabu Ley Rochereau, Joseph Kabasele and Franco. His own band,
Ya Tupas, won the French Maracas d'Or award in 1978.
In 1979 Ray received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation
to travel and perform in USA. There he recorded his first album,
Koteja. Two years afterwards he moved to Europe, staying
in Belgium and France. In France he formed the band Carma and
started a record label, Celluloid with his album Kinshasa-Washington
DC-Paris in 1983. It is a great
example of 'world' music with sounds of rumba, funk, reggae
and jazz. Another album, Medecine, followed in 1985,
this time recorded in London with Martin Meissonier.
In the 1980s Ray composed the soundtrack of the film 'Black
Mic Mac' and toured several countries in Europe. Since that
time he has performed at numerous festivals all
most recently at WOMAD
with Manu Dibango in 2003.
International collaborations are really the hallmark of Ray's
career. The title of his album Nangadeef released in
1989 means 'Hello' in Wolof. The guests on that album include
Courtney Pine and the Mahotella Queens. Ray's next CDs were
influenced by a great diversity of sounds. He spent time in
Abidjan in 1992 writing the opera, 'Un Touareg s’est marié
avec une pygmée' along with Cameroonian Wewere Liking.
That year he also worked with German pianist Joachim Kuhn with
whom he recorded Euro African Suites. He worked with
the Bulgarian Professor Kirim Stefanov to record an album, Bulgarian
Voices (1997), with a large international choir. The same
year he composed The Dream of the
for a Chamber Orchestra from Sweden.
Another project was with a Moroccan band called 'Tyour Gnaoua'.
In 2000 they staged a musical show and brought out a CD Safi,
meaning 'We Agree' in Arabic.
The CDs Tout Partout, Green Light (1996) and Stoptime
(1997) are quieter.
is a piano
solo album dedicated to Ray's mother.
been on special missions to Chad, Benin and Burkina Faso to
coach local musicians. His
outlook on music has been to fuse the horizontal type of African
beats with the vertical lines of Western harmonies. He was awarded
the ‘Django d'Or’ in October 2003 for his total
musical career. He has successfully and charmingly crossed musical
frontiers and borders.