Gospel singer Liz McComb's Africa
By Zeenat Hansrod
“African people are hot!” exclaims the American gospel singer Liz McComb at a jazz
club in the Paris suburbs where she has come to perform a show. She’s also performed in various African cities, and remembers them fondly.
McComb. Photo Ernest Collins
“I’ve been to Tunisia, the people are warm, they come to listen to the gospel and in Morocco
[too]… they tear the house down,” she says. “I’m telling you, Africa is tied with love!”
We’re on the first floor of the Cotton Club in Neuilly, a posh suburb of Paris on the
Seine river. I’m just one in a series of journalists who have come to interview her, and I’m waiting my turn while a photographer and a cameraman hovering
over her, attempting to capture her beauty.
The woman has got charisma: a raw sensuality that transpires amply in her formidable voice.
Once we start talking, she tells a story about performing in Saint Louis in Senegal -
a story that years later still bring tears to her eyes. It was her first time in Senegal; her drummer did not come from New York, so she auditioned three
in Saint Louis.
McComb performing at Paris' Saint Sulpice Church.
Photo Marciella Barbieri
The first two were professionals and very good, but they did not move her.
“My instinct didn’t give me anything, and I always go by my instinct. I live by my instinct
like an animal,” she says.
Then came the third.
“I got the chills up my legs,” she recalls. “I felt the energy crawling up my body, and
I told my manager, ‘I want this one’. He said ‘Why? He’s nobody, and everybody said bad things about him’. But I told them I don’t care; it’s my show and
I want that young man! I knew he was the right one ‘cause God told me that.”
So the young man was hired. He invited Liz McComb to his house, “a little hut”, which
didn’t shock the singer.
“I’m a poor girl, I didn’t grow up in a rich home. I have seen already bad in this rich
country we call big America, I’ve been to the places in the ghetto where people have nothing and the place smell bad,” she says.
She vividly remembers the drummer’s ailing, invalid mother and the gift he gave her: “He
gave me a robe, he didn’t have nothing, and he gave me a gift!”
McComb started singing at her Pentecostal church in Cleveland, Ohio. From then to today
in Paris, she’s performed around the world, produced about nine albums, and got famous for her song Chant de la liberté that she composed on the day Nelson
Mandela was freed from jail.
Liz McComb. Photo F. Lintz
That day she was in Switzerland, and she recalls a friend springing into the living room
shouting the news: “Mandela is free!” McComb went straight to the piano and, she says, “the music came like that. God just rained on me, music to play.”
As an African-American, McComb says she recognises her “African-ness” in the energy and
passion that African people have to be together, to eat together and to laugh together.
“We laugh loud, black people’; we are not Europeans,” she says. “We have learnt to behave,
but when you see black people together they, laugh loud! Even in America. It’s still Africa, we are loud. When we have a barbecue, everybody in the neighbourhood
knows and you can come by and have a plate. We still have our African ways.”