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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Bella Bellow, the Blues Woman of Africa

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Beloved Togolese icon Bella Bellow found extraordinary success as a singer in West Africa and beyond before suffering a fatal car accident at the young age of 27.

Georgette Adjoavi Bellow was born near Togo’s capital Lomé in West Africa in 1945. The songbird’s talents were quickly discovered by her teachers, and she performed in concerts at school by the early 1960s.

“We predicted that Georgette would later become a star,” said Bellow’s teacher and future minister of culture Mathieu Kofi in a 1998 Inter Press Service article.

Soon after finishing school, Bellow began her working relationship with music producer and founder of Africa’s first music label, Gérard Akueson.

At the age of 19, Bellow debuted her melodic ability on an international stage at The First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal.

She found her unique style, a mix of contemporary beats and her country’s folklore, while immersed in the musical landscape of 1960s Paris.

Following the success of her debut album “Rockia,” Bellow embarked on her first tour across Africa.

She made history as the first Togolese singer to perform at the Olympia venue in Paris, and she represented her country in music festivals in Rio de Janeiro and Athens.

Bellow’s life came to an abrupt end when her driver fell asleep at the wheel. The ensuing car crash proved fatal for Bellow.

Despite having less than two dozen recorded songs, the Diva of Togo endured as a music legend. Citizens of Togo continue to honor Bellow each December, the month of her passing in 1973.

Multiple Grammy-Winner Angélique Kidjo ranks Bellow among her seminal inspirations, having first seen the singer perform in a club at age 13.

“For me, seeing her sing and she was so beautiful, so elegant. I’m like ‘this woman is an angel on Earth,’” said Kidjo in an interview with BBC Afrique’s Ata Ahli Ahelba. “I was just mesmerized, and I couldn’t sleep when I came back.”

Kidjo, whose album “Mother Nature” was released in 2021, wrote her first song as a tribute to Bellow.

Bellow’s songs are few but enduring with tracks like “Zelie” and “Bléwu,” the latter of which Kidjo covered on her latest single.

“People like my mother are rare. They come and do what they have to do, and go very quickly like a shooting star,” said Nadia Elsa, Bellow’s daughter, in the BBC Ata Ahli Ahelba interview.

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