June 28, 2009

Soap and margarine

When it comes to adverts in African music I often detect an "ahhh" factor with western audiences, combined with something I would describe as melting, - but predominantly of brain cells.
Within the boundaries of Congolese music there are of course famous examples like Franco's "AZDA" (often cited as a favourite), Dewayon's "Fiat Na Zaïre", Vicky's "Cigarette (Filtrée) Leopard", Rochereau's "Savon Omo" or Franco's "Savon Reward chez Marsavco".

Staying with the latter: I stumbled on this page with an interesting discussion (in french, I am afraid) about the lyrics of this song. Apparently soap manufacturers in Congo attribute the same miraculous characteristics to their product as they do in the west, and probably all over the world. In this case the manufacturer of Reward soap promises that using the soap will give you the soft skin of when you were young.
From my personal experiences as a longtime soap user, I can tell you this is all a lie. The best way to get a baby's skin is to avoid any contact with sunlight and drink yourself into a drunken stupor until your skin becomes soft and puffy.

And this brings us to the heart of the matter: who is this manufacturer? The Marsavco website:
"The Company of the Margarines, Savonnerie and Cosmetics, MARSAVCO in initials, is an industrial and commercial company. It was part of Unilever group and was born from the merger of 'Margarinerie Rotterdam' in Holland and 'Brother'* in London. It was at that time a public limited company form SARL. That company created in colonial times, in January 1922 under the name SAVCO, 'Savonnerie Congolaise' had as an aim for the manufacturing of soap from palm oil and palm kernel. Following the installation of new equipment for the manufacturing of margarine, it changes its name and became the Marsavco 'Margarinerie Savonnerie the Congo' in 1929." (* I assume they meant to write "Lever Brothers")
"In 1999, having to deal with an unfavorable economic situation, coupled with a unhealthy macroeconomic environment, where the operator did not find any more his account, The Unilever Group decided to stop all its production in 2000. (....) In February 2002, The RAWJI GROUP bought all the shares in the Marsavco and became the sole owner. " Background info on multinational Unilever can be found here. And the history of the Rawji Group can be found here.

So, all things considered, this post is about a part of UK/Dutch colonial history. With this in mind, the two singles by Bobongo Stars somehow sound less happy, less 'innocent'...

The first of these two singles is in praise of "Monganga", a soap with health claims ("parfum de la santé"; and this video commercial) that would certainly get the manufacturer into trouble in the Netherlands. Apparently the melody of this commercial was used for a longer period judging by this video. Compared to later videos - and especially this one - the tone of the Bobongo Stars version is rather understated. And Bobongo Stars weren't the last to be contracted by Marsavco to do a musical commercial for the soap, as you can see in this video, which is erroneously (?) titled "Blueband Judo".

Bobongo BBG 03

And that brings me to the second product recommended by Bobongo Stars. Blue Band margarine is one of the products responsible for the enormous expansion of the Unilever company. As a brand it has also over the years made claims with regard to health, family and prosperity & 'good living'. A few years ago Unilever even seemed to suggest that 'new' Blue Band could make children more intelligent.
In Congo too, Marsavco seems to have opted for the same strategy of suggesting that children will be healthier when they eat the butter surrogate. All the usual ingredients of a Blue Band commercial are also present in the Bobongo Stars song: family (a child asking his father), health (vitamines) and prosperity (the neatly dressed children with shoes and even socks on the sleeve).
This song too seems to have survived for quite a while, going by this commercial.

Bobongo BBG 04

PS: Of the Bobongo Stars I know next to nothing. I have heard Ray Lema at one point played with them, and members of this orchestra played with various others (e.g. the drummer on B.S. played on Franco & Mangwana's "Cooperation" album).


aduna said...

1/Thanks a lot.
2/If you like Bobongo Stars, you have to listen this one :


Link is dead, but let me know if you want it.


WrldServ said...

I saw the comb&razor post, but as you say, the link has gone dead. So if you have it, please.

aduna said...

Here is a new link:



WrldServ said...

Thanks a lot, Aduna!

aduna said...

1/ it's nothing
2/ & with pleasure

you give us so much...

do you like it?

Timothy said...


The Margarine commercial reminds me of an old Rumba classic titled "Margarine Fina" which goes:

"Ya solo, ya solo, Margarina Fina
Ya solo ya solo, elengi na monoko
Epesaka nini? Makasi na nzoto
Viva, Viva Margarina Fina."

Blue Band Margarine used to be so tasty before 1987 but when I went for further studies in the UK, I came back to East Africa only to find that the taste had been changed. East African Industries used to manufacture the product but now UNILEVER are firmly in control today.

I reckon product placement was all the rage in Congolese music. Tabu Ley Rochereau did his bit with "Savon Omo" inter alia and of course the Grand Maître led the show with "Arzoni", "Fabrice", "5 Ans Ya Fabrice", "Agent Travel" etc.

Thanks for bringing back old memories.

Anonymous said...

All laundry soaps were referred to as OMO, All butter/margarine were Blue Band, even when I came to the states, I would be referring to them as such.

The only thing I don't hear of is Imperial leather bathing soap, my dad swore by it. Its the only brand he would buy, I don't think it gave us soft skin though!!!! LOL

Kamagra Gel said...

I really like African music, so I'm here, with pen in my hands, reading every single entry in your blog! thank you. Great job!