Mandinga (aka Bilongo)

Discussion in 'Salsa Music' started by Salsa Bear, Nov 25, 2011.

  1. Salsa Bear

    Salsa Bear Sabor Ambassador

    I decided to make a list of fifty of my favorite Latin songs and research the stories behind them. I'm off to a slow start; it's amazing how hard it is to find information about some of these songs. One could probably write a book about the El Cantante soap opera, and there's no shortage of information about The Girl from Ipanema.

    But I'm amazed that a song as distinctive as Mandinga is so hard to figure out. It was apparently named by a Cuban named Guillermo Rodriguez Fiffe; in fact, I believe he performs it in the movie Buena Vista Social Club (though I haven't seen the movie). I understand there's also a band named BVSC, so I could be confusing the movie with the band.

    The song apparently goes by three different names - Mandinga, Bilongo and La Negra Tomasa.

    I have a live version of Mandinga recorded by the Buena Vista Social Club (5:30), a live version of Bilongo recorded by Bebo Valdés & Javier Colina (5:50) and a jazzy version of Mandinga recorded by a local band, Mambo Cadillac (11:19). They're all very nice.

    However, I haven't found many details about the song's origin or meaning.

    I read somewhere that a Bilongo is a "Spell put by a sorcerer... and also the name of a well-known song, in which Spanish language is mixed with Bantú language (Kiriribú Mandinga, kiriribú Mandiga...)."

    According to Wikipedia, "Senegambian people (Senegal, Gambia), but including many brought from Sudan by the Arab slavers, were known by a catch-all word: Mandinga. The famous musical phrase Kikiribu Mandinga! refers to them."

    But what does the phrase mean? I think I remember reading that it refers to a hopeless situation, or something like that.

    The first verse is easy to translate:

    I'm so in love
    With La Negra Tomasa
    That when she leaves home
    I get so sad

    But what does this verse say?

    Esa Negra linda, camara
    Que me echo bilongo
    Esa Negra linda, camara
    Que me echo bilongo

    An online translator gave me a garbled translation of this verse, too:

    Na mas que me gusta la comida
    Que me cocina
    Na mas que me gusta la cafe
    Que ella me cuela

    Na than I like food
    Me kitchen
    Na than I like the cafe
    I strained it

    This verse is also confusing:

    Esa Negrita Tomaso
    Como menea esa rumba
    Kikiribu Mandinga
    Kikiribu Mandinga

    I suspect it means "When this beautiful woman dances (moves her body), I know it's hopeless (i.e. she'll never love me).

    * * * * *

    Can anyone fill in any of the blanks and help put this song in perspective? Also, do you know when it was written or first recorded?

  2. AndrewT

    AndrewT Changui

    This is one of my favorites as well. A few points:

    The performance of this song in the BVSC movie (which I believe you can watch for free on Hulu) is by Ruben Gonzalez. Scouring Wikipedia brings up a slight mention here:
    ("he" being Rosendo Ruiz (

    From that I'd guess that Fiffe was the aforementioned member of the trio.

    As for the lyrics, I can at least help you out a little bit:

    The "camara" here is just an interjection, kind of like "oh my!". For "Que me echo bilongo" I would translate it as "Who has put a spell on me" or "who's got me under her spell". Essentially he's saying that the reason he's fallen so hard for her is because of her "bilongo" (I've also heard this referenced as a love potion, but I'm not sure which translation is closest).

    The online translators should do a better job with this one if you replace "na" with "nada", but essentially he's saying he doesn't want to eat anything except what she cooks, or drink any coffee except what she brews.

    I wish I could help more with the backstory or what "kikiribu mandinga" means. I'm curious myself to see what other members can contribute!

    For what it's worth, I've seen the it translated as "Kikiribu the Devil" or as a phrase meaning "good riddance", though I'm not sure if the translators had any credentials dealing with afro-cuban slang.
    Cami-swago likes this.

    EMOYENO Pattern Police

    Camara... is just like saying comrad!! hecho Bilongo (yes it has an H, since it comes from the verb Hacer).... she put a spell on me is about right. It's just the excuse he's come up with, because he fell for her.

    This has a very sexual connotation in spanish. She "cooks" good, that means she does everything good too. ( Like a way to a man's heart is thru the kitchen).

    AS for Mandinga, the word Mandinga refers to an african tribe. Most of the slaves arrived to Cuba & Puerto Rico are from the Mandinga tribe. It's all I can say that I know of. To me, unless someone else can explain it better, it the chanting of the tribes. The tribe is Mandinga.
  4. sweavo

    sweavo Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    Great thread, and great project!

    I love this song and it's wonderful to have you guys shine a light into the corners of its meaning.
  5. DJ Yuca

    DJ Yuca El Sabroso de Conguero

    I read somewhere it is/was Cuban slang that is used by a man when he gets rid of/loses a woman. Can't remember the source I'm afraid.
  6. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    I've never heard that but then I've never asked. Going to a Cuban congreso tonight so I'll ask around. since mandinga would be the female of mandingo it's definitely not saying "get out while you can guy from the mandingo tribe" but maybe it's saying dump that mandinga"

    Anyway if I learn anything I'll be back
  7. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    Right he's whipped and thus thinks she cast a spell on him.

    As for the hecho I always thought of it as echar as if he was singing "me tiró bilongo en la comida".

    Of course either way it's the same overall meaning
  8. Mr.Afinque

    Mr.Afinque Sonero

    Great thread , and great song to start off with.

    I'm always curious of what certain African phrases mean in Salsa music.
  9. nowhiteshoes

    nowhiteshoes Pattern Police

    The version by Bush Nuevo Sonido is great!

    EMOYENO Pattern Police

    the correct writen form is Hechar comes from the verb Hacer.
  11. tocatimba

    tocatimba Shine Officer

    It would have to be then:

    Que me ha hecho bilongo (usando el verbo hacer)


    Que me echó bilongo (usando el verbo echar)

    Either way, it's not written correctly in the original posted lyrics (accent marks are important).
  12. Abayarde

    Abayarde Capitán Del Estilo

    the verbs Echar ( and Hacer ( in spanish don't mean the same thing. One thing is say "Voy a hacer una llamada telefónica" (I'm gonna make a phone call) that saying "Voy a echarle sal a la sopa" (I'm gonna add salt to the soup).

    I think the word echó from the verb Echar is the one that fits the composer intentions in "que me echó Bilongo". in the way is mentioned here, it sounds like Bilongo as a divinity has chosen that girl for him.
    Cami-swago likes this.
  13. Salsa Bear

    Salsa Bear Sabor Ambassador

    Wow, thanks for all the tips. It sounds like Mandinga and Bilongo have multiple meanings and connotations and may be used in a variety of expressions. I have seen references to the devil online.

    I'm amazed that so many of these songs are so poorly documented (online, at least). You'd think songwriters would want to tell the world about their creations and explain the meaning of the words.

    On the other hand, tracking down the stories behind songs can be a lot of fun. One song that blew me away was Maria Lionza, which seems psychically connected to Mandinga.

    In fact, I might link to this thread as an example of la musica research, if no one has any objections.
    Cami-swago likes this.
  14. sweavo

    sweavo Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    References to the devil are likely to be due to the fact that christian culture treated all deities from other religions as the devil, since Christianity has the "one true god". In my view, this is likely why we have terms like "the devil's music" and "devil drums" etc. African drums are often dedicated to anthropomorphic archetypes (e.g. orishas) for which a common translation is "gods". Then if you go to a catholic in 18c and say "oh this rhythm praises god X" then he will conclude that it is the devil's work.

    As to the kikiribu mandinga, I don't know the term but as a man I have certainly been under a spell and wished I wasn't. I think the songwriter is pre-empting Kylie's hit by several decades

    I just can't get you outta my
    Boy your love is all I think about

    For now, I'm gonna believe that kikiribu, mandinga! Means not much more than "get out of my head, girl!"

    Since by all account Cuba is a place steeped in spirits, I don't find it particularly significant that an exorcism is used as a metaphor, and giving someone a pet name based on their race or religion is quite common in the salsa tradition: Negra, Mandinga and Mulatta for example.
  15. tocatimba

    tocatimba Shine Officer

    The acceptance of Santería (especially by white people) in Cuba is a relatively recent thing. You don't have to go back to the 18c. All of the older members of my family (born in the 1930-1940's) would describe anything related to the santos as "brujería".

    My impression is that Santería only became more or less acceptable after the triumph of the Revolution.
  16. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    I know both of the verbs. I was thinking more it was like Abayarde was saying like echar sal en al comida, that bilongo was some sort of love potion or magic brew that she was putting in his food. I'm pretty sure that's what I was told the song was about when I first startd dancing salsa.

    But I asked a Cuban musician last night what exactly Bilongo means and he said "brujería o daño" in which case it is obviously me hechó bilongo, as you have been saying.:notworthy:

    He doesn't know what kikiribú mandinga means so I'm trying to see if Calixto Oviedo knows since he's from an older generation of musicians.
  17. tocatimba

    tocatimba Shine Officer

    Ummmmm no. :)

    I'm sorry but: me hechó .... isn't Spanish.

    Abayarde is quite correct .... the verb is ECHAR. The 3rd person singular preterite form is "echó". Of course the third person preterite form of hacer is "hizo".

    It is very common in Cuba to hear something like:

    Me echó una brujería. Echar is a common multiple use verb.
  18. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    Ah preterite (I never studied spanish)...well I know you say me hizo algo but anyway, then I was right from the beginning because I thought it was echar. So had I only taken a Spanish grammar class I could have simply used the grammar argument :)
  19. Veronica

    Veronica Changui


    (This verse is also confusing:
    I suspect it means "When this beautiful woman dances (moves her body), I know it's hopeless (i.e. she'll never love me).

    Can anyone fill in any of the blanks and help put this song in perspective? Also, do you know when it was written or first recorded?]

    * * * * *

    This song is well known and has made appearances in Latin America in the form of bolero, son, cumbia and other Latin music genres as well as salsa. The “La Negra Tomasa” version is also a very traditional Andean song played with South American panpipes The areas were this song is known also reflects the areas where African slaves first settled into the New World. To find out the origins and meanings behind this song you would have to consider the context of the slave uprisings during the Spanish colonial rule in the New World.

    Mandingo along with Carabali, and others was a name given to the African tribes who settled in areas such as Cuba, Haiti and as far South as Peru. A notorious voodoo king and revolutionary spiritual leader during the slave uprising of this time was Mandinga. A more detailed account of the significance of Mandinga is given by Cuban author Alejo Carpentiers’ in his novel “The Kingdom of this World” in which the African tribes seek to establish an independent black Kingdom in the Americas. Many “classic” salsa songs of this type make reference to Latin America's rich cultural heritage, it’s many peoples and their histories. As no other means of communication was available to the plantation workers of the “encomiendas” during colonial times they used songs (call and response) to spread the news and pass on important information within their communities, for example to announce births, deaths of important figures. Songs like Mamaguela can be traced back to early countryside “sons” in this case announcing the death of a popular grandmother and driving force in the community. Through this oral tradition songs of this type were important for the community in maintaining a sense of cultural identity and are important for some Latin Americans now who want to understand their roots.

    But for now as for the meaning of:

    “EsaNegrita Tomaso
    Como menea esa rumba
    Kikiribu Mandinga
    Kikiribu Mandinga”

    Simple it’s just referring to the fact that the way she is dancing the rumba is casting a spell and is so bewitching and mesmerising that it’s summoning the powers of Mandinga.

    (Menea refers to swaying hips/waist)

    I just love historical salsas like this Anacaona, Mamaguela, Soy Negro Carabali, Bilongo and many more. If anyone knows anymore by the way I would love to hear them.

    Cami-swago and Richie Blondet like this.
  20. chrisk

    chrisk Super Moderator Staff Member

    First, welcome to SF, Veronica!

    Thank you for adding this very interesting information to this thread. :)
    Cami-swago likes this.

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