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Ma Boukaka

January 03, 1934 - March 21, 2010

Ma Boukaka was born in the bush near the village of Mouyami, in The Republic of Congo in 1934 to mother Balondola Odile, and father Myuku. When he was very small, his mother moved to the city with his younger sister and brother, and he stayed in the village with his uncle Makela MaNganga and family. As a boy, Ma Boukaka learned music from the birds and by tapping out rhythms in the jungle with his friends.

At a young age he left the village to work as a cook in Brazzaville. There he met his first wife Makelola Louise, and together they had daughter Regine. Ma Boukaka then took a job as a pisteur (guide, hunter, and cook) for a French safari company, operating in Northern Congo and Gabon. On safari, Ma Boukaka wowed all the foreigners. He met Alan Baer, a young American who offered to bring him to the USA. Ma Boukaka accepted and came to the Peninsula in 1959 to work as a housekeeper and cook for Baer's mother.

While working for Mrs. Baer in Hillsborough, Ma Boukaka joined a church in San Mateo, where he made some of his first American friends. After working off his ticket, Ma Boukaka left the Baer's and took various jobs. He eventually ended up at Stanford Medical School in the department of Psychiatry. As he worked with research animals, all the students came to him for his expert skill in handling and dissecting the animals. Ma Boukaka remained at Stanford for 38 years until he retired in 1999.

Most important to Ma Boukaka was his family, his culture and his music. When he came to the U.S., he brought his talent and music to people by playing drums in the park, leading drum circles, and building Tanawa chairs. When Malonga Casquelourd came to East Palo Alto in 1976, he, Paul N’Goumba and Ma Boukaka together formed the dance troupe “Fua Dia Congo.” When his daughter Regine came to the U.S. later that year, she became lead dancer and together they helped bring East Palo Alto to the forefront of African culture in the United States. They staged countless shows, bringing the heritage and culture of Congolese village life.

Ma Boukaka was the elder in shows, and in real life as well. He knew his role, and was always about respect, spreading goodwill, and trying to bring people together. He was strong, always steady and humble. He opened his home to many people, helping newly arrived Congolese, cooking wonderful food, and making people feel at ease.

In 1982, Ma Boukaka began teaching weekly drum classes at the Peninsula School in Menlo Park. He also began playing bass guitar and jamming in music sessions with friend and drummer Norman Fontaine and others. He met Tony Pratt, a rock guitarist who liked the Congolese rhythms and songs that Ma Boukaka was creating. Their Congolese rock band Bole Bantu emerged, playing gigs throughout Northern California for more than 20 years and making people dance. On the path of so many new adventures, Ma Boukaka joined the Congolese Dance and Drum Workshop as cook and drum teacher. There he met his wife Nancy Edelson with whom he had two more daughters, Miayuku and Makela.

With his family expanding, Ma Boukaka became an ardent videographer, taping at every event, including shows, trips to Congo, workshops, and family gatherings. He compiled a library of epic proportions. On the trips he made to Congo with his family, he traveled the country, documenting everything with the family's video camera. With this gift of Congolese life caught on tape, Ma Boukaka hoped to preserve the traditions of his people for years to come. With the camera he became an historian, teacher, and ambassador.

After retiring from Stanford, Ma Boukaka began to teach drumming and traditional song at local schools and facilities in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Los Altos. In East Palo Alto, he taught at Creative Montessori Learning Center, College Track, Runnymeade Charter School and Cesar Chavez. This is how he met drumming companion and friend Tommy Agarwal. Ma Boukaka and Tommy would jam on the drums every week, with the occasional breaks for jumping on the trampoline and eating cereal.

Ma Boukaka also began playing music with Point of Order, who he jammed with every Friday night up until his last few weeks of life. Music was his thing. He felt good making it, and enjoyed the people he met while doing it. Ma Boukaka loved the outdoors. He enjoyed his daily walks at the levee with his two dogs Chiquito and Balu, and he spent his free time in the backyard gardening and soaking up the sun. Among the places he liked to visit was Half Moon Bay, where he walked along the ocean cliffs with his wife and dogs. Ma Boukaka built and crated many things around the house, leaving his hand print on bricks he laid, shelves he built, tile he placed, and chairs he created.

Ma Boukaka was a dreamer and a man of great vision. He knew who he was and what he wanted. He was always upbeat, strong, forgiving and loving until the end. He was a musician, singer, drummer, teacher, story teller, craftsman, cook, uncle, and a wonderful father and husband. Ma Boukaka is preceded in death by his mother Balondola Odile, father Myuku, brother Ntounta Andre, and sister Tsiobo Suzanne. He leaves behind wife Nancy Edelson Boukaka, daughters Regine Boukaka Ndounda, Miayuku Boukaka, Makela Boukaka, son-in-law Adolphe Ndounda, grandson Fortuney Ndounda. He also leaves behind his two nephews, Gaston Nganga and wife Laura, and Davin Nganga, his wife Jeanine, son Ordany, and daughters Odilcia and Ma Jeanne, and a large, loving extended family in the Congo. Ma Boukaka will be missed, but through his music, videos, and the memories of his family and the multitude of friends he touched, he lives on.

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