Apologies for the image quality of these three videos. But certainly not for the music. The videos have in common, besides the fact that they all feature great artists from Mali, that they are all too good not to share.
The drive, the passion and the unadulterated fun of the Ambassadeurs, the refined dancing combined with the brilliant vocals by Alou Fané and Flani Sangaré plus the unique talent of Zani Diabaté, the soul-piercing singing by Mah Damba backed by her late husband Mamaye Kouyaté: they are hard to surpass.
The record I would like to share with you in this post has been in my possession for quite a few decades. I can't even remember where and when I bought it. But listening to it again, years later, all of a sudden the penny dropped.
This happens occasionally, and it usually leaves me wondering why the penny was stuck in the first place. Maybe it has to do with maturity and the patience (never one of my key features..) that is said to come with it. Or maybe it has to do with the relative quality of the recording: the bigger the pile of disappointing (or downright crap) new releases, the better the chances for the former 'mediocre' recordings. In this case I suspect it may have to do with never getting beyond the first track, combined with my generic impatience.
A big mistake, I admit it.
For this is a special lp. The artists are probably from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and have - as far as I am aware - never gained any renown outside of their region. The Kwana-Moto Band is led by Alport Astazio, and the latter is also responsible as composer or arranger for the twelve songs on this album. The principal instrument of the group is - as the cover suggests - the marimba. The marimba skills of the group are particularly evident from the tracks "Odoli"(b2) and "Gweru" (b4), if you ask me.
The two final tracks of each side demonstrate that the repertoire of the group is somewhat wider. Both songs are of the kind that take some getting used to. "Intandane (Orphans)", clearly a sad theme, starts off with an acoustic guitar, a flute and a female singer, but when a man has repeated the lines of the woman a mbira joins in and the songs changes in character. Strangely it fades out when one would expect a lot more... The second non-marimba song, "Urombo (Poverty)", is a more typical instrumental mbira tune.
The songs which make this album really special are the songs with lyrics. These lyrics are mainly spoken and not sung, or perhaps I should say they are mumbled. Because they are drowned out by the instruments. In "Kwira Mungoro [Get Into The Cart]" the argument between the woman and the man is still audible, and in "Ranchera" the instruments quieten to allow the singing to be heard, but in "Lobengula" (my favourite song of the album) all that remains are the mutterings of a man about his experiences in the big city.
Please listen to the album a few times, it may grow on you.
In 1988 he was not one to push himself to the forefront. He hadn't been part of the European tours of the years before, so he was 'outside'.
Guitarist Mama Sissoko had moved himself in the limelight during the concerts in Holland, and - according to some - was rivalling for the position of leader of the orchestra, after the retirement of Amadou 'Armstrong' Bah. But sax player (and hunter) Mamadou Diarra better known as 'Blick' had filled that position, a logical choice given the historic focus on the horn section.
I had met with Toussaint Siané a few months before, and had been spotted by Amadou Bah when he was touring in Ségou on his Yamaha motorcycle while I was trying to get some money out of the bank.
Singer Papa Gaoussou Diarra I didn't meet until I saw Super Biton play at the Hotel GTM on November 19, 1988.
Both public and bandmembers addressed him as Papus, at the the time. Later on, after he had made three solo albums (one of these is posted here), he acquired the surname of "Pèkèlè", after one of his hit songs. But to me he will always be linked to the concert at the Hotel GTM.
A few days ago I received news that he has died on January 25, at the age of just 56.
By way of a tribute to Papus I would like to share with you the song that earned him a place in my list of best musical moments ever.
This song was the opening song of the concert at the Hotel GTM in Ségou. Technicians of Malian television were still installing their equipment to record a few songs, which were to be part of a celebratory emission for the (then) president Moussa Traoré. On guitar is, of course, Mama Sissoko, and the vocal in this Malinké classic is by Papa Gaoussou Diarra.
Another new year. Of course I wish all of you a very good 2015, with only good things.
To get this year off to splendid start I would like to share with you this wonderful cassette with sixteen songs from the late 1950s/early 1960s Congo. You may remember those five cassettes of classic South African songs I posted some time ago (here, here and here). This cassette is from the same source, and - judging by the artwork - released by the same people.
This has been a truely eye-opening cassette for me. After hearing it for the first time, some thirty years ago, I knew I want more. That has proven to be quite a bit of a task...
Of the sixteen tracks on the cassette six were recorded for the Loningisa label. The other ten were originally released on the Esengo label. And while to me it was more than obvious that this was music of an exceptional quality, the likes of which will be hard to find on this entire planet, I was disappointed to find that the music of these Congolese labels is extremely hard to find.
And that is true to this day.
Especially the tracks from the extensive Esengo catalogue remain obscure and very hard to find. Luckily some have survived through Pathé re-releases (particularly songs by African Jazz and Rock-a-Mambo), and recently some have popped up on the two (recommended) releases on Planet Ilunga. But the bulk of the releases on this label remains hidden, and is perhaps even lost (aaarghh!!).
Of the ten Esengo tracks three are by De Wayon (or Dewayon) and his Conga Jazz, four are by the Negro Band (from Brazzaville), one is by orchestre Bantou (still without an "s" at the end), and two are by Rochereau with African Rock. African Rock is one of the many combinations of musicians from Rock-a-Mambo and African Jazz. To be honest I find the two Rochereau compositions the least interesting on this cassette, despite the contribution by Jean-Serge Essous. But that may be due to the level of competition.
The one who does stand out is De Wayon, with three absolute scorchers. I love the joy and playfulness of "Josephine", the cheeky staccato in "E Champrau" (and the little cries just kill me) and boyish singing and almost subversive interplay between the guitars in "Merengue Conga Jazz". Lovely naughty music!
Competing on equal terms is the Negro Band. "Bambanda Bayini Negro", composed by guitarist Baguin, with its almost absurd guitars, "Bolingo Rosalie" with the subtly off-key harmonies (by composer Demon Kasanaut and?) which oddly only add to its attraction and the apparent insanity of "Paresse Bobo", another staccato cha-cha-cha. Again contributions from other musicians at Esengo appeared to be more of a rule than an exception, although it is not always clear who is who in these recordings. The fourth Negro Band track ("Los Amor Mary-Clary"), for example, is credited in the Esengo catalogue to Nezy with the Negro Succes. While Vicky Longomba's Negro Succes were recording for Esengo at the time, it seems very unlikely that a singer who spent a large part, if not all his career, with the Negro Band would contribute a composition to another, rivalling orchestra.
Of the six Loningisa tracks four are by the O.K. Jazz, and the other two are credited on the cassette sleeve to the O.K. Jazz. The tracks which áre by the O.K. Jazz are by Vicky ("Nakolela Mama Azonga", a rumba also featured on Sonodisc CD 36502 and African 360.144), by Franco (the iconic bolero "Maladi Ya Bolingo") and by Daniel Lubelo, better known as De la Lune. Especially the two tracks composed by De la Lune are ver special. The first, "Ozali Se Wa Ngai", is a wonderfully languid song which is just made for warm summer evening and romantic dancing. The second, "Ntsay Ya Bala Ba O.K.", a song which clearly borrows from traditional rhythms, was performed by the O.K. Jazz 'till well in the 1980s, as a warm-up song and to remind the public of the long line of classics the orchestra had and has produced.
The two remaining songs are incorrectly credited on the sleeve to "Tuka Floriant w. O.K. Jazz", and so far I have not been able to trace the origin of this mistake. I mean, who would invent a name like "Tuka Floriant"? It is however a name that has not been recognised by any of the (O.K. Jazz and other) musicians I have talked to. What's more, in the Loningisa catalogue the songs are credited to Tchade Mpiana. And to clinch it: the O.K. Jazz had left Loningisa in August 1961 and the two tracks were recorded in January 1962. Tchade was a singer with the Beguen Band, the band who rose to glory with the Ngoma label, but were contracted by Papadimitriou to fill the void left by the O.K. Jazz. My guess is the song "Bisengo Ya Bana Ya Loningisa" is either intended to claim the position of Loningisa's number one band, or to flatter the people at or owners of Loningisa. The Beguen Band have recorded quite a few songs at Loningisa, but these are all in the category "extremely-rare-and-very-hard-to-find". But please prove me wrong!
The two Beguen Band songs are in my humble opinion the whipped cream on the birthday cake, the brandy on the christmas pudding or (the bit of) chilly in the perfect curry dish. Modest in their conception, they shine and have remain firm classics in my household for multiple decades now.
I have never been a great believer. When it comes to belief I have always been on the side of caution. It may have been my catholic upbringing and the deeprooted hypocrisy that comes with this religion that has led to a profound mistrust of firm believers. I would even go as far as to state that I am convinced there should always be room for doubt.
I won't come as a surprise that my attitude towards religion is somewhere between serious suspicion and extreme wariness. And certainly I draw the line at religious groups claiming to be superior or better than others, and firmly oppose any sects, extremists or religious nuts claiming to belong to the "only acceptable religion". I mean, if you are going to be religiously inclined that's fine, but don't bully others into involuntary partaking in your convictions.
In my opinion too much is made of the differences between religions. The fundamental difference between christianity and islam, of example, may be the belief in the human god, but apart from this the similarities far outweigh the differences. The emphasis on differences usually has its roots in culture and politics, or in the interpretation of the principles of the specific belief. The scope of interpretation within one religion is usually greater than the root difference between 'rivalling' religions. Strict interpretations and a strict imposing of one interpretation have over the centuries only resulted in greater variety. New varieties have had to accentuate their differences in order to survive, thus creating rivalry, hardline interpretation, oppression and finally new religions...
And I don't mean I am immune to the reasons that lay at the basis for belief and religion: fear of the unknown, lack of control of one's destiny and fate, uncertainty, insecurity and the sense of insignificance within the enormity of all.
A country that has been at the forefront of the rivalry between religions for quite a while now is Nigeria. As far as I know (and I realise I am very much limited by the minimal coverage of Nigerian affairs in western media!) this has only led to a violent struggle in the last few years. In music we have come to know both strong believers of the Christian faith, like juju-stars King Sunny Ade and (the reformed) Chief Ebenezer Obey, and devout Muslims, such as that hero of apala musicAlhadji Haruna Ishola.
In this post I would like to share with you exponents of both Christianity and Islam. And in both cases with an explicit focus on their respective religion. Islam is represented by an album by the Muslim Carol Singers, led by brother Latifu Fagbayi Oloto. I bought this record in the mid-1980s at Stern's, and I gather they were glad to get rid of it, as there was an overcrowding of similar albums in their shelves. It has been an album that has raised eyebrows, evoked some curiosity, but one that has not been copied a lot.
The music is in a style that at times borrows from fuji and at times from apala. While I like the choruses, I am not too impressed by brother Latifu's contribution. The best track, if you ask me, is the title track (B1). In apala style, but not in the same league as the great Alhadji Haruna Ishola. The music never gets off the ground, never really flows.
Representing Christian faith is a group with some mystery attached to it. The CD is credited to the Brotherhood Youth Fellowship Choir, but the publisher leaves some doubt if this is indeed the gospel choir which can be heard in these 21 songs. The songs are copied from cassettes bought in 2000, but probably recorded in the 1970s.
This is a capella music in the strictest sense of the word, so no instruments and as in a church (i.e. "a capella"). The titles are largely unknown or have been added by the publisher.
I can only agree with the producers of this CD that this is music worth preserving. The chorusses are simply wonderful, if not heavenly. I just love the harmonies in these songs and the great variation in combining the very individual voices. There is a lot to be discovered, even after repeated listening. While the joy of these great singers oozes out of music, this is a compilation that rises above the religious content or the religiousness of its lyrics.
"Music from heaven"? If there is such a place I wouldn't mind hearing this music there!
The other day I was reading about the potential threat of robots. Apparently even respected scientists like Stephen Hawking are warning against the rise of the machine. Here in the Netherlands there seem to be opposing points of view, albeit by the same persons. Our present Dutch government, for example, sees technology as the main driving force behind the economy, while at the same warning against loss of jobs as a result of increased automation and computerisation. In the meantime millions (and more) are lost on computerisation projects failing.
I can imaging how this would lead to economic gain, in the same way that bombs and ammunition are a economically very profitable venture, - from the purely capitalistic point of view of the manufacturer at least (boom!! - and it's gone).
In my experience automation projects have a strong tendency to fail for one reason: the human factor. On the one hand suppliers of the automated solution are inclined to impose their wonderful 'technical advancements' on the future users, while on the other hand users are simply unable to visualise the end-result. Unfortunately this often leaves the suppliers to do whatever they want or see as "the best solution for the customer". The idea that the final product requires an intricate knowledge of technology does not occur to the supplier, while the user doesn't want to be caught out as a digital dunce. The balance between supplier and user is disturbed even further by present-day managers, for whom staff is mostly seen as a negative influence on profits and automation as the best way to correct this.
In music we have seen a similar move towards automation. The extreme exponents of this musical rise of the machine are the Tiësto's, Armin van Buurens and Afrojacks* of today. Skilled artists have been replaced by a single person mixing their music using machines.
The rise of the machine in music started way before the rise of computers. The relative innocent Solovox organ, introduced into African music in the mid-1950s, at least added a new sound. The same can be said for the organs used in the 1970s and 1980s. Generally they were used as an adornment and not as a replacement for other instruments and their players. That is: not until this was demanded by western producers.
Several musicians I talked to in the 1980s told me that there was always a limit to the number of persons they could take on a tour. So at a time when many musicians travelled outside Africa for the first time and became known to a western public, they often performed with reduced formations. This became more of an issue in the second half of the 1980s. Groups were more than often 'completed' by local artists or musicians; at first by countrymen of the imported performers, but later on by (at best) native professionals or (even) native amateurs.
This trend coincided with cuts on another level: the often impressive horn sections were replaced completely - you guessed - by machines.
One may argue that we were lucky to see artists in the first place. But let me refute this with this question: how would you feel if the horn section in a concerto by Mozart was replaced by a synthesizer?
Personally I have objected to the replacement of those lucious horn sections by the constipated sound of synthesizers since the late-1970s. And we were lucky to see the O.K. Jazz when they were still "Tout Puissant", to see Fela's Egypt '80 blowing us straight to heaven and back, to hear the suave harmonies of the horns of Super Biton, Les Ambassadeurs, Bembeya Jazz and all those orchestras that would be and are left amputated without the horns.
And the worst is: there is plenty of evidence that it must have been even better before! Listen to those marvels by the likes of E.T. Mensah, the Black Beats, Victor Olaiya, Balladins, Tambourinis... Listen to the uncontroled lunacy (but one that never stops bringing a huge grin to my face) of that trumpet player with Mbaraka Mwinshehe, to those blaring horns of Etoile de Dakar, to immortals like Dexter Johnson...
And I could go on.
I don't even want to start about the horn sections in other parts of the world. The two minutes of the horn section in this video just bring tears to my eyes.....
I am sure you are wondering where this is leading to. Perhaps you expect me to post the best horn sections in African music ever, much in the vein of the top 100 (or top 10, 2000 or any other number) lists that are prevalent at this time of the year**. If so, you are going to be disappointed.
For it is actually the machine I would like to focus on. The single man and his machine.
The decline of the one can precipitate the rise of the other. For as the large orchestras became too complicated to bring over, too expensive to maintain on tour, and subsequently - when horns were replaced by synths - too unlike their former selves, the appeal of the lone artist grew. Initially more for the tour organisers, who saw the single musician as less of a financial risk. And gradually also for the public, often with the aid of clever marketing. When the artist was actually supported by or part of a band or group, like for example Oumou Sangaré, Salif Keita, (perhaps to a lesser extent) Zani Diabaté or you name it, the name presented to the public would still be that of the artist, making the musicians supporting the artist interchangeable (and therefore less of an economic liability). This setup, although certainly beneficial for the 'stars' involved, at times led to frustration with the more conscientious artists. I remember Ali Farka Touré (an artist with a strong feeling of cultural inheritance) expressing his annoyance about not being able to bring a larger ensemble on tour. Having seen larger (and even large) ensembles in Mali I understand his frustration.
One group of musicians also benefited from this individualisation: the ones that already - and traditionally - were able to perform alone. For there was already a group of 'men with their machine'. Kora players like the great Batourou Sekou Kouyaté already were self-employed entrepreneurs, while at the same time being involved in large, medium-sized or petits ensembles. This flexibility came from their machine: the kora.
To accentuate the machine-like quality of the instrument I am not sharing a recording of the aforementioned Batourou Sekou, but one by the man who more than any other kora player managed to bring out the metal sound in the kora (and in his singing too, as you can hear in the album I posted before): Lalo Keba Dramé.
This album, released on the N'Dardisc label, has Dramé's versions of some of the Mandinka classics covered by many of his colleagues. Typically his versions are less laid-back, more energetic, if not at times even frantic. I haven't heard any recordings of Lalo Keba Dramé accompanying a female griot, and given the imposing style of his kora playing I can understand why.
This is a very individual album, in a very individual style.
As a special festive bonus I am adding this great video by Malian kora legend Sidiki Diabaté and his son Toumani. The son has become more famous than his father, particularly outside of Mali, but if you ask me not for the right reasons. Personally I am not a great fan of the cross-over, and least of all of kora players 'battling it out' with fading western instrumentalists in an attempt to enter into 'arty', commercially lucrative new-age circles. I do like his more modest, less pretentious work, both as a solo performer and with ensembles. But his father is of a different league and of a very different era in Malian music. An era in which the competition was fierce, and in which the influence of tradition was predominant.
As far as I can gather Sidiki is explaining - to host and presenter Zoumana Yoro Traoré and to the Malian public - the origin of his machine. A truely historic document.
Unfortunately I don't have the whole video, and it breaks off after 17'30.
* and the fact that I only know these Dutch dj's is only because they are presented in shows on Dutch TV as Dutch celebrities.
** I have no intention at all of ever contributing to this sort of madness. And not just because it is almost impossible to compare artists, performances and recordings, but also because my preferences vary immensely with my mood, with my environment, the time of day, the weather, the season, - and I could go on...
I am hoping to share more memorable music with you before the end of this year. A year which has gone by too fast, and with too little focus on the good things in life. There is so much to catch up...
You may remember that lovely cassette by Malian singer Molobaly Traoré which I posted some five years ago. If you've missed it, please do yourself a favour and go back and listen to it. Listening to it again the other day I was immediately taken back to the dusty streets of Mali and particularly those of the Ségou region. Real music can do that.
That cassette is from the early days of Molobaly's career. A career that ended far too early, with her death in 2009.
The cassette I would like to share with you in this post is from a few years later. It is clear that some of the innocence which marked her earlier cassette - and which certainly added to its charm - has gone. But other elements have remained: the slight tendency towards sullenness, the faint air of gloom, the strong Bambara repertoire, - now even more accentuated by the use of the sokou (violin). There are no credits on the cassettes, but my guess is that it may well be Zoumana Tereta.
You may recognise the second track, "Laban Kasi". This is a version of a song from Ségou, also performed by 'Tasidoni' Karamoko Keita. "Diandjo", however, is not a version of the song with the same title by Hawa Dramé, although the subject of the song may be the same.
The title of the song "Dely Magnin" confuses me. I may be wrong, but I was under the impression that "dely" is "to pray". But a title "praying is wrong" seems somehow unlikely in a country like Mali. So perhaps it can also mean something else...
If you ask me this is a cassette has not lost its power over the last twenty-two years. In fact, in my personal ratings it has only grown in stature, - as Molobaly Traoré has grown with it. More of this late but great artist in a future post.
Roitelet is the bass player (second from the right)
Yet another Congolese musical hero has gone. Augustin Moniania better known as Roitelet has died on November 8 in Kinshasa. Born in 1934, he was one of the very last survivors from the Tango Ya Ba Wendo (the era of Wendo's people).
He started his career in the mid-1950s with the CEFA-label, at a time when Belgian guitarist Bill Alexandre introduced the electric guitar into the budding Congolese music scene. There he played with Roger Izeidi, who later played a crucial role in the development of Congolese music (and not only with African Jazz and African Fiesta), and with Victor 'Vicky' Longomba (see a dozen or so other posts on this blog).
He went on to play at the Loningisa label (both before and with the O.K. Jazz), with Esengo (with Rock-A-Mambo, African Jazz, and the various combinations) and with the Ngoma label (with the Beguen Band).
Roitelet was one of those musicians who constantly popped up over the years, but also a musician who never seems to have committed to one orchestra. Predominantly a bass player, I am told he also played other instruments. I must admit I am not sure which.
Despite his longevity in the Congolese music scene I think a lot of people may have problems naming Roitelet's songs. A quick search on the internet confirms this. Some websites appear to credit him for songs like "Tika Kondima Na Zolo" (Loningisa 156, composed by Franco). They may have overlooked spectacular songs such as "Anduku Lutshuma" and "Houlala Mopanze", both composed by Roitelet.
To compensate for this lack of respect for this great musician I would like to share with you nine of my favourite Roitelet compositions:
Roitelet with Rock-A-Mambo
01. Antoinette - Moniana Augustin [CEFA]
02. Banzanza - Roitelet & Bana Loningisa [Loningisa 153B]
03. Nzungu Ya Loso - 'Roitelet et son ensemble' [Esengo 123A].
04. Imana Ya Daring - "Monian A. MA. Mulumba" [CEFA]
05. Sala Mbongo Kudia Mbongo - Roitelet avec le Beguen Band [Ngoma 1863]
06. Cherie Margot - Roitelet et Bana Loningisa [Loningisa 144A]
07. Tozo Na Bozo - Moniania Augustin [CEFA]
08. Le 4 Janvier 1959 - Roitelet et l'O.K. Jazz [Loningisa 277A]
09. Bakala Nyonso Luvumu (Roitelet avec le Rock-A-Mambo) [Esengo 80A]
EDIT November 11, 2014: In my haste to get this post online I added a song twice, with different titles (tracks 8 and 9 of the original upload). This has now been corrected.
EDIT November 14, 2014: It still wasn't right. To make up for this messing about I have now also uploaded a flac-version of the nine tracks (besides correcting the mp3-version). The flac-version is available until January 1, 2015.
Today it is exactly 25 years ago that Franco passed away in Namur, Belgium. To commemorate this tragedy, and as a tribute to this giant of Congolese, African and global music, I would like to share with you some of the songs of his early career. Songs which earned him the appellation "Franco de mi amor".
These songs by the O.K. Jazz were recorded between August 28, 1957 and March 10, 1959; so at a time when Franco (born July 6, 1938) was 19 and 20 years old. All songs fall in that unfortunate category of 'inédits', i.e. songs which - as far as I know (and please correct me if I'm wrong!) - were never rereleased. They were originally recorded for the Loningisa label owned by the cousins Basile and Athanase Papadimitriou, and released both on the Loningisa label and on His Master's Voice. The full catalogue of the Loningisa label can be found here, and more detailled catalogues of the HMV releases of Loningisa recordings and of the O.K. Jazz songs on Loningisa can be found on Flemming Harrev's excellent Afrodisc.com.
As I have written before, it is a mystery to me why these songs have not been reissued, either on vinyl or in digital form. These recordings are in my opinion of the quality which should deserve them the protected status of the Unesco's World Heritage List or such.
I have to add that a number of songs of this era have been released, both on vinyl (African 360.1441 and 360.158, Discostock DS 7950) and on CD (Sonodisc 36502 and the first 10 songs on 36505, RetroAfric Retro 2XCD). But still a lot risk being forgotten in the dense mist of time.....
Let me stress that the quality of (the copies of) these records leaves a lot to be desired. Although this is not always a bad thing.
A good example of this is the song originally released as Lon 199: "Linga Ngai Tolinga Ye". Despite its obvious shortcomings I prefer this version to the remastered (?) version on Discostock DS 7950. The instruments, the vocals, they are much clearer in this version, far more defined. Vicky Longomba's heavenly velvet voice, backed by the subtly understated Edo Nganga, Franco adding touches, colour, filling in sentiment in the background, caressing Isaac Musekiwa's sax play (in one of his very first recordings with the O.K. Jazz!), Brazzos providing the stable base on rhythm guitar: what a sheer delight is this song! A boléro, but one that seduces the listener into movement, - if not dance.
The second song in this collection is the A-side of Lon 203: "Oboyi Ngai Likambo Te", composed by Celestin Kouka. The B-side, "Tika Na Bala Ye", can be found on Sonodisc 36505. A typical rumba, with Franco and Musekiwa side-by-side providing the base of the song, sung by Vicky and Kouka. I particularly like the decorations added by Musekiwa. Ordinary as these may sound now, they were completely new at the time. Musekiwa had come over from African Jazz just a few months before, so he and Franco were busy inventing a new style in these songs.
In the A-side of Lon 205, "Obebisi Chance Stephanie", the interplay between Franco and Musekiwa is very different. Instead of joining they are complimenting each other. Isaac plays the chorus2, with Franco doing the decorating. And in the refrains Isaac does the decorating, while Franco signals the breaks.
The B-side of Lon 205 is equally interesting. Both "Tokomi Na Bonne Année" and the A-side are composed by Vicky, but he does not sing the lead vocal on the B-side. Instead he modestly backs Edo. Franco is very active in the refrain and the first chorus is another combined effort with Isaac. But from halfway into the song Isaac takes over from Franco in the refrain, and he and Franco play an extended version of the chorus.
Lon 206 has two songs composed by Edo. The A-side, "Christine Yo Nde Boye", is particularly interesting as the bass player, De la Lune, plays an unusual role. Musekiwa only appears after two minutes, so Franco seems to chose De la Lune for some interaction. The B-side, "Bonne Année To Sepeli" starts off with Isaac colouring in the refrain, only to be joined by Franco for an extended chorus. Unfortunately the song is incomplete; it breaks off after 2'50.
The next two songs (Lon 217), both composed by Franco, are of a muffled sound quality, but it is still clear that there is quite a bit going on in the songs. "O.K. Jazz Bana Mike" has Franco really sweating, pushing the rhythm, with Dessoin on congas vaguely audible in the background. A lovely steamy song, of which I would love to have a better copy (hint..).
In the B-side "Ah! Mi Espana" too there is an important role for Dessoin. Vicky is dishing out the rubbish spanish with the usual unperturbed conviction and cool. It seems the country of Spain itself was not known to the members of the band, as they consistently pronounce it as "Espana" (instead of "España"). But who cares?
One of my favourite songs of this collection is Vicky's "Olongi Na Yo Mama" (Lon 221). Despite the poor quality of this copy it isn't hard to hear that Franco is dying a thousands deaths in the background. What pathos!
The killer in the chorus is Vicky's "Boyoki Mama" (1'13) followed by "Ah .. bolingo". This just is the icing on the cake for me. Vicky had a rare gift for adding these spoken comments at exactly the right moment, but this is one of the very best. In an inexplicable way it lifts the whole song to another level.
In the second refrain Franco is more subdued but certainly not more intense. In the following chorus he throws out all the emotion. What a gem!
The B-side, the rumba "Nayebi Bolingo", is (relatively) less exciting, with Musekiwa playing a very active part throughout the song.
The emotion is certainly present in "Ah! Pauvre De Moi" (Lon 227), composed by Edo, but is a different one than the extreme one of "Olongi Na Yo Mama". Here Franco is Franco de Mi Amor: more loving, almost seducing his audience. The vocal harmony between Edo and Vicky is simply heavenly. Another song which just cries out for a rerelease...
In this case the B-side, "Bokokana Se Pamba", is equally interesting, particularly because of the delightfully lightfooted rhythm, which all contribute to accentuate. Again De la Lune plays a crucial role on bass in keeping the song flowing.
The next two songs in this selection were composed by Brazzos. Along with Edo Nganga he is one of the few survivors3 of this golden era of the O.K. Jazz (and of Congolese music in general). "Cuando Yo Te Dico" (Lon 231) is in a lot of ways a typical Brazzos composition, with its pseudo-spanish lyrics and a rhythm which is a cross between a boléro and a cha-cha-cha. The interplay between Franco and Musekiwa in this song sounds very casual and easy. It is not clear what the role of Brazzos is in this song. Perhaps he is playing bass in this? The B-side, "Boni Na Ngai?", is a rumba with a rather unusual rhythm. Dessoin's conga gives it an galopping pace, with Franco dancing on top. As on the A-side the quality of the 78rpm record is quite bad, but the music still shines through.
"Hey John, here's your heisty time for the calypso, fine" are the cryptic opening words of "Timing Hole", a composition by Rhodesian Isaac Musekiwa. Released as Lon 241 and recorded on December 3, 1958, the song is labelled as a calypso, but I personally don't hear the similarity with any other calypso, be it of African or of West Indian origin. The rhythm is pleasantly slow and stretched out, leaving plenty of space for Franco to fill in with his inimitable riffs. This song and its at times incomprehensible lyrics (in English) remind me of the songs Musekiwa composed with African Jazz ("Flowers of Luckyness" and "While She's Away"), and leave me with the same puzzled feeling. What are these songs about?
The A-side "Ondimi Sik'Oyo" is a straightforward rumba, with Isaac in a leading role.
Lon 244 features another composition by Vicky in a local version of spanish, - as the title "Eschucha Mia Demanda" already suggests. My guess is the song is intended to be about a man (Vicky) begging a woman (?) to listen to his plea and not let him suffer. And I guess a large part of the Leopoldville audience understood the gist of the song, if only on the basis of the few french words strategically thrown in. Harmonies again are superb, and Isaac is clearly in his element.
Unfortunately I don't have the B-side.
The next record, Lon 245, contained two more songs composed by Brazzos. The A-side is a rumba: "Naboyi Bilubu Ya Bandumba". A compact and powerful song with a strong contribution by Franco, including a very tight interplay with Isaac.
The B-side has a more relaxed, loose rhythm; a cha-cha-cha with boléro touches: "Naci Para Bailar". In this song the contribution of the composer seems more pronounced, assuming he plays rhythm guitar. The interplay of Musekiwa and Franco has reached a tightness where Franco is almost hidden behind Isaac's notes. The break or shift at 1'14 is a stroke of sheer genius of the composer. Wonderful song!
The next song is one of those very special compositions by Franco lui-même. The A-side of "Masumbuku" (see this post), "Yimbi" (Lon 246) is Franco's personal take on traditional music. These songs are usually very personal songs, sung by Franco himself. Franco is hyper and hyper-present from the start. In case there was still any doubt about Franco's vocal agility, this song is a great example of his talent in this field. He may not have the belcanto of Vicky, or of Kabasele, Kwamy or Rochereau, but he does have character and personality in his singing. And if that is not enough there is that hard-hitting guitar. The omission of this song in any collection of his work is almost criminal, if you ask me...
"Pantchika Es Mi Cancion" (Lon 249) offers a unique opportunity to distinguish its composer, Celestin Kouka. Unfortunately it is only for a few seconds, from 1'18 to 1'30 and from 2'41 to 2'55, - and then barely audible in this somewhat dull sounding copy. In the rest of the song he is hidden behind Vicky. Star of this track is Musekiwa. He is clearly getting the hang of things within the O.K. Jazz.
The B-side is much clearer sounding. "Na Tikali Ngai Moko", is a rumba in the style of "Naboyi Bilubu Ya Bandumba" and others. Notable is the subtle variation in the interplay between Franco and Musekiwa. Here Franco is clearly 'in the lead'.
The songs on Lon 251 were composed by a new talent: Jean Bokelo. I have no idea what Bokelo's contribution to "Elongi Nayo Ya Bomwana" involves. It seems unlikely he was playing guitar, with the likes of Franco and Brazzos around. The guitar certainly sounds like Franco, with the usual addition of bonus chords. Bokelo, who of course is better known as the leader of Conga Succès (and later Mbonda Africa), recorded two more compositions with Loningisa, "Likambo Soki Ya Koloka" and "Pobre Don Pierro" (Lon 299). He has also recorded for the Esengo label with his brother Dewayon's Conga Jazz, and I am not sure which came first.
The B-side, "Makanisi Makondisi Ngai", is a marvelous boléro, of the type patented by Franco. Again it is not clear what Bokelo's role is in this. Perhaps he is playing an extra guitar?
The final song in the compilation is "La Muyer" (Lon 253). Composed by Franco, it is a cha-cha-cha "espagnol" with a tight rhythm. The gimmick in this song is obviously the upward chord on the sax, executed with verve by Isaac.
This collection of 25 songs on the 25th anniversary of Franco's death proves that there is still a lot of work to do to preserve the legacy of this monument of African music. There are still countless songs to discover, and to uncover even...
The collection can also be downloaded here as one file.
1 Recommended 2 I.e. the instrumental bits between the sung refrains. 3 At least as far as I know.
I have added the last of the three songs I have of Fanta Damba No.2, recorded at the R.T.M. in Bamako in 1983 for the series "L'artiste et sa musique" presented by Zoumana Yoro Traoré (see the earlier post). Accompanying her were Bouba Sacko (guitar - also see here) and Moctar Koné. This song, "Macki", is really the first of the three.
Zoumana Yoro Traoré was a well-known presenter at the RTM. You may have seen him with the videos of Coumba Sidibé, Kandia Kouyaté, Ami Koita and others. Some ten years ago I heard he had moved to France; this was later confirmed by an article on MaliWeb, and by an article in which he was said to be living in bad conditions (little or no work, separated from his children/family). I am not sure if he has returned to Mali since.
So the order is:
1. "Macki", better known as "Maki" or "Maki-Tara".
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