December 31, 2009

Catchy Rhythms 2


A few days later than I had hoped, here is the second volume of "Catchy Rhythms from Nigeria". Unlike many volume 2's this is at least as good as the first. For one thing, it has two more songs than volume 1. And it has three songs by one of my favourite highlife artists: Victor Olaiya.

And great songs they are too.
You may remember my earlier posts of some tracks of this great Nigerian star (and if you don't, I advise you to make up for this oversight a.s.a.p.). The three tracks on this 10 inch lp are of at least the same quality. My favourite of the three is "Mumude", a near-perfect masterpiece. But "Omolanke" and "Cool Cats' Invitation" are in the same top class of highlife music.

There is lots more to enjoy in this volume. For one there are the Ishie Brothers with two songs (one Ibo and the other Hausa) in a very different, but also superb - guitar, banjo and cigarette tin (!) based - style. Of the remaining five tracks I would like to mention Julius O. Araba, who also featured on the first volume, and Ganiya Kale and his 'Guinea Mambo Orchestra' (love that name) with a track that suggests a connection with apala music. But this may be due to the use of the agidigbo (which was also used in apala music).
And then there is Sammy Akpabot ("well-known from radio and films" - I wouldn't be surprised if this, and this, was the same guy!), whose advice to "save for a rainy day" seems somewhat dated in view of the instability of the present-day banking system.
The two remaining songs are both sung by Joe Nez, "The Voice of Nigeria" according to the informative sleeve notes. Personally I have some doubts about this label; and I will even go as far as stating that the song of Joe and his own Trio (with a piano player who only plays two notes*) is the least interesting of this collection. The one with 'Baby-Face' Paul and his 'Top-Toppers' is enjoyable for the orchestration.

If you start the new year with this album you can't go wrong.

Philips P 13401 R

Happy New Year to you all!

* and you have to listen very hard to hear them.

December 30, 2009

Staying O.K.

With the release of yet more compilations of Franco's extensive repertoire it may seem amazing to some that there are still plenty of songs that have not been published in digital form. And I am sure you will be even more amazed when you hear the quality of some of these compositions.

In this post I would like to share three singles with you, all from what many consider to be Franco's heyday. Personally I am more inclined to believe that Franco's whole career existed of one big heyday, or at least an impressive series of peaks. The particular heyday I am referring to started more or less when Sam Mangwana joined the O.K. Jazz. A lot has been written about this move, and I will post Sam's own views about this at a later date.
For now, I would like to stick to the music.

The first of these singles is from 1973. On the A-side is one of the earliest tracks of Mangwana with the O.K. Jazz, "Cedou". Remarkably he is only present as a backing vocalist in this composition by rhythm guitarist Lutumba Simaro (whose compositions* were crucial to the evolution of the O.K. Jazz in this turbulent period). The leading vocals are by Michel Boyibanda and Franco, and Lola Djangi 'Chécain' is present in the background. But Mangwana's contribution is nevertheless impressive, and certainly meant a shift towards a more melodic style for the O.K. Jazz.
Franco's own intentions in this respect are illustrated by the B-side, "B.S.K.". A brilliant bolero sung by Franco himself, accompanied by the full horn section of the Tout Puissant O.K. Jazz. I hope someone can explain to me why this masterpiece has never been digitized.
Note, by the way, that Franco did play this song in a concert in Amsterdam in January 1989.

Fiesta 51.198 B

The second single is from 1974. "Mele", the A-side, was composed by Chécain, who was seen by his colleagues as the main representative of the 'old' style of the O.K. Jazz. In my opinion it was a stroke of pure genius to combine the voices of Mangwana and Chécain, and this is probably one of the best examples of this golden combination. Chécain sings the 'seconde', i.e. the lower of the two vocal parts which adjusts to back the main melody of the song. He has a rather sad, but slightly dry and understated singing style, while Mangwana's voice soars and flows with the melody. To me, Chécain's backing turned Mangwana into an O.K. Jazz style singer.
As Mangwana prepares for the solo, Michel Boyibanda comes in to support Chécain. But some echo is put on to his vocal, adding distance to his singing, while Chécain remains in the foreground. Trumpets come blaring in and Sam launches into his solo. After just over four minutes Franco takes control and leads his orchestra into a full-force climactic finale.
It is not surprising that Chécain had a preference for working with Mangwana in his compositions, e.g. in "Lukika" (which is sometimes incorrectly attributed to Franco) and the 1975 track "Toboyana Kaka".

The B-side, "Mowunbu Ya Makanisi" (titled "Bano Brekete" on the Kenyan release "In Memoriam Vol. 9"), was a song composed by Franco, and is sung by Franco himself and Youlou Mabiala, who had already ventured outside of the O.K. Jazz, but had returned (and would soon leave again). The song starts off in a rather conventional old style O.K. Jazz manner, but after almost two and a half minutes breaks into rather unusual solo by Franco, in which he almost hammers the chords.

Pathe 2 C006 15717


The third record of this post, "Tata Na Bebe 1 & 2", is one I posted earlier, but in a different setting. And, on closer study, I have changed my mind about the dating of this song. The use of four vocalists and the guitar sound are indications it must be from 1974.
The song opens with two rounds of solo vocals by (in this order) Sam Mangwana, Josky Kiambukuta, Michel Boyibanda and Franco, followed by two more rounds in the same order, but with a chorus filling in the gaps. At the end of part one, Franco is about to steer the orchestra into a rousing, nose-down, kamikaze style sebene.

This also means that the first two and a half minutes of part two are a copy of the last two and a half minutes of part one (you can check this if you like...), and the recorded track lasted less than seven and a half minutes (the result of joining the two unique parts can be found here). This is, by the way, not unusual for tracks from this period. My impression is that this was due to the technical limitations I wrote about in an earlier post about Haruna Ishola (who was the co-owner of one of the most advanced recording studios in Africa).

Getting back to the subject of digitizing Franco's oeuvre, only one of the five** tracks in this post has been released on CD. The four other tracks seem essential to the understanding of how the O.K. Jazz became the Tout Puissant O.K. Jazz, - while staying O.K..

Editions Populaires EP 205

* "Ebale Ya Zaire", "Mabele", "Minuit Eleki Lezi" - to name just three.
** counting the two parts of "Tata Na Bebe" as one.

EDIT July 7, 2016: all three singles in one file.

December 24, 2009

Salia Koroma

This post is about goosebumps. This is what I get from visiting http://nikiibu.wordpress.com/, a site dedicated entirely to Salia Koroma, a Mende accordionist from Sierra Leone.

I can only bow to so much thoroughness.
I have nothing to add to this site except this cassette which I copied from a friend who visited Sierra Leone in the 1980s. The cassette does not have a title, only "Salia Koroma # 40".

As an illustration of nikiibu's thoroughness I add a video borrowed from his/her site. For others, and for more of and about Salia Koroma I humbly refer you to http://nikiibu.wordpress.com/.


EDIT June 11, 2013: The link has been renewed.

Catchy Rhythms 1

This record should get you in the right spirit for Christmas. It is the first of two volumes; the second will follow in a few days. This volume features Nigerian highlife legends like Bobby Benson, Steven Amechi (both with two songs) and Julius (J.O.) Araba.

There are only eight songs on this 10 inch lp, but all of these are great. There is plenty of variety too, from the more typical English/pidgin nightclub songs like Bobby Benson's evergreens "Taxi Driver" and "Gentleman Bobby" and the brilliantly dated "Nylon Dress" by Steven Amechi to the more juju-like "Iyawo ma pa mi" performed by Julius Araba and his Rhythm Blues and the dramatic "Ariwo" of Chris Ajilo and his Cubanos.

Personal favourites are the two songs by Steven Amechi and his Empire Rhythm Skies, and especially "Igbo konnga". Great music for winding down and mellowing out to the good-will-to-all-mankind level required for a Happy Christmas.

Philips P 13400 R

PS: the scan of the back of the sleeve is rather poor and illegible. I would be grateful if someone (anyone) could supply us with a better, readable copy.

UPDATE: Jan has sent a very readable scan of the backside of the sleeve. The scan can be found here.

December 23, 2009

El Salsero de Brazzaville

Not too long ago I stumbled upon a CD by Jose Missamou called "El Salsero De Brazzaville a Cuba". Going by the titles I was tempted to assume this was a digitization of an lp which over time has grown on me. Luckily I had the good sense to listen to the CD before making the error of buying it.
And by this I don't mean the CD is rubbish. It's okay, - but not as good as the lp. And neither is it a digital version of this unique lp.

The lp "Jose Missamou canta El Salsero de Brazzaville" is unique for various reasons. The first, and most obvious, is the incredible hyperspace sound. Echoing horns, ringing piano: this is not one of the many prefab NY, Fania-style productions!
And then there is the presence of a backing vocalist of great repute: Ntesa Dalienst, of T.P. O.K. Jazz, Grand Maquisards and Vox Africa fame. A gentle man among gentlemen, one of the most likeable personalities in Congolese music, - who regretfully died in 1996.

Jose Missamou is also, unfortunately, no longer with us. He died almost exactly 10 years ago, on December 22, 1999, at the age of 55.

As far as I have been able to ascertain, the partnership between Missamou and Dalienst only lasted two albums. The other album is titled "Ritmo de Africa" and is probably from the same period. I hesitate to suggest it may be from the same recording session, mainly because the horns are less spacey than on "El Salsero".

Zooming in on the songs a few songs stand out. On both "Ritmo de Africa" and "El Salsero" Ntesa partly takes over the lead vocal in one song. One of these, "Mi Historia", some of you may recognise from Ntesa's concerts with the 1990s version of Les Maquisards (of which I may be tempted to post some tracks later). On the other songs Ntesa's contribution is more modest.
In "Dame Un Papel" Missamou calls out to Wuta Mayi (T.P. O.K. Jazz, Quatre Etoiles, etcetera). I suspect he is the second backing vocalist (but only on "El Salsero").

Remarkable too is Missamou's relatively good command of the spanish language (compared to - for example - Laba Sosseh). He has, I am told, travelled to Cuba, and even has performed for Cuban audiences.
Jose Missamou has also made some more typically Congolese records, but I must admit I have never (consciously) heard any of these. May someone is willing to share these with us?

Tchi Tchi - Eddy-Son TC 393
Eddy-Son K'4220

December 21, 2009

En Super Forme

It appears the "hectic pre-Christmas weeks" I wrote about in my last post were even more hectic than I expected. And especially so, when an upgrade (to Windows 7) which I - naively perhaps - thought I would perform in one day, turned out to be a time-consuming and obstacle-ridden nightmare, and one which (given the limited amount of spare time and energy in these "hectic pre-Christmas weeks") lasted just under two weeks....
Anyway. It's all working now (<knocking on wood like an idiot>), so let's get on with it.


Although the Super Djata Band (see earlier posts) has covered songs from other artists (for example Coumba Sidibé's "Yamba", Abdoulaye Diabaté's "Massa Djourou" and Bazoumana Sissoko's "Yiriba") most of their songs are based on traditionals from the Sikasso region.

The track "Batila" (which on a later album was misinterpreted as "Bandjila"), for example, is based on a song performed by an uncle of Alou Fané. This uncle lived in a village about 70 kilometres from Sikasso where he was a regionally renowned balafon player, with links to the local komo circle.

In the case of "Sisse Na Djolo" a connection on a personal level too is at the basis of the selection. The song was composed by Na Hawa Doumbia and had been interpreted by her at the Biennale a few years before. She and her husband N'Gou were good friends of Daouda 'Flani' Sangaré and - like Flani's eldest son - living in Bougouni.

Of the two other songs on this album, which was released in the early 1980s (1982, according to Graeme on RadioAfrica) in Abidjan, "Nama Djidja" is in the typical Djata Band style, with lyrical references to several donso ngoni classics. Note the part where Flani names the musicians and the percussionists respond with a small solo.

It's the first song of this album that has caused some controversy. Some of you may recognise "Fongnana Kouma" from the version by National Badema with that great singer Kassemady Diabaté (and if you don't know this, please let me know and I'll be glad to post it later). Although it may not sound like a track from the Djata Band repertoire, both Flani and Zani Diabaté have assured me it is. Similar claims have, however, been made by members of the former Badema.
Personally I have fond memories of this song. The first time I heard it was sleeping in a hotel in the centre of Bamako. I had some difficulty sleeping after I had spent the whole afternoon searching for Flani, who I later heard had travelled to Abidjan. Through the noise of the traffic (which also contributed to my insomnia) I kept on hearing the same Flani singing this wonderful, haunting song. In my semi-conscious state it seemed like the song went on for ever, but after a few hours it dawned on me they were repeating the cassette. So I decided to record it (this recording can be found here).

As before I have two versions of this lp, a cassette version (which I bought a few days later in Bamako) and a copy of the lp (which I copied years later). The cassette version of "Nama Djidja" is (for reasons only known to the producer of this cassette) shortened by almost a minute.

Musique Mondiale MAD 003 (cassette)
Musique Mondiale MAD 003 (lp)

And to give you another idea of the quality of the Djata Band, here is another track of their 1984 concert in Angoulême, France. I just love the dancing in this track. If you look closely you'll notice the little idiosyncrasies which distinguish Flani's and Alou Fané's dancing....
The balafon player, by the way, is Zani's late brother Bakari.

December 06, 2009

Yamba Yamba


As you may have gathered, I am quite a fan of modern traditional music styles, and not just the ones from Mali, but certainly also the many different and at times distinct styles from Congo. I like bands like Konono No.1, the Kasai All-Stars and such (although they have a tendency to get a little less unpretentious with their exposure to western audiences), but I am convinced there are many more established local heroes that have remained undiscovered by western explorers.

About a year ago I dedicated a post to one of these, Debonheur, a strong defender of his Kikongo roots. Roots which he shares with this wonderful artist: the (self proclaimed?) Grand Maître Makengo Makape and his orchestre Yamba Yamba Beto-Ba.

If, like me, you are in need of a shot of musical 'pep' in these hectic pre-Christmas weeks, I advise you to shove this in your mp3 player. Nearly 45 minutes of pure guitar-propelled energy of the type that you will find very hard to resist!

Gd Maitre Makape et l'orch. Yamba Yamba Beto-Ba (cass.)

WARNING: do not play this music when driving on wintry roads!

December 05, 2009

Kanté Manfla

For a very long time this Kanté Manfla has been a complete and utter mystery to me. And to be frank, he still is.

When I first heard his music, it was clear to me that, despite the fact that he had recorded in Abidjan, he was in fact from Guinea. You don't have to be a great expert to hear this. His "Wamolo" is the same song as Paillote's "N'Dianamolou"(from SLP 3). And all the other tracks on the first EP I heard could have easily have been performed by Bembeya, Orchestre de la Garde Republicaine or any of the other glorious orchestres from 1960s Guinea.
I hasten to add that any recording on Syliphone has a head start, just from being recorded by one of the most original and authentic labels in African history.

So who was this Kanté Manfla? It was soon suggested that this must be one of the Kanté Manfla's with a history with one of the great national orchestras. But he doesn't sound a bit like either the singer with the same name from Les Balladins or like the one from Les Tambourinis or Paillote.
A usually reliable source suggested it was the Kanté Manfila who often is heard on Guinean radio, with just an acoustic guitar. Although I had no way of confirming this, it seemed unlikely.
I have asked several people who visited Conakry to check if they could find any more music by or information about this remarkable artist, - but no luck there. Even older musicians were unable to identify the artist and his music.

Then a friend found two more EP's, - and confusion reigned again.
The first of the two contained a cover of Bembeya's "Loi Cadré" titled "Bara Serah"; and then there is "Nebi Ikononnan", a version of a (non-Syliphone) Bembeya song featuring Aboubacar Demba Camara and probably titled "Conakry Capitale" (which I will post at a later date). Just listening to the music one would be tempted to date this version before the one by Bembeya. But did Bembeya copy it from this Kanté Manfla, of whom nobody had heard in Guinea?

The real 'killer' came in the first song of the second EP when the singer cited the name of Sory Bamba. Sory Bamba? What was he doing there? Was this what he was doing before he took charge of Kanaga, the regional orchestra of Mopti?
The B-side left me even more confused. This starts with a song commemorating John F. Kennedy, who as you may remember was assasinated in November 1963. If the song was anything like current, it would date all these three records in 1964, or earlier (and therefore older than any of the Syliphone songs)!

Enlightenment came when I saw the "Clash Mandingue" CD on the Oriki Music label last year. Of course! Studying the sleeves again I recognised the overbite of the later guitarist of Les Ambassadeurs. I had heard that this Kanté Manfila had a history with Les Ballets Africains, which helped to explain the (mutual) source of his and Paillote's songs*.
There remain, however, plenty of questions unanswered. The recordings on "Clash Mandingue" are said to have been made in 1968. Also they were originally released on the Ivorian Djima label. But these three EP's are on the Philips label, and re-released from the (also Ivorian) Safie Deen label. Also I would estimate - as I have indicated before - these songs to be from 1964 or earlier.

So what does it mean? Did Kanté Manfla and Sory Bamba meet and record before?
If there is anyone out there capable of solving this mystery, please step forward!

Philips 424.652 BE
Philips 424.655 BE
Philips 424.656 BE

*In fact, most bands from that golden era of Guinean music found a great source of inspiration in the repertoire of Les Ballet Africains.

November 30, 2009

In Memoriam Jean-Serge Essous

Another monument of African music has passed away. Jean-Serge Essous (born January 15, 1935) has died in Brazzaville on November 25, 2009. He was present at the foundation of the O.K. Jazz, of Rock-a-Mambo, and of 'his own' orchestre Bantous and Ryco Jazz. His music and his orchestras have had a huge influence on African music, and maybe even on the music outside of his continent.

During his stay in France earlier this year he was taken seriously ill and had to be hospitalised. Unfortunately he was not insured and was forced to return to Brazzaville, where he died in the Hôpital des Armées.

Essous started his musical career in 1951 as a flutist, but after a few years switched to the instrument which brought him fame: the clarinet. As a clarinetist he soon made a name for himself and joined a band called Negro Jazz. With this band he crossed the river to play in Leopoldville and was 'discovered' by Henri Bowane, who in 1955 invited him to record at the Loningisa label. Essous subsequently played on a series of tracks recorded in 1956, and was present when the O.K. Jazz was founded in June. Unconfirmed legend has it that he signed the first contract for the creation of the O.K. Jazz in place of the then under age Franco.
But persuaded again by Bowane, he soon decided to join singer Rossignol and other Loningisa artists in their move - on January 1, 1957 - to a completely new record label: Esengo.

At Esengo Essous played with the stars of the former Opika label (which had closed down in 1956), Kabasélé (le Grand Kallé), guitarists Nico, Dechaud and Tino Baroza, and female star Lucie Eyenga. Initially the names of these 'ensembles' varied depending on who were present at the recording sessions, but soon the 'nuclei' of these sessions took on a more permanent form. Essous was the leader of one of these: orchestre Rock-a-Mambo. With the huge composing talents of a sax player, who had come over from the Ngoma label, Nino Malapet, and with Rossignol as principal vocalist, Rock-a-Mambo churned out hit after hit, offering a stiff competition for the O.K. Jazz who were doing the same at Loningisa.

As examples of these glorious days, I would like to share nine tracks with you from the Esengo label.
The first two of these, "Jalousie" and "Amigo", are from the beginning of the label, and were composed by Nino Malapet. The songs feature not only the typical Rock-a-Mambo combination of Essous (clarinet) and Nino (sax), but also the great Tino Baroza on guitar, plus Kabasélé and Rossignol on vocals!
On the second record, with two compositions by Essous called "Bolingo Na Ngai Gigi" and "Bolingo Etumbu", the orchestre is named as "African Rock". Playing guitar is Nico, and singing are Kabasélé with Lucie Eyenga (on "..Gigi"), and Rossignol backed modestly by Kabasélé (on ".. Etumbu").
The third record is from a slightly later date (probably 1958). Again the compositions are by Essous, who on "Calu Wa Essous" plays flute, and on "Mi Paralitico" is the lead singer. This is one of the first examples I know of of the typical Essous singing style. I am not sure about the other singers or the guitarist on these tracks (apart from Rossignol).
The last of the Esengo tracks is another example of those superior and timeless Nino compositions: "Comité Rock-a-Mambo". In my opinion Essous is especially great in this track.

Essous on Esengo

With the political unrest of 1959 which would eventually lead to the independence of the Belgian Congo, the musicians from Brazzaville decided that it would be better to 'regroup' on the other side of the river. Thus Essous and drummer Pandi (who also had a history with the Loningisa label) founded an orchestra which was named "Bantou Jazz", but soon changed its name to Les Bantous de la Capitale. Their first public concert back in Brazza was on August 15, 1959.

It is impossible to write down Essous' complete biography in this post. I am sure there are other sites where you can read a more concise overview of his impressive career.
I can promise you, however, I will come back with more Bantous in a later post.
For now, I would like to give you an example of the brilliance that was Bantous with the great Jean-Serge Essous, in the form of this record from 1963, released on the Stenco label. I advise you to read the description on the back of the sleeve of this record (the scan quality is unfortunately rather poor; but you can find the same information on this sleeve).

Stenco B 25421

May his soul rest in peace.

PS: In the photo at the top of this post Essous is the one with the white shirt (and the tell-tale clarinet in his hand...).

November 28, 2009

Ambiyansey

Although I suspect the word was borrowed from Kabasélé's African Jazz, the roots of the orchestra using the word "Ambiyansey" go back even further than this legendary Congolese band. Because in the year African Jazz was founded Salum Abdallah renamed his orchestra "La Paloma", which he founded four years before in 1948, to Cuban Marimba.
If you are interested in music from this early period I advise you to look out for the "Ngoma Iko Huku" CD on the Dizim label (dizim 4701-2).

In this post I would like to share a cassette from a later period, but I can't tell you exactly when this music was recorded.

There is certainly an influence of Congolese music in Cuban Marimba's songs, but this is more noticeable in the details (the "Ambiyansey" I mentioned, the title "Maselina" and such) than in the music itself. The music has a very strong authenticity, a unique Tanzanian originality.
Listen to that break after 1'12 in "Wame Zoweya Kusema", or the one after 1'58 in "Cysilia", or to the hypertensed guitar playing in "Hayawi Hayawi", or to that 'free fall' (and no parachute!) rhythm in "Kilazi Munambie": it's all brilliantly uniquely Cuban Marimba!

Regretfully the quality of the cassette is rather poor. But who cares, with such a great ambiyanse!

C SABA 10

November 23, 2009

Donso 2: Yaya Sangaré

Compared to the amount of words in print about the hunters' music of the Wassoulou there is sadly little of this music available in the shops. This is regrettable, because it is the music itself that has given rise to its fame, and not all the various music styles which (claim to) have been derived from it.

This is only one of the reasons why I am posting another cassette by a donso n'goni artist. The main reason is, of course, that it is just plain great music.

This cassette by Yaya Sangaré is (again) one of the many produced by Siriman Diallo, who is the number one specialist and authority when it comes to hunters' music. His cassettes are strictly legitimate, with all copyrights paid.

Like many of the great donso n'goni artists Yaya Sangaré is a man with a strong personality. The force of this can be sensed in his music. He is perhaps not as spectacular as Yoro Sidibé, and certainly not as extreme as that young lion Sekouba Traoré (who will the subject of a later post), but he has enough depth to compensate for what he lacks in ardour.

It seems to me this cassette was recorded in two sessions, with side A and the first two tracks of side B belonging to the - more introspective - first, and the last three tracks to the - slightly more extrovert - second. Both moods seem to fit in perfectly with the stormy wet November weather we are having here in Western Europe (but don't ask me why...).

Siriman Diallo SD 041

November 22, 2009

Balaké à Paris

The first Amadou Balaké album I heard was "A Paris - Djala Songo". I can't say I went wild. On the contrary, it took me quite a while to get over it.

In those days there were still loads of traces of the golden era of African orchestras. There was an unbridled optimism of the treasures still waiting to be unveiled. And Paris (i.e. the Parisian producers and recording studios) was seen by some as the neo-colonialiser, the corruptor of authentic African culture.

I suppose there was an element of truth in this.
Paris did set a standard when it came to the use of modern electronics in African music, and in doing so initiated a process which led to the end of the large horn sections, and therefore to the end of the great African orchestras.

But over time my negative view of this album has mellowed. I have learnt to listen less to the irritating arrangements & instrumentation, and more to Balaké.
And Balaké?
He is as always brilliant, consistently himself. If you are able to look through the electronics and canned choruses it is still the same Balaké as when he recorded for Club Voltaïque de Disques, or when he sang about the evil money can cause in "Wariko" on "Afro-Charanga" and on "Baya".

Sacodis LS-86

November 21, 2009

Bukasa, Kalombo & Brainck

The Congolese music from the late 1950s has not had the recognition it thoroughly deserves. When the Esengo label got started on January 1, 1957, and Rock-a-Mambo jammed with Kabasélé's African Jazz, when Isaac Musekiwa joined Franco and Vicky at Loningisa, and when Leon Bukasa joined forces with Raymond Brainck and Albino Kalombo at Ngoma, that's when the golden era of Congolese music broke loose.

And in this post I would like to focus on the latter of the three teams.
In an earlier post I have given some biographic details about Bukasa, and I refer you to those.
I wish I could give you details about Albino Kalombo's life, but I only know that he came from the Katanga province, and from the early 1950s established himself as a multi instrumentalist, but mainly played the sax (alto). He also played with the O.K. Jazz for a while in the early 1960s.
A little more is known about Raymond Brainck*. According to Michel Lonoh (in his "Essai de commentaire de la Musique Congolaise Moderne") he was born on August 8, 1938, - but Lonoh does not mention where. As far as I have been able to ascertain he appears on the scene as a musician with the Ngoma label in 1957, playing with Leon Bukasa and others. Subsequently he re-appears with Gerard Madiata and his Kongo Jazz on the Esengo label, where he delivers what is perhaps his most famous composition, "La Belle Lucie Botayi" (and what a great composition it is too!! See this earlier post). After that he seems to have played with Dewayon in his orchestre Cobantou, but I get the impression that he left there in 1966. A few years later he re-surfaces in Les Noirs, a Congolese orchestra of some repute, which has left a big impact in East Africa. The trail goes cold there, I am afraid..... I have heard rumours though that he had gone to the US.

So let's study the 'evidence', in this case five and a half records released on the Ngoma label. Of these one was released in 1953, all the others in 1958 and 1959.

The one from 1953 is by Albino Kalombo, accompanied by not only Leon Bukasa, but also by the legendary ensemble San Salvador, featuring Georges Edouard, Manuel D'Oliviera, Henri Freitas and Bila Edouard. Their contribution in the track "Ata velo? Ata paouni? Alors c'est trop!" is evident by their typical rhythm, which even today has a lot of followers (most notably Josky Kiambukuta and Koffi Olomide), and which is derived from the polka piquée rhythm. The rhythm is less prominent in the B-side, but still seems to seep into the music. Although to our present-day ears the sax may not sound very special, Albino Kalombo is said to have had a huge influence on those who followed in his footsteps. Maybe it was his 'positioning' in the instrumentation which was different. In "Pauline wa ngai, timbe-timbe yeyeye" the sax and guitar start off almost as a duet.

Although he is not credited, I assume Albino Kalombo is also the sax player on the tracks from 1958 and 1959. Raymond Brainck, however, is credited. As far as I can reconstruct, Papa Noel had played with Bukasa until the end of 1957, his last recordings being "Simplice Wa Bolingo" / "Bibi Sultani". I am not sure if Raymond Brainck should be seen as a replacement. Because his exceptional qualities as a guitar player must have been clear from the word "go". You only have to listen to his perky chords in "Cherie Melanie", or to the brilliant way in which he dictates the course of the song in "Makutana wa Chinkolobwe" ("the encounters of Chinkolobwe"), to realise that here was Real Talent.
On this and the next two records Brainck is supported on (contra)bass by Joseph Mwena, a musician with a history and a future with Kabasélé's African Jazz, and who later played with Rochereau's African Fiesta.
Together they set the tone in what I consider to be one of the classic recording sessions in Congolese music. A session that resulted in marvels like "Penepene", "Maria bolingo wa ngai", "Louise mungambule" ("Louise carried me"), "Kobeta mwasi te" ("Don't hit a woman").

I can seriously say that it doesn't get much better than this.

"Louise mungambule" was even a hit for Bukasa, and a track that is often cited when favourites from the 1950s are named. Brainck certainly made his mark with these songs, and perhaps even more because Bukasa names him in "Kobeta mwasi te". But if you ask me there is no better proof of his genius than "Penepene", in which he appears to invent a complete new set of rules for guitar playing.

The next record, featuring two songs in swahili, was recorded in 1959. Both "Baba mama mujomba" ("Papa, mama, (my) uncle") and "Ana kwa muzee" ("He has gotten old") are good examples of the unique laid-back Bukasa style. The bassist on these songs, by the way, is not Mwena, but a certain Adolphe.

Rounding off the selection is another composition by Albino Kalombo (fourth from the left in the photo), but this time from 1959: a cha-cha-cha in the luba language called "Kamungule". Backed by the Beguen Band, which by that time had - like San Salvador before - developed into the regular accompanying band of the Ngoma label, Kalombo shows off his skills as a sax player. Although Congolese sources report that this track also features Bukasa, I have my doubts about this. I do suspect the song features Henri Etari, the trumpet player in the photo on the left, and a musician who was also a regular in Bukasa's band.

Of both Bukasa and Brainck I will be posting more in the future.

Ngoma 1434 / 1873 / 1886 / 1887 / 1960 / 1978

*Whose real name must have been Raymond Kalonji. According to Gary Stewart he intended his nickname to be "Braynck" (repeating the "ray" of his first name) but this was misspelled by Ngoma. I am somewhat curious about the source for this theory.

November 13, 2009

Feeling I get


Continuing the series of singles I would like to share two records from Benin, - or rather from Dahomey (that is, from before 1975). Both are by the Super Star de Ouidah.

From the wonderful Orogod blog I have learned that this orchestra was one of the first (presumably modern) orchestras of Dahomey, but apart from this my knowledge of and about this orchestra is minimal.

I must admit I was attracted to these record by their titles. I mean "Le Peuple A Raison" ("The People Are Right") is bound to get one's imagination going, isn't it? Unfortunately, even after listening to the song, I am still left in the dark as to what the people are right about.
But luckily the music is good, although I prefer the B-side "Djomido Mahi", with its strange voices in the background (it's like someone has left the radio on in a room next to the studio...).

The second single is actually an EP. And if you thought the first record was weird, wait till you hear this one.
It was only after hearing the record four times that I could resist the temptation to go and check the speed of the record player. The voice of the singer has a natural '45rpm-played-at-33' timbre.

Again the titles set the mind off in all directions. And with the track "Feeling You Got" I am still left wondering what feeling this was supposed to be. The lyrics, supposedly in English, shed no light on the matter....

The same goes for the highlife track with the title "750 x 7". What does it mean?

The B-side of this EP begins with yet another wondrous tune, called "Los Cuoros" and no doubt intended as a happy latin dance melody of the 'fiesta' kind. And again I am left puzzled, for despite the (no doubt) good intentions I can't help but feeling like I am attending a funeral....

Of the last song "Dors Si Tu Peux" ("Sleep if you can") they have even printed the lyrics on the back. But I am still not quite sure what the meaning of this bluesy ballad is. Has someone died ("You will never again see the sun of happiness")?

Fascinating band, this Super Star de Ouidah.....

Discafric APV 45026
Discafric DCF 11

November 12, 2009

Afrika Tanzt Und Singt

I've been in some doubt whether I should post this album. It's a curiosity, but certainly with some musical merit.

It is not unlikely that the 'format' was inspired - or even bluntly copied - from Hugh Tracey's Music of Africa series. This German version of Hugh Tracey is Rolf Italiaander, a Dutch national born in Leipzig, Germany. Like Tracey he introduces the tracks on this album. But unlike Tracey Italiaander was not an ethnomusicologist, but a writer with a rather broad interest in Africa.

The record was copied for me quite a while ago, and I had never seen the sleeve until a few months ago when I discovered the record on one of the online resell sites. The picture of the sleeve is copied from this site.

For those who don't understand German, the title translates as "Africa dances and sings". The subtitle of the record is "From tam-tam to jazz", and the A-side of the record contains examples of the tam-tam, i.e. traditional, side of African music, while the B-side has the jazz or modern music. Modern in the late 1950s, that is.

Although I am certainly interested in traditional African music, the record offers only an average selection, compared to other records from the same period. The 'jazz' selection is more interesting though. There is a highlife track from Ghana, a - in my perception* - rare selection from an unnamed Tanzanian orchestra, a track by a Kenyan singer in the dry guitar style, a familiar sounding (and please help me out why it sounds familiar) song from Angola, plus two songs by Joseph Kabasélé and his African Jazz.

It is a total mystery why the sleeve notes state that the first of these is from Belgian Congo and the second from the Congo Republic. Both are in fact from the 1950s, and the second is even older than the first. The first, "Yela Ngai Rebecca", was originally recorded for the Esengo label, - so between 1957 and 1960. And the second, titled "African Jazz" and (like the first) composed by Kabasélé, was recorded for the Opika label (so before 1957) and features Isaac Musekiwa (who from 1957 went over to the O.K. Jazz) on sax.

These two songs alone merit posting this record.

Athena-Ariola 53137 G

* and please tell me (and prove to me) I am wrong!

November 09, 2009

Panorama

Having posted the first lp on the Mali Music label, it seems only logical I should also share the second with you. This album contains tracks by the same orchestras as on the first, with the addition of the regional orchestra of the Sikasso region.

The addition is absolutely justified, because the two tracks are of an Orchestre Regional de Sikasso in exceptional form. With the great guitarist Madou Sangaré a.k.a. "Madou Guitare" leading the troops, Sikasso never had a stronger line-up.

Some of these songs have been re-released on CD recently by Ibrahima Sylla, who - as reliable Malian sources have reported repeatedly - has obtained these recordings by other than purely legal means. The same producer has gained access to the Syliphone catalogue by the same or a similar dubious method; and in this case the report comes from the highest possible source, Justin Morel Junior, - a man not only involved in the Syliphone label at the time, but also (at least according to the latest reports) the present Guinean Minister of Cultural Affairs. In a later post I will return to this subject....

Returning to the lp, I would like to draw your attention to the two extraordinary tracks by the Orchestre de Gao, the first based on a takamba rhythm (at least, according to the sleeve notes; I still have problems recognising the takamba bit...) and the second described more accurately as a "romance sonhraï sur un air de blues" (and this time I do hear traces of takamba).

Strangely the Rail Band is represented by two tracks which I would normally expect from Super Biton. Both "Badialamale" and "Sounan" are bambara rhythms from the Segou region. The latter is based on the bara (picture on the left) rhythm which Biton have used more than once.

Personally I can't get enough of this music by those legendary orchestras from Mali.

Mali Music Mali 1002

EDIT: there was a problem with the file. This has (hopefully) been corrected.

November 08, 2009

Kwamy & Youlou

Within weeks after Franco's death in October 1989 Polygram Kenya released a series of ten records (and matching cassettes) which they named "In Memoriam Grand Maitre Franco". The albums contained a selection of songs from the 1960s and 1970s. Some of these were re-issues of earlier Polygram albums, - like Volume 8, which had been released five years earlier as "10 Years Ago". So far I have not found an earlier version of this album, which is the second in the series.

As with most (if not all) of the lp's the sleeve of this volume has no relevance whatsoever to the music. Judging by the costumes Franco and Simaro are wearing I assume the photo is from 1980 or 1981 (see for example this video of a performance in Abidjan in 1980), while the music is from around 1970.

So, seen from a positive angle, there is really nothing to distract us from the music. And - as with other albums of this series - there is more than enough to enjoy in that.

The lp opens with two superb tracks featuring the vocal talent of Youlou Mabiala backed by Kwamy. The latter had returned to the flock, after having insulted Franco (with African Fiesta, in "Faux Millionaire" and other songs) and after repeatedly provoking an insurgence against Franco (with Orchestre Révolution). According to Graeme Ewens (in "Congo Colossus") Simaro "prevailed on Franco to take the singer back", much to the disgust of Vicky Longomba. It is likely that Kwamy's return contributed to the split between Franco and Vicky, later in 1970.
While Kwamy may not have had the same brilliance as before, there is ample proof of his vocal qualities in his last period with the O.K. Jazz*. In both "Nakweyi Tapis" and "Celita" Kwamy's backing vocal is of an exceptional quality, fitting to Youlou's lead like a velvet glove. Youlou too adds some honey to his at times harsh vocals, and Franco contributes with a few unusual shuffles on guitar.

After these two songs there is a rather surprising experiment involving a drum kit, in "Beya". While the O.K. Jazz did use a drum kit in their live performances it was difficult to incorporate the noisy instrument in their studio recordings. In "Beya", which sounds like it was recorded in the same session as "Caisse D'Epargne" (from Volume 4), the volume of the kit is still rather 'suppressed', but nevertheless very noticeable. The interplay between Franco and the rhythm section in the sèbène is certainly interesting.

The B-side opens with "Georgette 1 & 2", a track of which only the second part has appeared on CD (CD 36572), - another example of the artistic amputations of which Sonodisc can be accused over the last decades. I am not sure about the lyrics, but I have a feeling that the staccato singing in the second part may be related to the remarks about the cold in the intro.
The song, composed by Franco, has some brilliant 'intertwined' vocals (after 3'25, and again after 5'28 and 6'58) by Franco, Youlou and Lola Chécain. To me this is one of Franco's classic masterpieces.

The lp is concluded by the 'normal' version of Celi Bitshou's "(Infidelité) Mado".

GMFLP 002

* Ewens' report that Kwamy died in 1974 is - by the way - a mistake. He in fact died in 1982.

November 07, 2009

November 03, 2009

Molobaly Traoré

Only a short while after hearing about the tragic death of Mamaye Kouyaté I was informed that yet another star of Malian music has died, and again before time...

Born on the Niger river in Macina, Molobaly Traoré was a strong defender of the traditions of the Ségou region. Contrary to many artists of her stature she refused to move to the capital Bamako, and instead settled with her husband in Niono. Ironically it was in Bamako where she died of typhoid on September 16, 2009, at the age of only 43. She leaves behind a husband and two children.

Although she hardly performed outside of the Niono cercle, she was very popular in the whole of Mali. Her songs were mostly moral, directed at the common Malian. If she was a griot, she was a griot of the common man. The heroes of her songs were farmers, workers of the land.

I had already planned to post some of her cassettes, and certainly will continue posting these. Here is the oldest of the ones I have; I don't know if it is her first. I do know it is one of my favourite recordings by this wonderful artist, with great bambara songs like "Ladji Mory", "Binlondala Kon" and "Noumou Kamale" - that manage to touch emotional strings whenever I hear these.

Molobaly, rest in peace.

Sinaley Konate SK 1201

November 01, 2009

Alive

I received an email last week from Podomatic to warn me that all the (monthly) bandwidth I was entitled to as a free user had been used up. The email urged me to get a paid subscription which would allow me a greater amount of bandwidth.
I gather that the result of this was that visitors to this blog or to the podomatic page were unable to listen to the podcasts, which you can - if you hadn't noticed - find at the bottom left of this page.

As this is a no-budget blog, I have no intention of spending money on extending my podcast capacities. So to reduce the 'pressure' on my monthly quota of bandwidth (and with a risk of creating a problem elsewhere...) I am posting the tracks of the Franco podcast, which I assume was the cause of the recent bandwidth crisis.

The songs in this selection were recorded during various concerts in both Belgium and the Netherlands between 1983 and 1989. There is a chance I may post more of these concerts at a later stage.
I hasten to add (at the request of Aboubacar Siddikh*) that not all the tracks in this selection feature Franco. During "Massu" Franco's stand-in was (as per usual) Thierry Mantuika.

I have included two versions of "Luvumbu Ndoki", because - according to members of the T.P. O.K. Jazz - Franco used this song to slip in some comments regarding the audience. They were rather reluctant to reveal the contents of these comments, - which makes me even more curious. I am hoping there are listeners who can clear up the mystery.

The recording quality is at times perhaps somewhat disappointing. Please remember that these recordings were made by pre-digital equipment, i.e. on (analog) cassette. Of "Chacun Pour Soi", a composition by Josky Kiambukuta Franco played at all the concerts, I intentionally selected the 1983 version recorded in Belgium, in front of a largely Congolese (Zairois) audience. I guess Franco only later realised the 'potential' of this song as a climax of the more spectacular performances for largely white audiences.

The last three songs are from the same concert, and were - as you can hear - performed in this order. This should give you an idea of the diversity Franco put into his shows in the late 1980s.

Franco - Alive!

*who took the photo of Franco (in the Melkweg - Jan.1989) at the right. The other photo is from the Claridge concert in May 1983.

Evil genius

While going through some of the older posts a few days ago I was drawn to an article which was referred to in a comment on a post about Victor Olaiya. The article can be found here (but in case the linked page disappears I have saved the text here). It contains an interview with this highlife legend, who appears* to be (fingers crossed) alive and well.

I am not completely satisfied with his answer to the question how he got his nickname "The Evil Genius of Highlife". Olaiya: "They thought I moved highlife music out of the ordinary. Then, it was believed that my highlfe was a little bit out of this world, beyond explanation. This was why Alhaji Alade Odunewu of the Daily Times styled me the Evil Genius of Highlife."
This may explain the "genius", but not the "evil"...

Maybe the evilness was in his lyrics. Apparently some of his songs dealt with some unpleasant truths. In the interview he cites a song warning against marrying a police woman, which led to him being persecuted by the subjects of the song. I have no idea if other songs by Olaiya caused similar controversy.

An article by Richard Eghaghe from the Nigerian Daily Independent (quoted here) states that Victor Olaiya was the founder of the Cool Cats. This is contradicted by the sleeve notes of the EP I would like to share with you in this post. These name Carl 'Moody' Anifowose as the founder of this band, which Olaiya joined after leaving the Sammy Akpabot Sextet.
It's just a detail, but these details have a tendency to blossom into truths.....

About the music I can be short: it is superb.
The record quality is not so great though. And that's why I am adding a single from a later date, by Victor Olaiya and his All Stars.

As with the older Cool Cats record, the All Stars songs are deliciously laid-back, and very recognisably 'Olaiya'. I just love the instrumental bits in these songs, after 1'40 in "Lekeleke" and after 1'29 on "Aiye Soro". They are evidence of true genius, - evil or not...

Philips 420001 PE 'Afro Rhythm Parade vol.2' (ep)
Philips West African 303.016 PF (single)

* I have discovered nothing to indicate that he is not alive...

October 26, 2009

Authentic 1977

I would like to start this week with a dose of high energy from Senegal. Although I have had this album by Orchestre Gorom for years, it is only over the last ten to five years that I have come to fully appreciate the content of it. I stress the word 'content' because the splendid cover had caught my eye straight away, and perhaps was what motivated me to buy the record in the first place.

It started when I heard the cd "Gainde" in the World Network series by Youssou N'dour and (mainly) Yandé Codou Sène. I immediately recognised that incredibly fierce voice from a documentary I had once seen on French TV5. I am sure I must have this documentary somewhere; as soon as I have recovered it I will post it.

Listening to her contribution on "Gainde" was the key to the lp by Orchestre Gorom. Although her direct influence is limited to only two songs it 'opened up' the others as well. Of these two songs, by the way, one can be found on both albums, although the name is slightly different ("Siyare Na La" with Gorom and "Siare Naala Ndigal Faal" on Gainde).
It is a pity the writer of the sleeve notes got carried away a bit and attributed all the songs to Mrs. Sène. I have a nasty suspicion this exaggeration may be politically motivated. Yandé Codou is a representative of the Serer culture, a Senegalese ethnicity to which belonged President Léopold Sédar Senghor. A (more recent) documentary (of which this is an excerpt) even refers to her as "The Griot of Senghor".

Looking back on it now, I think Khar Mbaye Madiaga should get at least similar credit for her influence on this record. She also contributed two songs, and has also left a severe impression on Senegalese music and culture. Judging by this article I guess she must be considered to be a guardian of Senegalese tradition (another interview with this remarkable grande dame can be found here).

But don't get me wrong: the lp and Orchestre Gorom have stood the test of time, and for that reason alone deserve credit.

Sonafric SAF 50056

October 25, 2009

Mamaye

Words fail to express the sadness I felt at the news of the death of another great human being, talented musician and friend: Mamaye Kouyaté. I only heard this a few days ago, but it appears he died last month, after a prolonged illness.

Husband of that great diva of Malian music, Mah Damba (who featured in this earlier post), father of some very talented children and good friend of the late Alou Fané, who even named one of his children after him. It was Alou who introduced me to Mamaye and Mah, and right from the start they treated me like I had been a friend for years.

As a musical couple they were very well known, in Mali, but perhaps slightly more in Paris where they lived. While their intention has always been to stay close to tradition, living in Paris has meant that some compromises have been necessary to survive and live of what was essentially their purpose in life: being a griot or djeli. I know this has never been easy, but I can assure you this is not due to their (lack of) talent.....

This cassette is proof of this immense talent. It features both Mah and Mamaye in great form. I am told that this cassette was the basis for a cd called "Nyarela", but I have not heard this cd.
The title track "Nyarela" (after the quartier in Bamako) is one of my favourite tracks of Mamaye. This 22+ minute track is a monument of his skills as a ngoni player, as a traditional griot (talking), as an accompagnateur of his exceptional wife.

My condolences for Mah and family.
The world has lost a great musician, Mali a worthy cultural ambassador, and I a friend.

Paix à son âme.


Samassa IC 0397

October 24, 2009

Morogoro

I have been busy digitising another batch. Unfortunately this resulted in another 'issue' which had to be resolved: lack of disc space. But after rearranging, moving and some good old throwing away, I managed to finish what I wanted to do. The fruits of these efforts I will share with you in this blog, albeit little by little.

But this is an lp which I had intended to post earlier, but for some reason I haven't gotten round to it. It is an older lp by one of my favourite artists from East Africa, Mbaraka Mwinshehe. An earlier post was dedicated to Mbaraka with the Super Volcano orchestra. But this is from before 1973, when he was still with the Morogoro Jazz, or the "K.Z. Morogoro Jazz Band" as they are called on this album. Most of these tracks have been reissued on the 'Ukumbusho' lp's, that brilliant series on Polygram's Polydor label.
But compared to those releases, I would say that the sound of this album is perhaps slightly more open, more translucent.

As always Mbaraka is without any presumptuousness or pretension. Horns blaring, guitars skuffling, the typical vocals: I just love this guy.

More to follow soon.

Polydor POLP 502 (December 21, 2016: upgrade to 320 kbps)

October 20, 2009

Bilombe ya mindule

I am hoping that this post can shed some light on a mystery that's been bugging me ever since I have heard "Bilombe ya mindule", a song attributed to Franco and his O.K. Jazz. The thing is: I can't identify the singer of this song. There are some slight touches of Kwamy in his voice, but it's not him. It's certainly not Vicky or Youlou, and after closer study Boyibanda and Chécain could also be eliminated. Given that the music suggests the track is from the late 1960s, there is not a lot left....

Friend Aboubacar decided to ask a Congolese connaisseur, and his answer meant a dramatic shift in my perception of the track. He wrote: "Here is my true opinion: this is from CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE, not necessarily from the Bantous de la Capitale, but nonetheless from some band in Congo-Brazaville. I'd say even the lyrics point at that side: traditionnaly & 'politically' people from Congo-Brazzaville have always wished the two Congo's to unite... Listen to Franklin Boukaka for instance .... Whereas my people have always seen those from Congo-Brazzaville with suspicion...
The lyrics talk about the Congolese music and musicians of both sides. No Congolese musician from Congo-Kinshasa would sing about a musician from Congo-Brazzaville, - not that I know of anyway..
"

The title, he explained as follows: "Bilombe is the plural of elombe. And what does elombe mean? (...) Elombe = someone living, thus elombe mobali = a man, elombe mwasi = a woman. Elombe is always 'positive' and contains some kind of admiration, the opposite is yuma. Bilombe ya Mindule = those 'fantastic men' who make music & song, i.e. musicians (with the touch of admiration I was referring to above)."

With this in mind, I begin to understand why I couldn't recognise the singer: maybe the song is simply not by the O.K. Jazz... Could the track be by the orchestra that is responsible for the A-side of this single on the Pathé-Marconi label: orchestre Manta?
A mix-up is not completely unlikely. Manta also released some records through Franco's Epanza Makita label, so maybe the mistake started there.
And listening to one of those records, I can hear some similarities between the singer of "Tokei Kotala Bango" and the singer of the mysterious "Bilombe Ya Mindule"....

But there is still doubt. A doubt inspired by the horns on "Bilombe Ya Mindule". There is no sax at all on the Epanza Makita record, and only one sax on "Gaby Kulutuya Tango", the A-side of the Pathé 45.

So who are these 'fantastic men'?

Pathe PF 11590
Epanza Makita 384.432

PS: Come to think of it: where is Franco on "Bilombe Ya Mindule"?

October 18, 2009

10 Ans de Chansons

Let me start this post by drawing your attention to the update of an earlier post, which dealt with a delightful collection of songs from Ivory Coast, called "Ivoire Retro". I have retrieved the two songs that were missing of the original album. The lp can now be savoured in its complete form (or you can download the two missing tracks).

The same Dolf that helped me out with that lp, also happened to be in the possession of this rarity, titled "10 Ans de Chansons 1960-1970". It's another collection of musical petit fours from Côte D'Ivoire. The quality of this lp on the Fiesta label (the precursor of the African label) is not as good as the Ivoire Retro lp, but to me any additional track of artists like Amedée Pierre, Fax Clark or Mamadou Doumbia is already a veritable treat!

And I hadn't even heard of the other surprises! How could they have kept these gems by A.A. Adrien, Malick Koffi, Anoman Brouh Felix and A. Yapo hidden? It makes you wonder what still remains un(re)discovered in the musical vaults of the various African countries*....

Of course, the two (yes!) songs by Amedée Pierre stand out, but "Ma Douce Mado" by Malick Koffi (and I suspect Mado in this case is a female) and Fax Clark's growled "Findjougou" offer stiff competition. Tracks like "Super Nord" by Anoman Brouh Felix (of whom I recently saw some singles on the internet - e.g. this one on the right) and "Ayame Cherie" by A.A. Adrien & R. Yapi (with a slightly disturbing bit of slide guitar!) again show traces of the influence of Congolese music.

If there is anyone out there hoarding similar treasure troves, please contact me!

Fiesta 365.007

PS: The sleeve at the top of this post has no relevance to this post. The Comoé sisters are on Ivoire Retro. The sleeve actually contained only red dust; the record was - tragically - missing....

EDIT September 3, 2015: The sleeve for this album has turned up! It has been added to the album (see link above), and new mp3's with a higher bitrate have been included.
Also here is a temporary FLAC version: Fiesta 365.007 flac (until December 1, 2015).

Vingt kilomètres

I copied this cassette from Ali Farka Touré in the early 1990s. He used to bring cassettes along on his travels, usually from local celebrities*, and occasionally of his own work. In turn I made copies for him of music which over time had become rare in Mali, - like for example the Koni Coumaré lp on Fiesta, or (good quality) cassettes of Toumani Koné.

The cassette contains private recordings made by Ali himself, of a concert in Dofana by his group Asko, featuring Ali, Hamma Sankaré and Amadou 'Affel' Bocoum. So the recordings were made 'chez lui', and if you ask me, this can clearly be heard in the result. Ali is obviously in his element. Take the last song: this is music for wide horizons, for the slow flow of water in the nearby river.
I haven't checked this, but I wouldn't be surprised if all of the songs have - in one version or another - been released on the many cd's Ali has left behind. I do know the first song was re-recorded a few years later for the album "The Source".
But this cd-version, in my opinion, can't compete with the version on this cassette.

In case you're wondering about the surrealistic picture on the right: I have added this partial screenprint from Google maps to give you a (very rough) idea of the layout of the village that is the subject of this song. The yellow line on the top right is a road. So to get from Niafunké (the principle village in the cercle, as Affel remarks) the river seems the easiest way. And the 'vingt kilomètres' (twenty kilometers) must be the distance from Niafunké to Dofana by pirogue. The song celebrates a project in Dofana to use water from the river for irrigation (thus enabling some agriculture to take place in this remote locality) and the initiator of this project.

Ali himself followed this example some years later, and eventually even retired from music all together to concentrate on this original form of culture....

Dofana Oct. 1990

I found this video on YouTube, which seems very appriopriate with this post:


PS: alternative download link.

* I'll post some of these later (...oh oh, there he goes again, promising things....)

October 17, 2009

Malandros


I would like to begin this post by referring you straight away to the site of Muzikifan, which not only offers a concise discography of Super Mama Djombo, but also a very relevant introduction to these two records.

Yes, two records: the second and third volume of the SMD series. I copied these lp's years ago, and for some reason lost in the mist of time (or my memory) I have not copied the second track. So to make up for this act of obvious stupidity I am adding a second lp.

The second volume is titled "Festival", which as they keep repeating in the title song is a reference to the festival Super Mama Djombo attended in La Habana, where they joined the struggle ("luta") against imperialism. With this song you don't have to understand crioulo or portuguese to get an idea of what this orchestra from Guinea-Bissau is talking about.
It gets more difficult with the other songs. "Mortos" no doubt means "dead", and "nega" may have something to do with denying. But what does Cabo Verde have to do with this? And about which Cabral are they talking: about president Luis Cabral, who was overthrown at around the time this record was released, or about his brother Amilcar, who was killed in Conakry in 1973, by the Portuguese (who three years before had attempted to get rid of both Sekou Touré and Amilcar Cabral).
And the one that keeps bugging me most: "Sociedade de malandros". What a great title! Repeat it a couple of times and I am sure you'll agree. A "society of sneaky rascals", - now there's one that gets my imagination going......

Luckily it is balanced by the peaceful "Julia", which is neatly summed up by Muzikifan: "There is a dreamy guitar floating across the stratosphere". Great song, which was a logical choice for that memorable CD released in 2003 on the Cobiana label.

The third volume, "Sol Maior Para Comandante", is really another album in the Regard Sur Le Passé style, including a storyteller recounting the historic events. The difference with Bembeya's Regard is the fact that the events (the heroic acts of Amilcar Cabral in the luta for the independance of Guinea-Bissau) weren't from a (relatively) distant past, but from a few years before the release of the album!
Like the Bembeya classic, the album not only conserves a very interesting chapter of African history, but also offers some brilliant music from a country which has remained relatively underexposed in the study of and research into African music.

SMD 002
SMD 003

UPDATE: Alastair from Muzikifan was kind enough to send the missing track of SMD 002, plus copies of both sleeve and labels. For those who have already downloaded this volume, here is the additional material. Those who have not yet downloaded the volume can use the 'normal' link to download the complete album.
Thanks also to African Music Recycler for sharing the missing track through the link in the comments.

October 14, 2009

Power kora and copper vocals

A quick midweek post now, and one in a very different mood and from a different culture.
In an earlier post I have already mentioned the inimitable Lalo Keba Dramé. Well here is full cassette of that master of kora and copper vocals from the Casamance.
In this cassette the metal ring to his voice is accentuated even more by a female backing vocalist. Together they venture to the edge of the tolerable, - and sometimes even beyond this (if you can't stand nails on a blackboard, be warned!).

Lalo Keba Dramé's kora playing is dynamic and full of jumpy energy. Unlike more recent kora artists, Dramé's art has a popular feel: I never get the impression he is trying to convey a 'higher', more sophisticated Art form.

Personal favourites are the first track, "Coura M'Bissane", the excellent razor-sharp version of "Bamba Bodian" and the undulating "N'Diato". Also I would like to draw your attention to the last track, "Kantintin", a tribute to former president Senghor, - or "Leopold" for his more intimate friends......

Bellot Records C 3801