March 03, 2014

Mbaraka's twist

As a counterweight to any kind of cynicism I would like to suggest an artist whom I least suspect of possessing this state of mind: Tanzanian superstar Mbaraka Mwinshehe Mwaruka. He is - to me at least - a shining example of a joyful mix of naivety, amateurism and innocence. And he manages to combine this with a positive attitude, a potent dose of originality and fine sense for good music.
He is one of the many artists whom I wish I would have had the chance to meet, if only to confirm what I hear in his music.

In certain aspects he reminds me of the late Remmy Ongala, whom I did have the fortune to meet (several times even), and who convinced me of his sincerity when he claimed he was singing for the poor people. The vigour with which he claimed this, the body language, the open attitude: the cynic in me was unable to resist this. It was hard not to like the man.

Mbaraka died at a time when my African music collection consisted of no more than a dozen cassettes. I first heard his music in the mid-1980s when through the contacts with the Dutch management of Polygram (then still owned by Philips) a local record store started importing albums directly from Kenya. I was sold to Mbaraka's disarming sound right from the start. The start being the confusingly named "Ukumbusho Volume Pesa No. 1".
My curiosity aroused, supply through the local store could not keep up with my demand. So I persuaded a friend, who was working in Kenya at the time, to bring me back all he could find of this series commemorating Mbaraka's greatness. I recently discovered that I still haven't collected all of these*....

This volume contains songs of Mbaraka Mwinshehe with his orchestra Super Volcano. The orchestra is not credited on the sleeve, but Mbaraka himself cites the name of the orchestra in the songs.
This lack of info on the sleeve in itself is not unusual, given the state of literacy of the target audience. But it does suggest that the marketing department never imagined a European listener would ever be interested in this product of 'native culture'.

Most of the songs are in the typical Mbaraka style, with the usual references to Congolese sources of inspiration, such as Franco and Docteur Nico. But there is always an authentic twist. While Franco would go full-blast after a carefully constructed build-up like the one in the first track, "Bibi Wa Watu", Mbaraka instead (after 3'34) opts for a subtle, understated and very elegant 'mipanza' (see this post). I love it.
Every song comes with such a 'twist'.
In "Dina Uliapa" he clearly uses Nico's style, but ends with a typical Mbaraka touch, with the solo guitar strumming and the rhythm guitar moving to the forefront.
I realise this may be a bit of paradigm shift for some of the readers, but the first song on the B-side seems inspired by Tabu Ley's Afrisa of the early 1970s. If you imagine Rochereau singing instead of Mbaraka, I am sure you'll hear it. Of course, Mbaraka lacks the pretence and the intellectual air, and this is not only reflected in the singing, but also in the down-to-earth sax.

The song which stands out on this lp is, however, very much an original. "Masika Mtindo Mpya" is one of those songs that will force its way into your long-term memory. Despite the rather monotonous rhythm, that trumpet (!), Mbaraka's guitar: who can forget this song?

Polydor POLP 550

There is more.
As a bonus I would like to share with you these five alternative takes, which were sent to me by Mr. Msomali, who you may remember (from this earlier post) suggested there must be televised recordings of Mbaraka. We are, by the way, still looking - and I hope you are too!
He sent me these five songs, recorded at Radio Tanzania Dar Es Salaam (RTD), adding: "These 5 songs are authentic/original songs Mbaraka recorded at RTD,and please listen at the way he plays the guitar from minute 4'05 in "Waache Waseme", and that is vintage Mbaraka."

Of these five tracks three (tracks 2, 3 and 4) have been included in Ukumbusho Vol. 3 (POLP 542), one (track 1) in Vol. 7 (POLP 566) and one (track 5) in POLP 502. Most names you'll recognise, and "Suniasa unipoze moyo" is called "Nirudie Mama" on Vol. 3.

I subsequently asked him how these songs compare to the versions released by Polydor (Polygram). His answer typifies the attitude of the African listener: lyrics first, melody later.

"The lyrics of the the five songs are almost the same, with only some words here and there being different. For example in the first song, "Watalii" (tourist), he is asking/telling prospective tourist that by visiting Tanzania they will be visiting majestic/magnificent game parks like Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti, Manyara (the only place in the world where you can see lions climb trees) and Mikumi park (please note that he forgot Selous game reserve, one of the biggest and most beautiful game reserves). He also mentions Kilimanjaro,the highest mountain in Africa,and also says the country has beautiful almost untouched beaches.
The only difference between the Polydor/RTD versions is the animals he mentions in the song.
In this original RTD version he mentions only 4 animals: elephants, lions (climbing trees), giraffes and zebras. Whereas in the latter Polydor version he mentions 5: elephants, lions, giraffes, does not mentions zebras but then mentions 2 new ones, buffalo and leopards (if singing the song today he could be asked to drop the poor giraffe and put rhino instead, thus mentioning the so-called Big five).
And the other difference of course being the quality of the music, being much better in the RTD original."

Morogoro Jazz Band
"Your favorite, "Vijana sikilizeni"(Teenagers/students listen [to my advice]), is a song with a timely and important message to students (mostly those attending boarding secondary schools) not to engage in and waste their time into forming boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, instead of studying hard to better their future, reminding them that their parents spend a lot of their hard earned money to send them to those expensive boarding schools, only for their offspring to risk being expelled from their studies for engaging into those illicit love affairs. He warns them that they risk losing both their studies and also their so-called lovers, as when they are expelled they will both normally returns to their parents`s homes, which usually are in different regions. Lastly, he sings of the pain these youngsters inflict on their parents, who not only lose all the money they had invested into their children`s education, but also see their kids throw away the chance to get proper education and have a chance of a better life in their future.
It was a meaningful song that was really warmly welcomed by parents and all governments in the region, as it had a very important message for the young people in education.
It did not hurt also as it really was as you say a very good song musically, and especially this original RTD song."

Mr. Msomali estimates the songs were recorded in either 1970 or 1971.

So with a very warm thank you to Mr. Msomali: 5 songs recorded at RTD


* Going by the volumes - up to 13 (!) - on offer on various websites, including i-Tunes (a site which I simply refuse to visit..).


February 01, 2014

Cynic

Since the beginning of this year we are being bombarded with news that the Economic Crisis is over. And even it is not completely over, we are economically on the 'up'.

I have my doubts.

The former public, and now very much private, utility companies are still busy raking in the money. Water, electricity, health insurance, public transport, cable companies: we were led to believe that privatisation was necessary, if not crucial. The free market should, no would lead to lower rates, lower tariffs, lower premiums, lower charges. Instead, these have gone up and up. Excuses were sought - or made up. In the last few years the crisis and the falling revenue on investments was a good and much used excuse. In 2013 local bus fares went up by 15%. "Catching up with the increase in the cost of living" was the excuse. This year they are up again, "to be able to guarantee a good service to our customers" is the excuse this time. In the meantime salaries have not followed suit. After years of 0% increase a miserable 1% was graciously granted, - which was amply compensated by the abolition of privileges and benefits.

Meanwhile the banks, the main perpetrators in the economy scam, are humbly offering apologies for the prolonged extortion of their customers, and have spent the whole of last year proclaiming that their main concern from now on will be the service to these same customers.
Words. And words alone.
The actions show another picture: interest rates on saving accounts are lower than the rate of inflation, on loans (if indeed the customer can demonstrate that he or she is worthy of such a great honour) they are still as high as ever. Here in the low countries the banks are almost all under the control of the state, but this public control has not led to a more public friendly approach. When it comes to the security of online banking - for example - we, the customers, are more than ever seen as incompetent idiots; and I am convinced the next step will be that we as customers will have to prove that a sudden cleaning-out of our account was not due to our own stupidity.

To those who think I am exaggerating I would like to say "NSA". For which hardcore addict of conspiracy theories would have conjured up what has now come to light about the big-brother activities of this American public organisation? And if you ask me, we have only scratched the surface.

On the other hand, maybe I am turning into a sad old cynic. Maybe I should nurture my more naive side, encourage my 'inner child'.

And that brings us to the music of this post. Isn't it tempting to romanticise about an unspoilt, 'primitive' life in the wild? Living off the earth, being one with nature. The simple existence of the hunter-gatherer.

The music captured on this brilliant cassette and recorded in the central Kalahari by Arthur Krasnilnikoff in 1987 (all tracks except B1) and 1992 (B1) does everything to coax the listener into the idyll. The delicate plucking of the mouthbow and all the other out-of-this-world, magical instruments, the innocence of the singing, but above all the unedited, untouched, uninterfered and intimate character of these great recordings: they all combine to make you want to believe the fairytale. Even the bleating of the goats and the bumping into the microphone contribute to a miraculous feeling of well-being, of paradise, where life is simple and easy.

N!oakwe - Music of the Central Kalahari

But of course life is neither simple nor easy. The hunter-gatherer has been under attack for generations, and the music on this fantastic cassette is just a relic, from another age, another world, as is demonstrated in this documentary from 1980...

N!ai, the story of a !Kung woman
(this video was available until March 15 only!).

EDIT February 15, 2014: The video has been replaced by a version with a different sound codec (mp3), as several people indicated they were having problems with the AAC codec I used in the initial version.

January 10, 2014

Fire

Perhaps you have been wondering why I haven't posted a eulogy to the late Taby Ley Rochereau. Or why I haven't commented on the death of Nelson Mandela. And what are my feelings at the death of prolific producer Ibrahima Sylla?
I certainly have opinions about all of these, but in the case of the first and the last this is not the time to express these. And in the case of Madiba: what can I add that has not already been written, by persons far more qualified, far more knowledgeable than me? I simply have nothing new to contribute to the overwhelming sorrow at the death of this inspirational human being.

And those who wondered if this blog had come to an untimely end, or if inspiration or motivation had run out, can rest assured that this is certainly not the case. I was merely getting overworked and simply had neither the time or the physical energy to sit down and spend time sharing the wonderful and ever amazing music of the African and latin continents. Inspiration, passion even - just listening to the music you will know that there is very little chance that this will go away.

In this post I would like to share a cassette by an artist who has featured in this blog before (here and here): Sali Sidibé.
Many of Sali's cassettes are among my favourites from Mali, and this is certainly one of those. It is a somewhat exceptional cassette in that Sali is accompanied not by a 'traditional' ensemble but by a modern orchestra. According to the guitarist Boubacar Diallo the orchestra consisted of members of National Badema (do yourself a favour and listen to their cassette if you have - erroneously - overlooked it). Going by the sound of the orchestra this seems very likely, although I have heard others claim that members of the Rail Band are actually accompanying this great singer from the Wassoulou district in the Sikasso region of Mali.

What makes this cassette really special is the authority with which Sali addresses the people of Mali. She does so talking, and this in itself is part of a long and very respected and respectable tradition in Mali. Ms. Sidibé is dishing out advice on all kinds of issues, and particularly issues which would concern those living in the more rural areas of Mali.
I particularly like her warnings against tasuma , i.e. fire, in the longest track on this cassette, "Anw Ka Jiri Turu". The song starts of with the sokou (probably Zoumana Tereta) imitating the sound of a fire-engine. In the opening line of her (spoken) message to the public Sali gets straight to the heart of the matter: "tasuma magninde" ("fire is no good"). She continues to point out the places where fire can present a serious risk.
In any other country this may sound like kicking in a space where no door has ever been. And I suppose to a lot of Malians too it does sound like she is stating the obvious. But this is also part of her role as a musician. She is confirming the obvious. Fire cán burn you, bush fires cán ruin lifes. So "tasuma maginde". Be careful with fire, think of the risk.

But even you have no idea where Sali Sidibé is talking and singing about this is simply a superb cassette with great music.

ASF 320

September 22, 2013

September 22, 1989


Historic photos taken by Ton Verhees before and during the last concert of Franco et le T.P.O.K. Jazz at the Melkweg in Amsterdam, - just 20 days before his death in Namur, Belgium.

We had already seen the dramatically slimmed-down Franco at the same location, the Melkweg in Amsterdam, in January. But as he walked through the main entrance of the same theatre surrounded by his musicians just over 9 months later, he looked but a shadow of his former self. The musicians were clearly worried. Dizzy Mandjeku shook his head and told me "Ça ne va pas". They had tried to persuade him not come, to stay in Brussels, but he had been adamant. He had made a promise and he was going to keep it.
Encouraged by the pleasant and open interview during his last visit I had prepared a long list of questions. But seeing the man it was clear not only that Franco was too busy with his present condition and with what he had set himself to do, but also that I would not have the emotional nerve to bother an obviously very sick man with issues from the past.

The concert itself remains a painful memory for all those who were present. Some of those were perhaps not aware of the severity of the occasion. Many, including myself, still feel the intense sadness of seeing this tout-puissant musical giant so powerless, so fragile, struggling and frustrated.

Fortunately a Malian journalist and friend, Bouné Zouboye, did have the courage to talk to Franco, after the concert. The short interview fully captures the emotion of the moment, not only of Franco's own desperation, but also of the feelings of compassion and profound sympathy felt by the public on that historic evening, 24 years ago...

September 14, 2013

Dosoke Cery

With the holiday period over and business returning to normal I am hoping to find more time for this blog. Particularly I hope to post a few of the albums, cassettes and recordings I have promised in previous posts.

I would like to start with an album I referred to in a post more than two years ago. And I am not going to repeat what I wrote then, so this can be a short post.
This lp, recorded in Abidjan in 1979, is not my favourite by Djelimadi Tounkara and the Rail Band du Mali, but it does have some of my favourite tracks by the orchestra. I agree with Graeme Counsel (see my earlier post and Graeme's notes on his website) on "Dosoke Cery", but prefer the opening track of side A, "Koulandjan", to "Djiguiya". While the organ (played by Cheikh Tidiane Seck) is slightly irritating, particularly because of the thin sound, horns and guitars are nicely proportioned in this Malinké classic. Djelimadi himself (lead guitar) is great on all the tracks, and please also note the rhythm guitar, played with considerable flair and subtlety.
The singers on this album, Sekou Kanté and Sekou Kouyaté, are okay but not exceptional, and certainly not of the same level as Mory Kanté or Salif Keita. In songs like "Trio Mandingue" their harmony is a bit awkward and tends to create an atmosphere of sullen boredom.

As I mentioned I don't share the enthousiasm for the track "Djiguiya". This may have to do with Cheikh Tidiane Seck's dominant role in this song and my general aversion to 'funky tunes'.

To me the star of this album is the wonderful version of "Dosoke Cery". All the elements fall into place in this song. I write "version" because if you listen carefully you may hear the similarity between the melodic theme of this song and that of "Diabaté Zani" by the Super Djata Band. This theme is, of course, derived from the music of the hunters (donso); a line of stars of the donso ngoni music is mentioned*. "Dosoke Cery" is brilliantly understated and jubilant at the same time. The jubilation is provided by the superb interaction between rhythm and lead guitar, the understating is done by both organ and singer.
I am sure many of you won't agree, but I am of the opinion that the organ is superfluous and the song would be even better without it. The organ partially neutralises the tension generated by the two guitars and the vocal. Despite this critical note, "Dosoke Cery" is still a great song.

Disco Stock DS 7919

*for example Toumani Koné and Batoma Sanogo, both of whom will featuring in upcoming posts.


July 29, 2013

Vocabulary

In the past few days I have been in the precise mood for this classic album from 1984. I hasten to add that I am not a fan of this orchestra, Super Diamono (or Jamano) de Dakar, but I do love this lp.

The lp itself was given to me on April 11, 1986 by Donald 'Jumbo' Vanrenen, who at the time was still living in London and very much in charge of the Earthworks label. I interviewed him about his relation to music in general and to artists like Thomas Mapfumo. In re-listening the 3-hour interview I have not been able to discover what triggered this gift, but until this very day I am truely grateful.

Purely coincidentally I interviewed both Moussa Ngom and Omar Pene that same year. The interview with Moussa Ngom, after a concert in the legendary African Feeling series organised by Oko Drammeh at the Paradiso in Amsterdam (see the flyer below), was very strenuous, with Moussa answering in platitudes which seemed to be inspired by reggae lyrics. Omar Pene, who I interviewed at the WOMAD festival, was - by contrast - extremely businesslike in his answers. One answer in particular stuck with me. Asked if it didn't bother him that European audiences had no idea what he was singing about, he said that to him the voice was primarily an instrument; changing the language would mean changing the instrument.

Listening to this album I have to agree that the songs would sound ridiculous if they were sung, for example, in french. Omar Pene's voice is in perfect harmony with the instrumentation, almost to a point where voice and instruments amalgamate.
In general I thoroughly dislike anything even vaguely resembling a synthesizer, and I think the introduction of this demon child of organ parentage has played a major role in the degradation and impoverishment of musical cultures. Nevertheless, given that the damage has been done, the milk has been spilt and the child has disappeared with the bath water, I can think of far worse examples of the use of synthetic instruments than that by Papa Basse in these tracks.
It is like Super Diamono was attempting to invent a new vocabulary with this album. A vocabulary where the synthesizer would not sound out of place, totally superfluous and an economic alternative to something much better (i.e. usually a horn section).

In the opening track "Yamatée Née Law" the guitar, the voice of Omar Pene, even the well-tempered sax (after 2'07), they are all held together by the organ and synthesizer. The song is languid, moody almost, and the synthesizer and organ are major contributors to this feeling.
The effect is slightly different in the second song, "Indu Waad", also a ballad. The synth sauce is counterbalanced by the subtle guitar, which only just manages to save Omar Pene's voice from tipping over into the dramatic. Drama does prevail in the title song of the album, "Geedy Dayaan". In this song Omar Pene is the star of the show. His voice brilliantly goes from desperate to consoling, from tragic to loving. Please note too Bob Sène's careful guitar playing.

Of the three other (more mbalax style) songs on this album I particularly like "Muugn". Not so much for the synthesizer, which I find more irritating than on the other songs, but for the fact that Super Diamono demonstrates that the band can also make good songs without or with just a little bit of synth.

GR 7604

July 15, 2013

On sort O.K.

In this second commemorative post I am going back to the start of Franco's O.K. Jazz. The three EP's I would like to share were released in the early 1960s, but the songs on these were recorded between late November 1956 and August 1957.

All of these songs have been - at some time - released on CD, so you may wonder why I am posting them. The answer is actually quite simple: I think the sound on these EP's is better. And I don't mean that these EP's are flawless. On the contrary, I would described the state of the vinyl as mediocre*. There is a steady crackle on all these three Extended Play records. Nevertheless, the definition of the music, of the instruments and the singers, is - in my opinion - better than on the CD's.

Essous & Rossignol in 1957
This 'definition' is immediately noticeable in the first song of the EP with the title "O.K. Jazz No.2". This song, "La Fiesta" (here "La Fiesta-Tcha-Tcha-Tcha", probably copied from the labelling on the HMV shellac), features singer Vicky Longomba backed by Philippe Landot a.k.a. "Rossignol". Just on the voices there is clearly more definition: Rossignol's voice can be distinguished far better and is positioned behind Vicky's in the sound image. But an even greater difference can be heard in the sound of the maracas. This instrument no longer sounds muffled. Also that wonderful clarinet, played by Jean-Serge Essous (see this post), is more more '3-D' than on the CD, which even further enhances the part of this song after 1'24 which I see as one of the climaxes in the Essous' work with the O.K. Jazz.
Unfortunately there are very few of those. And this is not so much due to the lack of talent on the part of Essous, but entirely to the fact that on January 1, 1957 he (and Rossignol, plus drummer Saturnin 'Ben' Pandi and Paul Ebengo better known as Dewayon) left the O.K. Jazz and Editions Loningisa for the new created Esengo label. So this was exactly 5 weeks after recording "La Fiesta" and the A-side of this 78 (Loningisa 160), "On Entre O.K., On Sort K.O.", which by many - and in my opinion erroneously - is considered to be the first track by the O.K. Jazz. My guess is that this has to do with the HMV catalogue, in which "On Entre O.K., On Sort K.O."/"La Fiesta" is the first record (HMV 1001). The tracks recorded at the Loningisa studio were sold on to His Master's Voice. There are even a few tracks which were only released on HMV.
Going by the recording dates the first record by the O.K. Jazz (founded June 6, 1956) is Loningisa 154 "Makambo Mayiza Mazono" (recorded June 20, 1956), with the tell-tale B-side "La Rumba O.K." (recorded on June 21, 1956). Both these songs, composed by Franco, are on Crammed Disc CRAW 7, which also contains Loningisa 157: "Tika Kondima Na Zolo"/"Meya Te, Kaka Elamba". And, in case you are still convinced that Loningisa 160 was the first release by the O.K. Jazz: Loningisa 158, recorded in July 1956, features another Franco song entitled "Bana O.K. Jazz".

To me the best tracks of Essous with the O.K. Jazz must be the two on the A-side of the second EP, which carries the rather anonymous title of "Congo Rhythm". These two tracks, "Alliance Mode Succès" and "Tongo Se Elangisa" (both composed by Dewayon), were recorded just days before Essous and Rossignol departed, on December 24 and 27. The interplay between Franco and Essous in these songs is just brilliant, and makes me wish the cooperation between these two Greats would have continued for much longer. It is clear that this interplay was the basis for the - almost hallmark - interaction between Franco and Isaac Musekiwa, the sax player who in the early part of 1957 came over from Kabasellé's African Jazz to fill the gap Essous had left.
I assume the song "Alliance Mode Succès" is one of many paying tribute to a female association (and I suppose this must have been "La Mode"**). Rossignol encourages the members of the association to show their dancing skills, calling them one by one.
"Tongo Se Elangisa" is my favourite song of Vicky singing with Rossignol. Rossignol is singing lead, with a touch of the dramatic (it is a bolero); and Vicky shows great control in backing him in an understated manner.

More songs from 1956 can be found on the third of these EP's. Something appears to have gone terribly wrong with the title of this EP, as the trademark slogan "On entre O.K., on sort K.O." has been 'corrected' into "On Entre O.K., On Sort O.K.". It is unlikely that the correction was intentional, as even the opening track of this EP, the A-side of "La Fiesta" (see above), has been changed.
The two songs on the B-side of this EP were composed by Essous. As with the songs on the other EP's, both "Lina" and "Se Pamba" sound more open than the CD-versions, which also makes it easier to distinguish Franco's antics in the background.

After the departure of Essous, Rossignol and Pandi new members were recruited. Vocalists Edo Nganga and Célestin Kouka joined the young orchestra, and Nicolas Bosuma a.k.a "Dessoin" was attracted to replace Pandi. No doubt provoked by the serious competition from the new orchestras and temporary groupings on the Esengo label, the O.K. Jazz progressed at an incredible rate.
Also new with the O.K. Jazz was Antoine 'Brazzos' Armando. He had played with Vicky at Editions CEFA in the mid-1950s. There he worked with Belgian (jazz-)guitarist Bill Alexandre, who in 1955 introduced the electric guitar into Congolese music. Bill Alexandre named Brazzos, in an interview in 1992, as the best guitarist of the era. I am not sure what the precise grounds were for this qualification, or if this was in any way influenced by the fact that they cooperated at the CEFA label. Nor do I have any idea if Mr. Alexandre was aware of the full extent of the competition. Fact is, however, that Brazzos played a crucial role in the evolution of the O.K. Jazz, - if only for his compositions.
For, to be honest, Brazzos' role as an instrumentalist within the O.K. Jazz is still a bit of a mystery to me. As I mentioned, he joined the O.K. Jazz in 1957 as a rhythm guitarist, left the orchestra at the end of 1959 to join Kabasellé (and Vicky) as a bass player at the Table Ronde. And when he returned a few years later (again with Vicky), his place as an accompagnateur was taken by Lutumba Simarro and Franco was well on his way to establish himself as the undisputed star of the orchestra.

In the time between his arrival at the O.K. Jazz and his departure for African Jazz Brazzos composed 20 songs for the orchestra, and all of these are veritable gems. His first record was "Na Banzaki Angelu"/"Nde Okobanza" (Loningisa 181 / HMV 1027) and his second was "Tcha Tcha Tcha De Mi Amor"/"Yaka Nakoki Te" (Loningisa 189 / HMV 1045). These last two songs can be found on these EP's. "Tcha Tcha Tcha De Mi Amor" is the first in a line of killer cha-cha-cha's, which with the O.K. Jazz were usually not very far from a boléro. Franco is at it and restless like a caged animal, while the rest of the orchestra remains relatively sedate and seemingly undisturbed. In "Yaka Nakoki Te" Franco seems more controlled, but this control is deceptive.
I am sure I'll get back to Brazzos and his contribution to the early O.K. Jazz at a later date.

I leave you to evaluate the remaining four tracks from these three EP's by yourself. The two most 'recent' of these, "Nakolela Mama Azonga" and "Ah Bolingo Pasi", were composed by Vicky and were recorded on August 21, 1957 and released as Loningisa 198 (HMV 1054). Edo Nganga's "Taxi Avalon" was released on Loningisa 192 (HMV 1048). And I am sure you recognise "Aya La Mode" (Loningisa 194 / HMV 1050) from the compilations in which this compositon by Franco has been included, - unfortunately in most cases out of context and seriously compressed and/or otherwise mangled. In the version on the EP you can still hear Brazzos' understated rhythm guitar, which Franco uses as a line to set his exclamation marks.

Pathé 7 EMF 218 - 7 EMF 291 - 7 EMF 302 (or in one file)

*this the equivalent of what those online sellers of vinyl label "NM", - which I, naively, believed to mean "near mint", but should be interpreted as either "slightly worse than anything in your own collection" or "exposed to a pre-school playgroup"....
** and that reminds me: I am still waiting, with considerable anticipation, for the documentary which Vincent Kenis, Césarine Sinatu Bolya and others have made about the 1950s Congolese music scene, in which these associations play an important role.

July 12, 2013

75

I had intended to finish this post last Saturday, July 6, as it was the date on which Franco would have celebrated his 75th birthday. But both the warm weather here in the low countries, plus work and (especially) social obligations have prevented me from completing this task.
So almost a week late, I would like to commemorate this true giant of African music, a giant who despite his huge influence on African and - through this - world music in many respects remains completely unknown to the general public in large parts of the world, by sharing two selections from his work.

The first of these is the album "Chez Fabrice à Bruxelles" which was released on the Edipop label in 1983.

In my experience this is an album that not many people will mention when summing up their favourite works by Franco and his T.P. O.K. Jazz. This is a pity, but not for the most obvious reason.
The most obvious reason being that this is the album that contains the first (almost 19 minutes) track combining the vocals of Franco and Madilu System: "Non". This combination would prove hugely successful in the following years, with the albums "Très Impoli" (POP 028, 1984 - with "Tu Vois?", which is probably better known as "Mamou") and, of course, "Mario" (CHOC 004 and CHOC 005, both from 1985).

To be honest, I am not a great fan of the (also late) Madilu. While I understand the reasons for his popularity, my preferences are with other singers.
But, as Ntesa Dalienst put it in an interview in 1990 (parts of which have been posted by Aboubacar Siddikh on his YouTube channel), in the last years of his life Franco composed songs for the voice of Madilu. According to Ntesa, this choice must be seen in the light of Franco's continual endeavour to incorporate other popular Congolese styles into the music of the T.P. O.K. Jazz. From 1973 onwards he had (no doubt helped by the position he had obtained both within the music 'business' and in relation to the political powers of - then - Zaïre) attracted singers from the African Jazz school of Congolese music (Sam Mangwana, Josky Kiambukuta, Ntesa Dalienst and others). Ntesa names "Non" specifically as a song intended to integrate the style of Pepe Kallé.
While Ntesa stated that the love for this music style was Franco's main motive, I suspect that commercial motives must have played a role. And especially as Franco was trying, in 1983, to gain access to the American and European market and wanted to use the broadest possible scope of Congolese music to do so.

At the same time Franco did not want to lose any of his popularity with his Congolese/Zairean public. So he continued to address them on issues which can best be described as 'everyday issues'. "Non" is a mix between a love song and a song about a social topic. In short, the song is about a girl's refusal to marry a married man. Seen from a current, western perspective the lyrics are blatantly sexist, even verging on misogynistic. Whether this means that Franco can be described a misogynist is, however, not as obvious as it may seem. A lot of Franco's songs describe opinions held by (a larger or smaller part of) the Zairean public. In many cases they do not necessarily always represent Franco's personal view.

Getting back to the album, I find the A-side musically more interesting than the B-side. This side contains two tracks, "Frein à main" and "5 Ans ya Fabrice". I don't know the lyrical content of the first song, apart from what appears to emanate from the title (a "frein à main" is a handbrake, and I assume Franco is not referring to the handbrake in a car).
The second song is a sequel to a song from 1980, simply called "Fabrice". It is a continued ode to the tailor in Ixelles, Brussels frequented by Franco and some of his musicians and staff.
There is a third ode to the same craftsman, "Fabrice Akende Sango", which was released after Franco's death on Sonodisc CD 6981, and which also features Ntesa, but this time with Sam Mangwana, - and not with Josky (as in this version). Sadly the Franco's absence in the post-production of that last version is very noticeable....

I like the A-side not just for the solid chorus, but also for the complex arrangement. Perhaps not as classic as "A l'Ancienne Belgique" from 1984, but well en route to that peak in the 1980s repertoire of the T.P. O.K. Jazz.
Over the years I have found that a lot of listeners have problems distinguishing Franco's guitar in the melee (or - if you like - mêlée) of guitars. In "Frein à main" and "5 Ans ya Fabrice" his guitar is on the far right of the stereo image (e.g. 7'15 into "Frein" or 10'36 into "Fabrice").

Edipop POP 027

June 11, 2013

New links

I have refreshed a few of the links that have 'died' in the course of time.
In chronological order:

2008:
- that seminal cassette by Abdoulaye Diabaté & le Koulé Star from Koutiala. An absolute must for lovers of that classic Malian orchestra sound, if you ask me (and such a lovely inviting cassette sleeve too..).
- the cassette Super Biton released a few days after the last 'old style' Biennale in 1988. My guess is they thought they had a chance of winning. A good optimistic attitude in general, but in this case not very realistic... In hindsight not a bad cassette though.
- the EP by G.G. Vikey. Still nice. And I have managed to dig up a copy of the front sleeve!
- the recordings of the RTG (Guinée) of the Super Sanankora Sofa de Kérouané. I am in the process of redigitising the video, and Graeme Counsel has also posted a few videos by this orchestra on his YouTube channel.
- perhaps one from the category "holiday slides", but I don't care: the accordion I recorded in Trinidad, Cuba.

2009:
- the zany lp by Orchestre Micky-Micky. Congolese music recorded in Nigeria always has that special something, as you perhaps know from all those great Tchico albums that Moos at Global Groove. And this Micky-Micky one is especially special.
- one from heavy-weights of T.P. O.K. Jazz fame: Josky Kiambukuta, Madilu and Malage de Lugendo's lp "So.Pe.Ka.". A classic which will surely get you wiggling.
- volumes 2 and 3 from the series "Les Plus Grands Succès", originally recorded for Ngoma (see Flemming Harrev's discography on http://www.afrodisc.com/). I will come back to these records in the next few weeks.
- by the legend from Sierra Leone, Salia Koroma, his cassette #40. At the Lola Radio blog you can find more from the same 'batch' of cassettes.

2010:
- and finally, from Zimbabwe, two cassettes by the Marxist Brothers.

You may have noticed too that I have uploaded a slightly improved version of the legendary Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe's "Festac Explosion Volume 1" a month or so ago.

If you find any more links that have expired, please let me know and I will replace these.

June 09, 2013

Twist

"Danser le twist"(1965) © Malick Sidibé
Although still at a 'tender age' I have consciously lived through the era of the twist. I have vivid memories of aunts making a total fool of themselves. And of us - the children - giggling, and subsequently being sent out of the room. I even remember cautious efforts at executing the dance (and 'executing' is a good description..) in an early attempt to show that I was "with it".

I have to admit I was puzzled (to say the least) when I found out - a few decades later - that this dance had been copied in several African countries (see also this post). A dance which conjures up images of awkward, even embarrassing body contortions by oversized humans, being performed in countries where dance and rhythm was an integral part of life? Why?

A key to an answer was given by Franco. In an interview in 1987 he pointed out that Africans have no problem in integrating influences from other continents. He himself was a great fan of 'musique slow', by which he meant a large repertoire varying from soul ballads to entertainment music from films and such. The fact that Africans took aboard influences was not a problem, according to Franco. The real problem was that the broad public in the US and Europe make no attempt to get to know the music from Africa.
Unfortunately, little has changed in the 26 years that have passed...

This brings me to the subject of this post. But with a twist....
For in looking for a digital version of the sleeve* of this lp (which I copied to cassette sometime in the 1980s) I was struck by the constant references to the fact that a group from the UK had covered a song by this artist. One could easily get the impression that Daudi Kabaka's only contribution to the welfare of mankind has been that "his song "Helule Helule" was covered by The Tremeloes and () became a hit in United Kingdom" (wikipedia).

Luckily there are others who manage to stay away from justifying the mention of an African artist by how he or she can be linked to the western world. I particularly like the article by Douglas Paterson, which highlights Kabaka's career from an African perspective.
If you ask me Daudi Kabaka has done more by singing songs like the delightful "Kiliyo Kwelu" and the slightly hyper "Jela Kubwa Na Viboko" than by allowing an english band to copy bits from a somewhat boring "Helule Helule".

POLP 531


*If anyone has it, please share it with us...