The series of "Les Plus Grands Succes Zaïrois" is somewhat peculiar series of Congolese music collections. The title would suggest tracks from the time Congo was called Zaïre, - but all the tracks are from the 1960s, when Congo was still Congo. Furthermore at least one of the groups (Cercul Jazz) is from Brazzaville. And calling the songs selected on the three albums "les plus grands succes" can't have been based on their commercial success. It seems more likely that Sonafric got hold of some singles and decided to launch a series to compete with the L'Afrique Danse series of the African label. 'Research' into this matter reveals that all tracks have been at one point released as singles on the Ngoma label (see the list - there is one single I can't retrieve).
Despite the somewhat awkward title both albums offer a selection of rare beauties from the sixties. Franco and his OK Jazz, Verckys "et son ensemble", Kongo Vox and Cercul Jazz have four tracks each on these two volumes. The remaining are by orchestre Congolia (on Ngoma they are called Congolia 69) and Johnny Roger et son ensemble Cocorico.
Of the OK Jazz songs only the two of Volume 2 have (to my knowledge) been released on another lp. Both "Dix Makuta" and "Club 53" (renamed "Marie Mado") have been included on Volume 10 of the Kenyan In Memoriam series (GMFLP 0010). In both cases the Kenyan versions are significantly longer. In the case of "Dix Makuta" in the "Les Grands Succes Zaïrois"-version Franco has just achieved 'lift-off' when the song ends, while on Volume 10 we are allowed to enjoy full flight with captain Franco at the controls...
On Volume 3 the deficit is compensated by two superb and unique tracks. In "Ngai Na Boya Na Boya Te", a song in a rhythm half-way between rumba and bolero, Franco himself sings the lead, and in "Beyos" he subtly backs Vicky Longomba. Unfortunately I can't help but think that these two tracks too have been shortened....
In the four tracks from Verckys et son ensemble (which seems to indicate these tracks are of a pre-Vévé period) Franco's influence is still very much audible. While still in the OK Jazz Verckys made some records with (amongst others) Youlou Mabiala. It may be my imagination, but one of the vocalists on "Sasa Akeyi Congé" sounds suspiciously like Youlou, and also at the start of "Bawaka" my sensors detect some Mabiala. But it may be that Verckys intentionally tried to get Youlou-like vocals into his orchestra.
I don't know anything about the Kongo Vox orchestra. The fact that they are playing in the OK Jazz style suggests there is no link with Vox Africa (firmly rooted in the African Jazz school of Congolese music). Instrumentally and vocally they certainly stand out as a quality band. And they have the confidence to pull off a comical pause in "Ndoli Ya Mosapi" (should that be "ndoki"?).
Although he sounds slightly different than on the tracks I posted before, I think Franklin Boukaka is singing in at least three of the four tracks by Cercul Jazz. I especially like "Lily Komikosana Te" and "Na Sepeli Aline", both very melodic songs with nice harmonies (and a very nice rhythm guitar). But again I suspect songs have been cut short.
If I heard the ghost of Youlou Mabiala with Verckys's ensemble, with Johnny Roger I hear a voice with the same timbre as Kwamy. But in this case I am quite sure we are dealing with an imitator, and not with the 'real thing'. I like the two tracks, but I can also imagine they didn't stand a chance against the stiff competition of that era.
The same goes for Congolia: in any other period they could have become succesful, but the competition in those days was just too good, with bands like Conga Succes, Cobantou, Negro Succes, African Fiesta National, African Fiesta Sukisa, Vox Africa, Negro Band and all the other immortal bands of the late 1960s.
All in all, and despite my suspicions about shortening most of the tracks, I am very happy with these two albums, - as I am with the first volume*. But that the subject of another post.
Sonafric SAF 50043
Sonafric SAF 50044
* which reminds me: I have received the Docteur Nico book I wrote about a few days ago, and can now officially and wholeheartedly recommend it.