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.