December 29, 2010


I am finally getting 'round to posting this album. The reason for the delay is not in the lp itself, but in the video that goes with it. I have struggling to get the sound at least acceptable. Although I don't think I have succeeded I doubt I can do more to get it right. Besides, the exceptional quality of the sound of the lp should help to balance matters....

The lp is by the Super Boiro Band, and was released on the Syliphone label in Guinea, which in any case is a guarantee for a superior quality of music - and sound. The name "Boiro" was rapidly changed after the death of Sékou Touré and the fall of the Syli regime, as it carried associations to the infamous prison camp, Camp Boiro, in which a staggering estimate of fifty thousand (mainly political) prisoners were said to have died. The Super Boiro Band changed its name into Super Flambeau (flambeau = torch).
And in my opinion this is a far more suitable name given the both fiery and glowing nature of their music, - as is demonstrated especially by this record.

Justin Morel Junior mentions in his sleeve notes that the musicians of the orchestra 'pulled their act together' after visiting the "Semaine National de solfégétisation" in Conakry in 1974. My (rather aged) dictionary has no entry for "solfégétisation", but "solfège" has something to do with singing techniques, so I assume they did some vocal training. This certainly did no harm to their vocal harmonies, which are great on this lp.

But nevertheless I am more impressed by their instrumental skills. Particularly the organ on this lp is on a level of its own. Starting at 5'15 in the first track "Somono" the organist is the true master of these recordings. Highlights of his performance are the - in my opinion epic - version of "Nanibaly", in which I can picture him swaying behind his instrument, before making his dramatically restrained entrance after 3'14. The classic "Samba" is an instrumental tribute to the instrumental talents of the whole Boiro Band, again dominated by the organ.

But there is more to this record. There are 'cool' tunes, like the supercool "Gumbe". There is joy in "Sakonke" ("cuisinées à plus que 100°C"), encouragement in "Khamulan Na", and of course the usual flattery (albeit somewhat obligatory sounding!) of the P.D.G. in "Barika".

Judging by the few tracks I have heard of their work of the post-Syli era, I get the impression that the Super Flambeau managed to retain the high level they show on this wonderful album on the ever great Syliphone label. I for one would certainly like more of this.....

Syliphone SLP 58

As a bonus, and with my sincerest apologies for the crappy sound, here is a video of the song "Sakonke":

December 21, 2010


Graeme Counsel informs me that he has finished the first draft of yet another discography. In this case of the N'Dardisc label.
When it comes to Senegalese music this is certainly one of my favourite labels, as you may have noticed from past posts (33-11, 33-12, 33-14, 45-18).

This seems a good occasion to add one more. "Folklore du Sénégal - Musique et chants traditionnels" (N'Dardisc 33-10, as you can check in the discography) is normally a title to put any prospective buyer off, - but this will prove to be a serious mistake with the N'Dardisc label.
Side A contains three classic tracks by Soundioulou Sissoko and his wife Mahawa Kouyaté. According to some (notably a presenter from the RTG from Guinea) they are the source of many songs which became hits with the Great Orchestras from the golden age of Guinean and Malian (Malinké) music. Although I have my doubts about this claim, I am sure they have had a substantial influence. On this lp Mahawa, accompanied by Soundioulou on cora, sings "Bandia" (interpreted by both Orchestre de la Pailotte and Orchestre du Jardin de Guinée) and "Sakhodougou" (Jardin/Balladins). Soundioulou adds his interpretation of "Alalake" (e.g. Bembeya), but personally I think he doesn't get close to the overpowering version of Lalo Keba Dramé on N'Dardisc 33-11.

This master of cora and copper vocals (see my earlier post) can be heard on side B, together with Samba Diabaré Samb. And what a deadly duo they are! "Bamba Bodian" is another version than the one on "Hommage A Lalo Keba Dramé", but again by the great master himself. And "Maky Tara" and "Saraba"..... well, I'll leave you to discover these marvels for yourselves. All I will say is that if you liked Samba Diabaré Samb's track on N'Dardisc 33-12, you will be blown away by these.....

N'Dardisc 33-10

December 20, 2010


Lola Djangi 'Chécain', 1974
You may remember my earlier post in which I described Lola Djangi 'Chécain' as a singer from the 'old' (1960s) O.K. Jazz style. In this post I would like to focus more closely on this singer, who sadly died in 1992.

For most listeners Chécain will not be the easiest singer to recognise. For one thing, he usually acted as backing vocalist. And, perhaps more importantly, his voice matched his personality: unobtrusive - bordering on unpretentious - with a tendency towards the melancholic. Amongst the 'heavyweights' of the Tout Puissant O.K. Jazz he was not one to elbow himself into the limelight.
On the lp "In Memoriam Grand Maître Franco Vol. 9" he sings on a remarkably high percentage of the tracks: four out of the seven tracks. And of these four, his contribution to the song "Bodutaka" (composed by Lutumba Simaro) can be described as 'typical'. The song is dominated by Sam Mangwana and Josky Kiambukuta, with a 'cameo appearance' by Michel Boyibanda, who is allowed to do the third solo part. Chécain can only be heard in the background, when the three other vocalists do their solos, and 'animating' when Franco sets off into the sebene.

Chécain with Sam Mangwana
Far less typical is the fact that of the four tracks no less than two were composed by Chécain. These are in my opinion two of the best songs he has made for the T.P. O.K. Jazz. For one thing both songs feature Chécain sings with or alongside Sam Mangwana. A combination of voices which drew Mangwana, coming from the African Jazz/Fiesta side of Congolese music, into the O.K. Jazz style. And then there is of course Franco.....

But let's start at the beginning. This ninth volume of the "In Memoriam" series, which was released by Polygram Kenya shortly after Franco's death at the end of 1989, starts of with a Part Two. I can only guess why Polygram decided to select "Assitou" again, after they had already included the full version (part 1 and part 2) in Volume 1*. Maybe they were compensating for the inclusion of only the first part on "Fifteen Years Ago Vol.4" (ASLP 1024) a year earlier?
I am not complaining, however, as there can not be enough releases of this superb example of Franco's "let's run down the Kilimandjaro" chauffage (after 3'15). "Terrible", indeed. I strongly advise you to also take note of the complex patterns of rhythm guitars and Mpudi Decca's passionate bass playing.

"Zando Ya Tipo Tipo" is not only an interesting song for its lyrics (see Aboubacar Siddikh's YouTube version), but also for the extraordinary combining of the voices of composer Michel Boyibanda and Josky Kiambukuta. Both have voices with a tendency towards a 'coppery' sound, but the effect is strenghtened because Boyibanda sings the (higher) lead part, - and Franco takes it to another level of 'copperyness' with the sharp sound of his guitar.

The third song, titled "Bano Brekete" on this lp but "Mowunbu Ya Makanisi" on Pathe 2 C006 15717, starts off as a regular duet of Franco (composer) with his pupil Youlou Mabiala, but takes a turn into another direction after 2'22, with Franco experimenting with a new style of pizzicato.

Chécain, July 9, 1991 (photo: A. Siddikh)
And this is where we get to the first of Chécain's compositions on this album. "Lukika", like "Mele", offers another opportunity to enjoy the magical combination of the voices of Sam Mangwana and Chécain, with Chécain following Sam like a shadow. As per usual Chécain is very active as an animateur, in the classic O.K. Jazz style of people like Vicky Longomba before him, i.e. as a kind of commentator in the instrumental bits of the song. Chécain himself has stated that Josky is also singing in this song. If he is, he has managed to stay inaudible; or perhaps he is duplicating the singing of Chécain. The song contains no vocal solo, the duet stays intact until Franco breaks loose after 3'49, with Chécain continuing the animation. Franco's solo, by the way, is a fantastic example of his masterful use of only a very limited amount of chords...

While the songs on the A-side are from 1974, or even earlier, I suspect the B-side was recorded later, and in blatant stereo. The side opens with my favourite from this album: "Toboyana Kaka". The name on the sleeve, "Todutaka Kaka", is clearly an error, perhaps caused by copying part of the following title. Chécain explained the context and the lyrics to Aboubacar Siddikh and me in an interview which took place in the appartment where the T.P. O.K Jazz was staying during their European tour in the summer of 1991. The audio can be found here, and a translation into english here.
Looking back now, nearly twenty years later, I am fascinated by the obvious obsession about the photos, which I have noticed with other Africans too (and also with some Latin-Americans). Especially in the modern age of digital photos any worrying about retrieving photos from someone you once loved seems futile. Perhaps it has to do with the constant threat of witchcraft, which seems especially strong in Congo? Is he afraid that she is going to use the photos to harm him? I wish now I had had the alertness to ask him this....

I think it is safe to assume that the next song, "Bodutaka", was recorded in the same session. The singers are the same, with Sam and Josky backed by Boyibanda and Chécain. Interestingly Franco's guitar is on the left, while the rhythm guitar of Lutumba Simaro is on the right. Especially in the solo from 4'10 on Simaro appears to be trying hard to balance Franco.... Again, Decca is very hyperactive on the bass.

Remarkably Chécain's voice can be best distinguished in Youlou's "Ledi", possibly also recorded in the same session. From 1'40 he can be heard loud and clear on the right, while Youlou, Sam and Josky and again Youlou (and this twice) do their solo bits.

The photo Aboubacar took (on the left) has been hanging on the wall near my computer for some time now. The man with an impressive career from Micran Jazz, via - amongst others - Kongo Jazz, the legendary Rock-a-Mambo and Bokelo's Conga Jazz to the T.P. O.K. Jazz looking up, - with indignation in his expression, but resignation in his composure.
He died too young.


* Both parts of "Assitou" have also been released on African 360.053. That album also includes "Zando Ya Tipo-Tipo" and "Lukika".

EDIT December 21, 2010: Aboubacar Siddikh points out that Chécain in fact sings on five of the tracks. He also sings on "Assitou", although this is perhaps not so clear. It can, however, be derived from the fact that he does throw in some 'animation', - and is present on percussion (which may very well be the subject of a future post....).

EDIT January, 9, 2011: After some criticism (unfortunately of the anonymous kind...) I have re-digitised the record and have uploaded this to another server. It can be found through this link.
The A-side sounds slightly better, if you ask me.

December 13, 2010

The doctor is dead

June 29, 1989 (photo: Ton Verhees)
According to this report Remmy Ongala has died on Monday morning December 13, 2010 in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania. Born in 1947 in the Kivu province of eastern Congo, Remmy played with several bands in Congo before moving to Tanzania. He himself in an interview in 1989 (audio 1) mentioned Orch.Grand's Mike Jazz, based in Bukavu, where he played with Rachid King, who he called "his brother in Washington". When King was invited to the US in 1978, Remmy was contacted in Bukavu by Mzee Makassy (audio 2). He played with Orchestra Makassy until Makassy himself left for the UK in 1980, selling his instruments as he was going to buy new ones in Europe. When ex-O.K. Jazz guitarist Mose 'Fanfan' Sesengo didn't feel like waiting for Makassy and decided to start his own orchestra called "Matimila", he invited Remmy to join him. Remmy agreed but with the intention to go back to Makassy as soon as he had returned. But when Makassy returned he refused to take back the defectors. After about a year and a half Fanfan announced he would move on, and left Remmy in charge of Matimila.

Remmy Ongala was known among his fans as the 'witchdoctor', a nickname which amused him, as he confessed in 1989 (audio 3). Maybe he also liked the implied reference to "le Sorcier de la guitare", Franco, who was certainly Remmy's main musical hero and a major influence on his music (audio 4).

I have met Remmy several times in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and he struck me as a very passionate and sincere musician, whose main ambitions were with his public. "Singing for the poor" (see my earlier post) with Remmy Ongala was no cliché.

As a tribute to this great man and true African I would like to share with you this cassette which was released in 1989. It is a good example of Ongala in his purest form.

May he rest in peace.

AHD[MC] 6009

PS: the four fragments of the 1989 interview can also be downloaded as one file here.

December 12, 2010


"Of average height, very mischievous looking, having just passed the age of 30, 'nonchalant' Coulibaly Notin at first contact appears to be very shy. Still she carries with her that irreplacable treasure that is her voice. She does not use this carelessly. She has yet to reach the level of her famous predecessor from Tala, the incomparable Diomande Zan-Ouama, but already her aura and her popularity are great.
Her alternately sensual and soft voice allows her to deal with problems of the heart as well as those concerning the different aspects of social life in Malinke country. Drawing a large audience wherever she goes, Coulibaly Notin, as a result of a logic which is characteristic of all truely capable artists, is present at all the various large events throughout the region.
The young housewife from Benjoro, born in south Sagbara, attracted the attention of the experts by the songs she sang for those working the land.
Her mastery of the various rhythms, her creative ease and her innate talent for improvisation which is inherent in any genius, have made her today into the unrivalled star of Worodougou.
Modest as she is, Coulibaly Notin has not moved, despite her popularity, and it is with great joy that she will receive her guests at Seguela for the 18th anniversary of the independance of our country.

The world is both large and complex. Some have been fortunate to have been born under a lucky star. But the artist Coulibaly Notin declares her attachement to her peasant roots. "I live from what the earth produces and I am proud of this" she states.
Glory is something to which one has to know how to adjust. Triumphalism certainly is not a good thing. That's why we day and night admire our wise and splendid president Félix Houphouet-Boigny.
Criticism is easy and art difficult. Slander, scandalmongering often feed their creators but certainly does not kill those who are the victims of it. So the best way for us to live in a world like ours should be to get down to work and to unite.
The philosopher talks to us about fate, determinism, contingence, etc. Coulibaly Notin talks to us about the "little thing", the insignificant thing can be fate. That particular thing is not available to everyone. Here one could have said in a word success. To a woman, having a good husband should not lead to any kind of boasting. To a father, a gifted child should also not bring to start boasting for no one is master of his own destiny. Fate often is able to make things go right.

A tribute to the women's society of Sequela, called Sié-Séhi, and to its leaders. Special mention of the president Soumahoho Nomonde whose dedication, readiness and sharp sense of responsibility bring honour to the entire womanhood of Sequela.
A song inspired by daily life on the fields of the artist which at the same time evokes the well-known theme of wealth and poverty. Can the rich and the poor each take satisfaction from their condition and live in harmony?
As if to continue the previous theme Coulibaly Notin invites us to content ourselves with our fortune and not be jealous. With people of the calibre of president Félix Houphouet-Boigny and his team guiding us we can consider ourselves to be fortunate, for we are in good hands.
The Star is the symbol of radiance, of clarity, of pureness and even of splendour. When your star is shining, Coulibaly Notin tells us, you have to make the most of it, for the past does not come by again."

Is it me or are there a lot of contradictions in these sleeve notes? Right from the first sentence there are mixed messages. She is roguish and 'cool' but shy at the same time. And is combining a rejection of triumphalism and praise of a dinosaur like Houphouet-Boigny a form of cynicism? And does Notin with her humble background seriously think that the poor should come to terms with their poverty? And how does this compare to the last song in which she urges us to make the most of any given opportunity?

There is no ambivalence when it comes to her talent though. Her remarkable stiletto voice reflects strong beliefs and deep roots into one of the many many so far unexploited cultural sources within west-african music.

Sonafric SAF 61.010

PS: Does anyone have volume 1?

December 11, 2010


It appears that the information about Zani Diabaté's death has been somewhat premature. I have just been informed that he is in fact in a deep coma. The prognosis, however, is not very optimistic. Apparently the brain has been severely damaged as a result of the stroke.

I can only hope that Zani will do a "Wendo" on me. As you may know, Congolese musician Wendo Kolosoy was officially announced dead, - but was actually just out of town - and returned to sing about his own death.

I am glad there is still a ray of hope...

EDIT December 19, 2010: An anonymous source has informed me by e-mail that Zani has indeed passed away. As the source is anonymous I am somewhat cautious, and more so as no news has come from Mali confirming it...

EDIT January 5, 2011: Several - reliable - sources, including Malian, have confirmed that Zani has died yesterday, January 4, 2011, in a Paris hospital.
A great man, musician and friend has gone... More on the worldservice website.

December 10, 2010

Ngonifo Zani

Watching the video by Zani Diabaté and the Super Djata Band I posted yesterday, I was reminded of a video with another version of the same song. It is from the same televised concert as "Yacouba" which I posted in August.

Although the song is the same, the performance in this version, which was recorded live in the studio of the RTM (Malian television) in the early 1980s, is far more 'informal' and at times even chaotic. At the start the voices of Daouda 'Flani' Sangaré and Idrissa Magassa are hardly audible, only Alou Fané's characteristic vocal can be heard. I get the impression that Alou had no problem hearing Idrissa and Flani, as he tends to lean a bit on the harmony. When Flani does come through - after about 1'40 - Alou is slightly out of sync. Later on (3'07) an audibly irritated Flani even tries to call Alou to attention.

Meanwhile Zani remains completely undisturbed and from 1'54 even starts jumping up and down. Even when Flani walks over to him (3'35) and addresses him (to complain about Alou??), Zani seems to take no notice and even goes on to do a series of acrobatic stunts, while he continues playing his guitar!
I just love Zani's energy in this song.

PS: "Ngonifo Zani" = "Zani the guitarist"

December 09, 2010


Zani Diabaté and Daouda 'Flani' Sangaré in Groningen NL, Sept. 2006 (photo: wrldsrv)
It is with great sadness that I inform you of the loss of another great musician. Today Malian musician Zani Diabaté has passed away in a hospital in Paris, France, after suffering a stroke.
He was entering the studio to continue recording when he collapse and was rushed to hospital.

Zani was a great guitarist, a dedicated leader and co-founder of the legendary Super Djata Band, and from the beginning of this century a director of the Ballet National du Mali. But more than that he was a great family man, a dear and warm friend and a very nice and open guy.
I have many, very fond memories of Zani, and hope to share some of these with you in this blog in the future.

On this sad occasion, with the deep shock of the news of his death, I find it very hard to dig too deep in his extensive oeuvre, but I can assure you that there will be many more gems featuring Zani Diabaté in this blog.
For the moment I would like to share with you this video from Zani's heyday as leader of the Super Djata Band, recorded during a concert in Angoulême, France in 1984. The song is an ode to Zani, and is a demonstration of Zani's tremendous skills as a guitarist. The video also features the two great singers (and dancers) Daouda 'Flani' Sangaré and Alou Fané, who unfortunately are also no longer with us...

My condolences go to Zani's family, and especially to his son, who is following in the impressive footsteps of his father.

May Zani rest in peace.

EDIT: December 11, 2010: Apparently this post has been premature. See "Rectification".

December 05, 2010

Kofi Sammy

As I have written before, I am a bit of an ignoramus when it comes to Ghanian highlife. It doesn't mean, however, that I don't have some preferences within the broad scope (both in time and in variety) of this music.

And Sammy Kofi (often referred to as Kofi Sammy) and his Okukuseku International are certainly among my favourites. Or perhaps I should write "were". Because I am not too sure about Mr. Kofi's more recent exploits. I refer you to a video on YouTube in which he confesses to be with "Jesssusss"....

I prefer his work from the 1970s and 1980s, and particularly the lp I am sharing with you in this post (although the one I posted earlier is also high on my list).

A quick study reveals that Sammy Kofi started Okukuseku in 1969, as "Okukuseku's No. 2 Guitar Band" initially (?). He had a background in the concert parties, which developed into guitar band highlife. He went through some famous orchestras before founding Okukuseku, notably E.K Nyame No.1 Band and Dr. K. Gyasi's Noble Kings. Okukuseku soon established itself as one of the leading guitar band highlife acts in Ghana. Despite the band's success, the "economy"* forced them to move to Nigeria at the end of the 1970s. Fortunately they continued recording, this time for Rogers All Stars.

I would like to draw your attention, by the way, to this site where a Canadian musician claims his father had a record of Okukuseku's No.2 Band from 1967. This seems to confirm my impression that there are still a lot of subjects to be researched more closely when it comes to highlife music...

Zooming in on the album I am particularly impressed by the overall quality of the music. The vocals are harmonious, the guitars are sparkling, the rhythm is jumpy and yet flowing. It is not hard to draw comparisons to East-Nigerian stars like Stephen Osita Osadebe, yet Okukuseku retains its own strong originality. I gather they sang (continued singing) in Twi, but must have made some allowances for their Nigerian audience as well.
I suspect the track "Maria" is one of those. As it happens, this is my favourite among favourites. This song has it all: great composition, great guitars, great vocals, lyrics with a touch of the dramatic, and Mr. Kofi talking, addressing Maria, imploring her to come back to him.

or RASLPS 007

* a word which nowadays can be used in any sentence, replacing "hard luck", "divine intervention", "the hand of God" and such.

November 30, 2010


So much inspiration, and so little time... I hope to have more time in the next month to post all the things I have in mind, - or just planned.

You may remember the post of those great EP's recorded by Les Bantous for the Stenco label. These EP's were actually pressed and marketed by Pathé. Gary Stewart's "Rumba on the River" reports that the label was founded in Brazzaville in 1963 by a French clothing salesman called Stein. Apparently he did so well in the clothes business that he expanded into music, first opening a bar - called "Super Jazz" - and then a home recording studio. Stein not only was the recording engineer for his own Stenco label, but also took care of the artwork* for the sleeves, as well as marketing the records 'locally' in Congo Brazzaville. He managed to persuade Pathé to do the pressing, and the distribution and marketing on the international market.
Unfortunately his success did not go unnoticed. A few years later he was miraculously forced out of business with the help of and/or by the Brazzavillois authorities.

The two EP's in this post were recorded and released on the Stenco label. Both records feature the Negro Band (of which I posted some later work earlier), an orchestra which was founded in Léopoldville in 1958 according to some by sax & clarinet player Max Massengo, according to others (Stewart, page 163) with the aid of Franklin Boukaka and Michel Boyibanda, while others (Mbokamosika) add even more 'founders'.

The eight songs on these two EP's are of a disarming freshness which typifies the Negro Band at this stage of their existence. They have their 'own thing', while on the other hand I am constantly reminded of Franco and his O.K. Jazz, - and not just by the solo guitar of Jean Mokuna a.k.a. 'Baguin', but also by the vocals (by Démon Kasanaut?) which bear some resemblance to Vicky Longomba's.

As with their work on the Esengo label I particularly like their 'spanish' songs. I am using quotes as these songs are in a kind of mock language, which sounds very good, but is mainly rubbish. I love it! On Negro Band No.5 there are two of those: a pachanga called "Bailar Con Negro" and an "afro cha cha" called "Ahora Las Mariposas" ("Now the butterflies"). I would love to have a year to investigate the meaning of this last song....

Stenco NB 4092
Stenco NB 4099

* You may remember that brilliant sleeve of Negro Band No.3 (see the Muzikifan site)!

November 21, 2010

Mist of time

At this time of the year we are often confronted with the implications of living in the Nether- or lowlands. When autumn humidity combines with low temperatures and absence of wind, the ideal circumstances are created for that disturbing meteorological condition called "fog".
Last week, cycling back from work, I drove straight into an extremely dense patch of this miraculous substance. Immediately my vision was reduced to less than 10 metres; all I could see was the eerie reflection of my bike's headlight in the white mist. Cars - only a few metres away - appeared to have been transposed into another, parallel dimension. I could only hear a muffled 'swish' as they passed.

Call it synchronicity, or devine intervention even (only for those with a dramatic disposition...), but that very same evening I was 'reorganising' some records and one of these fell to the ground. I had been searching for that lp for quite a while and apparently I had misplaced it during an earlier 'reorganisation'.

The lp is one of the albums by the Rail Band released in the 1970s on the Kouma label. Some, if not all, of the tracks of the other Kouma lp's have been re-released in digital form on a Sonodisc cd (CDS 7051) and more recently on the three volumes (six cd's) of the Sterns Belle Epoque series*, but this one has, as far as I know, escaped the attention of the digitisers.

And although on the one hand that may be considered a regretful oversight, on the other hand I am not so sorry. Because this is one of those rare lp's that should be left alone. Untouched, with its muffled sound, a relic from a distant and foggy past.

Salif Keita may consider his work with the Rail Band at the Buffet de la Gare in the centre of Bamako as inferior to his later work with Les Ambassadeurs, I am inclined to disagree. And this album is crucial evidence for my case.

The two sides of the lp are in fact one long track, with a series of topics addressed using classic themes like "Djandjon", "Koulandjan" and "Belebele".
The opening is almost as classic, with Tidiani Koné's trumpet leading a brilliant horn section. The pace is steady, bordering on slow, with Salif making his entrance after 2'20. Although at the beginning of his career, his voice already has the stabbing quality which brought him fame on a world-wide scale, almost piercing through the dense fog. Almost......

Kouma KLP 1042

* I have to add that I am not too crazy about the mixing up of the original records in these three volumes. What's wrong with sticking to something of a (chrono-)logical order?

November 16, 2010

Hardcore apala

Continuing the series of posts featuring the legacy of the late king of apala music, Alhadji Haruna Ishola, I have dug up a rare example of apala in its rawest form. This lp was recorded in the early 1970s, and not released on his own Star label, but by Phonodisk. Nevertheless* the sound is exceptional.

The first side starts with a rhythm resembling and with the regularity of the ticking of a clock. This not only sets off the 'smoothness' of the interplay between chorus and lead vocalist (the master himself), but also acts as a balance for the almost impetuous talking drum. There is some extensive messaging going on with that talking drum!
After 10'53 the song stops and, seamlessly, a second track commences. This is - in my opinion - the most remarkable track of a very singular album. In the minute before the talking drum resumes its subliminal chat session there is a sense of expectancy, of emptiness, which never ceases to surprise me, - even after having heard the lp uncountable times.

The B-side continues in the same vein, with the same minimalistic arrangment (compared to Haruna Ishola's recordings released on the Star label), but this time with a more jumpy rhythm. My wife - who in this time of the year can not resist going outside to sweep up the leaves (I watch her from behind the window) - commented that the percussion was just like her sweeping. I was tempted to reply that this sweeping is more effective, but was wise enough to keep my mouth shut...

Phonodisk PHA 24

*The studio he and I.K. Dairo started for their Star label was the first 24-track studio in Africa.

November 06, 2010


Let me begin by apologising: this is probably the worst cassette of the Horoya Band I have. The sound is somewhere between medium wave and shortwave radio, including some of the wave effects.

But the music...

The bootlegger responsible for this cassette, which was bought in Guinea in 1988, has made a few minor errors (nothing compared to what some of the 'reputable' European producers have conjured up) in writing down the titles, because the first track is clearly "Sasilon", which can be found on Discothèque 74 (SLP 48). But the title of the second track is not "Keme Bourema", but "Wara" (lion). And this is one of these rare tracks that will last you a lifetime. Even after over twenty years this brilliant interpretation of this malinké classic by this exceptional orchestra from Kankan still manages to grab me straight by the throat, right from that majestic beginning to the tragically sudden fade-out, after nearly twelve minutes of pure bliss. I particularly would like to draw your attention to the exemplary rhythm guitar playing.
And it doesn't stop there.

The B-side opens with another classic: "Baninde" (child of the Bani river). Another proof that the border between Guinea and Mali is not a cultural border, because this is a song from the repertoire of the griots of Kela, and more specifically a song generally associated with the legendary Siramori Diabaté. Judging by the fact Horoya also covered her "Kanimba", this can't be a coincidence.
You have to fill in the sound of the fantastic horn section from memory*, but this is certainly one of my favourite versions of "Baninde", and certainly more 'majestic' than the mid-tempo(but also great!) version by Les Messagers.

The second track, "Famadenke", is another malinké classic. The link to Sékou Touré is even more apparent in this song, as it is an ode to Samory Touré's son. This site (or English) not only gives an explanation of the song, but also a translation.

The last track again features on one of the Syliphone collections, in this case Discothèque 75 (SLP 49). Going by the overall sound I think all of the tracks of this cassettes are roughly from the same period (the mid-1970s). And this brings me to the main mystery behind this cassette: what happened to the three tracks (i.e. "Wara", "Baninde" and "Famadenke")? Why were these brilliant songs never released on the Syliphone label?

GD 7051 cassette

* for those with a sudden attack of memory loss, and those who have erroneously purchased the Syllart re-editions, here are "Sasilon" and "Artistes" from SLP 48 and SLP 49.

November 03, 2010

Anthologie, Tome 2

Lucie Eyenga, 1973
This post is more or less a 'sequel' to Nauma's post on his Freedomblues blog. I had hoped to post it a few days earlier, but lost quite a bit of time looking for a few extras.

Reading the aforementioned post I was reminded of an interview we had with Papa Noel in 1992, and especially the proud tone of his voice when he mentioned this anthology. He brought this up spontaneously after we had talked about his position within the T.P. O.K. Jazz 'in the shadow' of le Grand Maître... This small part of the interview can be found here.

I think it is a misconception, however, to talk about the stars from the time of - and including - Wendo as Papa Noel's "old friends". He was after all only 18 when he had his first (minor) hit with "Clara Badimwene", alongside the great Léon Bukasa. There must have been a difference, if not in age, at least in standing and fame.

Personally I have very mixed feelings about this collection. In the wider perspective of all the music of the world it is certainly an album which is close to the top. But within the narrower scope of Congolese music the top can not been seen from the level where these tracks are situated. And in a one-on-one comparison with the 1950's originals all of these tracks - in my opinion - fall short of the mark as mere watered-down copies of the fullblooded originals.

But please feel free to make up your own mind. Here is the second 'Tome' of the Anthology (the first can be found on the Freedomblues blog):

Anthology Tome 2

To illustrate my point about the falling short of the mark, I am adding five tracks by Lucie Eyenga, who in the wake of Mobutu's zairisation was renamed Eyenga Moseka.
All five of these tracks were re-recorded for the Anthologie. The enthousiasm and energy of these 1950's tracks is - again in my opinion - completely lost in the re-recorded versions of 1974. The most spectacular example of this is the brilliantly jumpy and joyful "Kamsoda", - which in the Anthology version never gets off the ground....

5 tracks by Lucie Eyenga

But I must add: I am a sucker for any song from 1950's Congo.

October 26, 2010


I apologise for my sudden absence for over 5 weeks. I have been on 'holiday' to Cuba, - although this trip has left me desperate for a real holiday. If you like, I will get back to you about the situation in Cuba in a later post.

There are a few general remarks I would like to make about some of the comments on earlier posts:
1. Please refrain from any linking (in name or otherwise) in your comments to commercial sites of any kind. These comments will be removed and labelled as spam.
2. It is possible that some of the older links have expired. Please don't hesitate to let me know! I will repost these albums and add links in the original posts.

I am still not back to my normal routine, but - as an appetiser for things to come - I would like to share a rare and in many aspects wondrous album with you. It is a collection of tracks composed by Lutumba Ndomanueno Simaro. I haven't seen this cd anywhere since the day I bought it, so I am assuming it is out of print, and that's a great pity!

The first four tracks are in my opinion the least interesting. These tracks were originally released as African Sun Music ASM 003 (lp), and are responsible for the somewhat misleading title of this cd.

After these four tracks are the two real gems of this collection: the stunning "Mi Amor" and "Lisana Ebandaki Na Kin". Two tracks that in all aspects demonstrate the delicate touch of the real master poet that Simaro was and (if I am well informed) still is. Such refinement, so much sentiment, such a joy for the heart!!
As if to sign the masterpiece, Simaro himself can be heard at the beginning of "Mi Amor". Whistled in the background of the ensuing discussion the tune can already be heard. The song taking off is like the opening of a book, and it is opened with a delicate elegance. The lead vocal, probably by Lukoki Diatho (see these posts), is as graceful and subtle as the composition itself.
I can only speculate about the content of the song. Judging by the few words I do understand, the lyrics are typical of Simaro's impressive oeuvre, asking questions, wondering why the world is the way it is and what is in store for us after this life.

"Lisana Ebandaki Na Kin" must be from the same session, with the same musicians from the T.P. O.K. Jazz (with others?). The exact setting, circumstances and participants are still unclear to me, and I am hoping someone reading this post can shed some light on these....
It ís clear, however, that the song "Lisana Ebandaki Na Kin" is about musical heroes of the 1950s like Jhimmy, Dechaud and Camille Feruzi.

The other tracks of this collection (all featuring the O.K. Jazz) appear to have been selected randomly. "Dit Laurence" was released earlier on Pathé 2C 150 15973/74 and on Sonodisc CD 36554, as was "Gege Yoka" ("G.G." on Sonodisc). "Ti Tokabwana Nakoma Ndoki", with Franco singing the lead vocal, seems somewhat out of place, but this feeling is even stronger with "Gina Bondela Famille". Going by the somewhat thin guitar sound I think I could even be persuaded that this song is not by the O.K. Jazz, although the guitarist does have a tendency to linger on, and the chords are struck with some force, - both signs that Franco may be the one holding the instrument.
It is an even greater mystery why the last track is faded out after only a minute and eleven seconds.

As I wrote: this is just an appetiser. I hope to get back into the 'posting mode' a.s.a.p......

Clarys Music RMP 303498

September 13, 2010

Osadebe encore

There is always room for one more album by the consistent highlife king, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe. This one, from 1981, has all the usual ingredients (see older posts, here, here, here and here): something about a social club, including the naming of all the board members, recited steadily by Osadebe, with sung interruptions, spacious spatial guitars occasionally shifting from left to right (and back), the evolution of rhythmic patterns, gradually leading to a trancelike state, a sense of well-being*, perhaps even extasy (try dancing...), followed by blissful satisfaction.
With this in mind it is easy to understand the Chief's smile on the back of the sleeve.

Added bonus on this album is the repetition on the B-side of one of my favourite tracks from his 1970s repertoire. You may remember "Onu Kwulunjo" from "Festac Explosion 77 Vol.2". On that lp the song only lasts 4'31; here it goes on for more than 14 minutes. On the downside I have to add that the sound quality of the earlier lp is significantly better, - and not only as a result of a better state of the vinyl.

Polydor POLP 056

* I was nearly tempted to write "wellness", but luckily managed to control myself... (phew)

September 11, 2010


Where was I when the planes hit the Twin Towers? I was sitting amongst the dignitaries, watching the opening of the first new style Semaine National des Arts et de la Culture (SNAC).

As Graeme Counsel, who was there with Daouda 'Flani' Sangaré and me, put it in his thesis: "The festival commenced with a grand opening ceremony held on Avenue de l’Independence in front of an assembled crowd of dignitaries. Under a hot sun each region and district paraded along the avenue giving the audience a sample of what was in store for the competition proper. Most performers wore traditional costumes and were accompanied by a variety of ensembles performing both modern and traditional instruments. Dancers spun around, acrobats threw each other in the air, which throbbed with the sounds of each of the performance troupes. The soirée for the opening night was to be held by the region of Sikasso, the highlights of which were their orchestra and dance troupe, the latter performing with gourds covered in cowrie shells which supplied a perfect rhythmic accompaniment."

I can add little but some photos, plus a recording made of the 'chant solo' of the Troupe de Sikasso and the dance troup who performed with the cowrie covered gourds.
And the music of this chant solo is here, and the music of the dance troup can be found here.

I will post some more recordings from the 2001 SNAC later.

September 09, 2010

Sali & Alou

Some of you may recall my earlier post about the cassette "Formidable" by the great Sali Sidibé. I mentioned the denial by Alou Fané of his participation to that album. I have to add that I had heard rumours - of the usual 'radio trottoir' kind - of an 'involvement' between the two. And to add to the mystery, my question provoked not only a forceful denial, but also an argument between Alou and his friend and musical partner Daouda 'Flani' Sangaré, followed by a meaningful smile from Flani to me. Meaningful in the sense that I gathered it was probably wise to avoid pressing the issue.

I am happy to say that part of the mystery has been solved, through the aid of Michael from Switzerland, who was able to provide us with a copy of the lp which he has allowed me to share with you in this post. Presumably the second lp to be released on the "Disco Club de la Bagoué" label (the first one, featuring Alou and Flani, I have posted earlier), this album produces proof that Alou Fané has indeed played with Sali Sidibé! In fact, he is named on the sleeve as one of the two musicians accompanying Sali, - the other being guitarist Madou Traoré.
Alou Fané in 1986 [photo: Isabelle Vigier]
The album was released in 1980, which in my experience doesn't necessarily mean that it was recorded the same year (especially as the recordings were made by Boubacar Traoré at Radio Mali...). It does mean, however, that it is probably Sali Sidibé's very first album.

Alou once told me that when he went to Bamako (coming from a little village called Koungoba in the Sikasso region) at the age of 26 there were only three known kamalen n'goni players (including himself, but excluding Flani - who also played the kamalen n'goni). While Alou had been inspired primarily by the donso n'goni playing of a friend of his father, which he subsequently converted into an original kamalen n'goni style by integrating other local (mainly balafon) styles and rhythms, Sali's musical background, Alou told me, was with the sogonigou (or sogonikou), which is primarily a dance, with drums and a female chorus and a female solo singer (both Coumba Sidibé and - later - Oumou Sangaré also sang with these dances, by the way). Sali ended up with the Ensemble Instrumental National, while Alou joined the Ballet National, both as a musician and a dancer.

The combining of these two talents has resulted in a spectacular album. From the first notes of Alou's n'goni it is just bursting with energy and sheer power. And not just because of Alou's fantastic n'goni playing, but also by Sali's assertive vocal.

In the second track "Barry", a sad tale about a youngster who leaves his country in search of riches but only finds death, Alou can be heard vocally (after 1'22). How cruel is fate, given that Alou left for Europe, only to return to his own country to face death.....

I can not find any weakness in this album (except perhaps that it is only 22 minutes long). So I have no hesitation in stating that this is the best I have ever heard of Sali Sidibé!

Disco Club de la Bagoué F.T. 002

September 06, 2010


I don't know about you but I am in need of an energy boost. Here in the Netherlands the nation is on the verge of slipping into the doldrums, and I suspect it is pretty much the same where you live.

I have found over the years that in these situations it is best to draw inspiration from those musical classics of the Syliphone label. Personally I already get a good kick up the backside from reading the inspirational sleeve notes of Justin Morel Junior. Great reading! "Le souvenir c'est le ciment de l'amitié, le sel de l'amour qui ne veut oublier le passé. C'est le symbole de la fidelité" (loosely translated: "the remembrance is the cement of friendship, the salt of love that does not want to forget the past. It is the symbol of loyalty"). Wow!
Don't ask me what it means, but I already feel a lot better!

The music that goes with these scintillating sentences is even better!! This lp , titled "Mankan" (= noise) is the third on the Syliphone label by the 22 Band from Kankan, and in my opinion the best. This is quite an achievement, because the other two are brilliant. Right from the first notes of the first track there is a vitality, an energy.....

The A-side is dominated by the guitars and the frantic rhythm section. I don't know about the Unité and the Vigilance, cited in the second track "Lawosse" as being the national motto (or at least the motto of the J.R.D.A. youth movement), but on Action the 22 Band seem to be doing very well. "Tout explose de vie" ("Mankan"), "éclatement rythmique" ("Sin Kon Mina"): very true!

But the 22 Band have saved the best for the very last. The B-side is the 22 Band in its best form. With the horns which already impressed on SLP 67, with an organ surging and undulating through "Sekou N'Fa"... The bit where the organ comes back into focus after just over 3 minutes is one of those unforgettable highlights of Guinean music (and there are many!!).
The last track, "Série", is like a majestic final statement of this momentous album. I think Justin has captured it perfectly: "C'est la poésie chantée de l'amoureux heureux qui se perd consciemment dans ses vérités sentimentales. Une balade au gré de guitares cajoleuses et d'un chanteur romantique. Les souffleurs annoncent les grands moments de l'oeuvre". I am not sure what to think of the bit about the fondling guitars, but the romantic image of loosing oneself consciously in ones sentimental truths: yes, I can see that....

Syliphone SLP 68

September 03, 2010

Bossa nova

I can still get very worked up about the barefaced con-job the catholic church and its associates pulled on us when I was a young boy. In those days in the late 1950s and early 1960s we were led to believe that those poor lost souls in the Congo were running around butt naked and without a grain of rice to eat. Good little catholic boys and girls like myself were encouraged to save the aluminium tops of milk bottles, which would - in some mysterious way - help to put an end to the misery of these downtrodden children of God.
It took me almost a decade to find out that I had been the victim of a world-wide conspiracy! Instead of butt naked and starving, in the Congolese capital Léopoldville they were living it up, with bars and music on every corner, the latest fashion, and - come to think of it - all the modern comforts we enjoyed at the time. In those days it was getting fashionable for women to wear trousers (well at least lady trousers...). Ladies with slightly loose morals were seen wearing wigs (I still have a trauma over a wig one of my aunts used to wear). Folk with a bit of money could be seen driving around on a Mobylette (or little egg, as we used to call these motorbikes).

It is exactly about this world that Franco is singing in his song "Quatre Boutons". In fact, he names the Mobylette itself as a symbol of modern life in Léopoldville. Marie, the female subject of the song, has acquired this motorbike through the opening of four buttons. And the four buttons seem to be a reference to the garment this woman opened: a pair of trousers. In those days before the "Recours A L'Authenticité" of Mobutuism it was just as normal for a modern Congolese woman to wear trousers as it was for a progressive Dutch girl. The fact that she received the motorbike plus a wig from a married man, with the implication of sexual favours which had been performed as payment for these modernités caused quite a stir in the more conservative parts of post-colonial Congo (as I am sure it would have done in the Netherlands). Franco defended himself, as he did later with songs like "Paka Lowi", "Hélène" and "Jacky", by arguing that he was only singing about what was happening in daily life. Besides, he was continuing a theme which he started earlier, with tracks like "Ngai Marie Nzoto Ebeba".
"Quatre Boutons" was one of the songs that led Mobutu to appoint a censorship commission a year later....

"Quatre Boutons" is on the A-side of this record on the Pathé label, which get its EP status from the B-side. Of the two tracks on this side, "Didi" and "Jean-Jean", I don't know the story. But it seems likely that "Jean-Jean" is about Franco's friend and bodyguard, who judging by the stories told by contemporaries also acted as an intermediary in Franco's personal affairs. If you listen carefully you will hear his name mentioned in other songs.

You may have noticed that the (front) sleeve of this EP does not mention the O.K. Jazz, but instead refers to the artists as "Orchestre Franco". I remember one of the members of the O.K. Jazz talking about Franco's struggles with (especially French) record companies; if I remember correctly some records were released under this name to circumvent a clause in a contract with another record company. I have tried to recall who told me this, but so far have been unsuccessful. If anyone has more details, please let us know.

While the tracks on the first Pathé EP have been re-released on lp ("Quatre Boutons") and cd (all), those of the second have so far escaped reproduction - let alone digitisation. And that is a huge pity.

This extraordinary collection of marvels opens with Franco's interpretation of a bossa nova, and, as if this is not enough, it is a version of a song made famous by Charles Aznavour (see this great video from 1963) AND it is sung by a woman.
And that's where the mystery starts.
"Miss Bora"
Because who is this singer? It is clear that this is the same lady who sings "Mosika Okeyi Zonga Noki"(on Sonodisc CD 36553). But who is she?
Aboubacar Siddikh suspects she is Henriette Bora Uzima (or Boranzima, which is it?), but I have my doubts. Henriette, nicknamed "Miss Bora" by Rochereau, started off with the O.K. Jazz in 1963 but moved to Rochereau's African Fiesta in 1964 or 1965. I have never read or heard of her recording with the O.K. Jazz, and there is at least one recording of her with African Fiesta. Comparing the singer in this song, a version of the Cuban evergreen "Guantanamera", with the singer in the two O.K. Jazz songs I myself don't hear any similarities. I am including both "Guantanamera" and "Mosika Okeyi Zonga Noki" so you can judge for yourself. I am curious to know what you think.

Apart from the female lead the song is certainly noteworthy for Franco's lightfooted guitar flutterings. But musically it is blown away (in my opinion at least) by the second track on the A-side, "Ba Musicien Ba Mema Mgambo". To me any track with Kwamy is a treat. I think he is backed by Edo Nganga in this track. And I love this staccato singing, but it really takes off when Franco takes control after 1'44. If you liked "Dr. Klerruu" by Mbaraka Mwinshehe: here's where he got the inspiration!!

The B-side opens with a kind of Hank Marvin guitar, but soon switches into a real Franco style bolero, with both Vicky Longomba and Kwamy alternately taking the lead. I can never get enough of these boleros, but I am slightly (only slightly though) disappointed by the lack of 'intervention' by Franco.....
After "Jose Maria" there is another song in the typical rumba style of the mid-1960s O.K. Jazz. "Trouble Trouble" features Vicky singing the lead and again ends (after 2'00) with Franco demonstrating yet another technique in his guitar playing.
The only problem I have with this EP is that the music ends after only 13 minutes....

Pathé EG 926
Pathé EG 930
Guantanamera/Mosika Okeyi Zonga Noki

Alternatively you can download all the songs in one file.

P.S.: the photo on the front of the Pathé EG 926 sleeve (by Gilles Sala, as is the photo on the front of EG 930!) appears to be of the mosque in Bamako. A rather strange choice, considering the songs...

UPDATE March 11, 2014: I have found an alternative version of "Je T'Attends" which appears to credit the singer: see the label on the right.
And Marcelle Bibi is more than likely Marcelle Ebibi, who was a singer at CEFA. She sung with Bill Alexandre, who introduced the electric guitar into Congolese music in the mid-1950s. Readers of Gary Stewart's "Rumba On The River" may remember this photo of her and a very colonial looking Bill Alexandre (in shorts).

September 01, 2010


I have - again - been hit by a sudden interruption of service on the part of the network provider. The problem appears to have been solved, so I hope to get back to posting tomorrow.

These challenges are slowly getting the better of me and are increasing my desire to be off and away. But I still have four weeks to go until I can do that....

Anyway, I will see what I can do to compensate for time lost.

As an appetizer here is a single by Orchestre Poly-Rythmo. I especially like the B-side: a version of "Que No Muera El Son", another multi-covered Cuban classic. I am not sure, but I think it was first performed by Cheo Marquetti. The song was also covered by Franco in the 1960s. I just love these mumbled gobbledygook-hispano tracks...

Polydisco PD.03

August 18, 2010

Perfect imperfection

I won't kid you: the late Laba Sosseh (he died nearly three years ago) was not the best singer of the latin-tinged repertoire. There were and are others, with better voices, a better pronounciation of spanish, a more latin feel. I remember an album he did in the late 1970s together with Monguito; Laba got vocally plastered by Monguito...

But personally I don't care. I love Laba Sosseh for his imperfection, the way in which he did not betray his roots in an attempt to be a real latin sonero, - in short: for remaining Laba Sosseh.

The album in this post is not his best. Others (like the one I posted earlier) are more likely to be awarded this label. It's also not his steamiest (this award might go to this cassette). And I am not even going to discuss the sorry state of the vinyl.

Nevertheless, it's authentic Sosseh. Recorded in 1977 for Abou Lassisi's Sacodis label, the lp features Laba accompanied by the 'Special' Liwanza Band. I am not too sure why they are special, - perhaps for the lack of horns (or even a tiny sax). But in their own uncomplicated way they are certainly not bad.

With yet two more versions of the Cuban evergreens "Guantanamera" and "El Manicero" (hooray!), a mumbled "Ay Que No", "Prepare Candela" (but I have no idea what he wants us to do after lighting the stove...), "El Guaguanco" (which I am sure he has at one point also combined with "El Manicero"): it's all great.
My favourites are the two last tracks of both sides. But can anyone explain what the title "No Quiero El Son" has to do with the song? I can understand that he would want to shut up to avoid a quarrel with a girlfriend, but Laba Sosseh not liking son...?
To me the top track of this album is "Conjura". It's got it all: great rhythm, nice instrumental bit, uncomprehensible lyrics, an intriguing title, plus Laba Sosseh: perfect!

Sacodis LS 5-77

August 16, 2010

Super Volta Jazz

When it comes to the music of Burkina Faso I am still very much in the process of discovering and learning. I was aware that infrastructurally Haute-Volta (Upper Volta) was a barren land, with no recording studios and no facilities for pressing records. Only in the 1980s, when Haute-Volta became Burkina Faso, a modest form of recording became possible. I was under the impression that this meant that most Voltaique bands went to Abidjan, Côte D'Ivoire, to record, but I recently read that bands of the Club Voltaique Du Disque (CVD) label travelled to the city of Kumasi in Ghana, - which was probably closer than Abidjan and had the added attraction of a cheaper studio.

I had been lead to believe that orchestras in the Upper Volta of the 1960s and 1970s went without the benefits of a strong cultural (state) policy (as for example in Guinea and Mali) and that financial support of artists and/or bands by the state or public institutions was unheard of. But I recently learned that the Super Volta orchestra was actually founded with sponsorship from Maurice Yaméogo, the first president of Haute-Volta. Or actually I think it was the Typic Band. This band was founded in 1964 or 1965 by a certain Zinsi Ouédraogo, who in 1966 renamed it to Super Volta de la Capitale. Before getting overthrown in a military coup and resigning (on January 3, 1966) Yaméogo provided the Typic Band with the best equipment (his or the government's?) money could buy, thus giving them a rather unique position within Voltaique music, where most orchestras used the equipment provided by the patrons of the bars where they were allowed to play (for a 'competitive' fee). Subsequently Super Volta became the leading band of the CVD label.

I still hope to learn more about this CVD label. It seems to me that some rather smart people have been in charge of this label, judging not only by the great music they have produced, but also by the fact that they managed to survive at all as a label within Haute-Volta.
And talking about great music: the greatest of all the CVD artists was - in my opinion - Traoré Amadou better known as Amadou Ballaké. Florent Mazzoleni, who recently sent me some photos of Ballaké reposing 'chez lui', has sent me another single of this master, recorded for and by the CVD label (so probably in Kumasi, Ghana!). The vinyl quality is perhaps far from optimal, but to a fan (like me) any Ballaké is highly appreciated....

"El Hadji Fasano", on the A-side, opens like a praise song. Ballaké, singing in Dioula, appears to be greeting 'Baba' Fasano. But then in the second line the El Hadji (indicating that the man has done his duty as a muslim and has been on a pilgrimage to Mecca) is linked in one breath to a strong alcoholic beverage! What does it mean? Is the El Hadji a renowned militant in the struggle against alcohol abuse? Or a local producer of moonshine?
And is it me, or is Ballaké citing from Bembeya's "Djamana bara Sabati"? And is the start borrowed from "Loi Cadré"?
So much still to discover......

The B-side again calls up memories of Guinean classics, with hints of "Wara" by Nimba Jazz. There are some lovely bits by Mangue Kondé on lead guitar, and - of course - solid vocals by Ballaké.

Club Voltaique du Disque CVD 53

Volta Jazz, from Bobo-Dioulasso, was founded at around the same time as Super Volta by Idrissa Koné. I suspect that they may have been inspired by a visit of Franco's O.K. Jazz in 1963, or perhaps by Les Bantous, who also toured West Africa in the early 1960s. Although it is hard to find any information about this orchestra I have heard reports that they toured neighbouring countries in the early 1970s. In the mid-1970s they appeared to fade away, but they mysteriously resurfaced in 1977 with a series of releases on the Disques France-Afrique label, two of which I would like to share with you in this post. They also managed (through this Abidjan-based french label?) to get some records released on Sonafric, and I may be tempted to post their lp on that label at a later date.

The first of the two singles contains two rather up-tempo tunes, with what resembles the Voltaique version of a Congolese rumba on the one side ("Tjee Gouana") and a rhythm which might be called a pachanga on the other ("Sankoura"). It seems hard to believe these tracks are from 1977; in all aspects the style seems more 1960s.

Disques France-Afrique LGVD 1.102

The same goes for the two songs on the other single. The rumba "N'Ti Toubabou Kanme" on the A-side appears to be about a conflict with the police. And before you assume that I have a more than very superficial knowledge of dioula or bambara: there is a bit of french in the song after 1'53 when the hero of this song is being addressed by a police officer. What the 'toubabou' (white person) has to do with it, I can only guess.
"Djougou Malola" is the odd one out of these four tracks, as it reminds me not of the music of the two Congo's, but of those wonderful ballads of the early Guinean bands like Orchestre de la Pailotte, Orchestre du Jardin de Guinée and Kebendo Jazz. A lovely well-dosed horn section, great guitar tottering about in the background, nicely proportioned solos: what a delight!! I could do with more of this......

Disques France-Afrique LGVD 1.110

The three singles can also be found here, bundled into one download.

P.S.: Graeme Counsel has added a discography of the CVD label to the (many) discographies on his site.

EDIT August 18, 2010: Scott Arnold was kind enough to put in some effort to clean up the Ballaké, making sure he didn't (unlike the very unfortunate Ouaga Affair CD) ruin the music. You can download the cleaned-up tracks here (sleeve etc. included). Muchas gracias, Scott!!

EDIT October 23, 2015: The front cover of LGVD 1.102 has been added.

August 14, 2010


As has happened a few times before, in the process of writing this post I found that others (in this case Global Groove) have posted the same (see below) album. In this case I am going to completely ignore this. Well perhaps not completely. But I am nevertheless going to post it.

I know I should get over it, but even with the steady process of aging and the tolerance this is supposed to bring I can still get disproportionately irritated about the indiscriminate use of the adjective "African". The World Cup in South Africa provided plenty of opportunities to congratulate/sympathise with/praise etc. the "African" people/organisers/public and what-have-you. Do these commentators, big shots and others seriously think that there is one common factor in this immense and mindboggling variety of peoples, cultures and worlds which can be found in the African continent? Can anyone explain why a Senegalese should be primarily seen as "African", while an Italian is rarely addressed as "European"?
And I could even see the logic of the latter. There is a far greater homogeny between Europeans than there is between the inhabitants of the African continent. There are plenty of reasons why Africa can not be seen as a country. For one thing, infrastructurally Africa is in parts still in the (relative) dark ages. And I could go on, elaborating on the ethnic diversity of individual countries, the vast differences between cultures within a single country etcetera.

So please, think before chucking in "African", while talking about one country in the continent....

Now that I've got that of my chest, let's get to an example of an "African" lp. A multi-country affair, with music from Congo (Zaïre) but released in Nigeria. A rather strange compilation with two part two's and a mistake which wouldn't look out of place with a African (!)/Sonodisc or a Syllart compilation.

Ntesa Dalienst is represented with two of his compositions with Les Grands Maquisards, "Biki" and "Maria Mboka" (misspelled "Mariam Mboka"). The version of "Biki" is by far the longest I know; it's more than three minutes longer than the version on African 360.014 and the one on African 360.155, and even longer than the almost eight minute version on Ngoyarto NG 034. Like "Biki", the wonderful "Maria Mboka", with Diana, Kiesse Diambu and Lokombe in the chorus, is one of the many highlights in the career of Ntesa (who sadly passed away in 1996).

The first two tracks certainly merit their selection in any compilation of Congolese music. I can think of few songs which are more typical of Johnny Bokelo's Conga 68 (Success) than "FC Dragons", and I can see how the break after 2'52 would appeal to a Nigerian dance crowd.
I can only speculate, but it appears to me that "Lisumu Lisango" by the Elegance Jazz was (also) included for the 'rootsy' feel of the song. And this may also be the reason for the selection of the two part two's. Verckys' "Mfumbwa 2" would undoubtedly get Nigerian 'booties' shaking.... The same goes for Orchestre Bella-Bella's "Sola 2" with the 'get down' break after only 50 seconds.

As a European I am strongly inclined to look up the first part of these part two's. I would like to argue that in both cases these are an essential part of the composition. The song "Mfumbwa" is just not the same without the "bolingo " after 1'11, the subsequent clucking, and - of course - the great horns.
And with "Sola", composed by Mulembu Tshibau, who apparently died this year, I get goosebumps from Pépé Kallé's backing vocal in part 1 in particular and the vocal harmonies in general, plus the horns, the bass player (!) ... and I could go on.

So, European as I am, I am adding the complete tracks as an extra to this post.

The last track, by the way, is not by Bella-Bella, but - of course - by Verckys and his orchestre Vévé (and can also be found on the African 360.014 lp I mentioned above). This song "Na komitunaka" ("I keep asking myself") has been the subject of many studies. In it Verckys asks why all the saints are white. Why is God not an African?

Soundpoint SOP 042

P.S. It appears that this lp has been released at least twice in Nigeria. This version, which I bought at least 25 years ago, is on the Soundpoint label, while the lp Global Groove posted is on a label called Deram.
Has anyone ever seen the volumes 1, 2 or 3???

August 07, 2010

Morogoro marvels

If you ask me, this is an album which should be put on the World Heritage List. All human beings should at least be made aware of the existence of this music by the immortal Mbaraka Mwinshehe and the Morogoro Jazz.

This is certainly one of my very favourite albums by Mbaraka. When it comes to Mbaraka at his Mbaraka-st, you can hardly get any better than this. From the slightly out of tune horns in the opening track "Mapenzi Ya Nitesa" to the master's pizzicato plucking in the last track "Dr. Klerruu", there is no hint of pretentiousness, no trace of conceit. I almost feel like I shouldn't be listening to it: this music wasn't made so some idiot Dutchman would listen to it. The musicians can't possibly have been thinking that they would at one point be heard by a world-wide audience.

I don't think it would be wise to write about the individual songs. I won't write about how I love the breaks in "Matusi Ya Nini?" and "Pesa No.1", or the brilliant guitar explosions in "Mitindo Yetu", the classic "Dr. Klerruu", the Franco-esque climax of "Matusi Ya Nini", the amazing.....

Words won't do justice to the extasy this music can bring. I'll leave you to listen - probably in awe - to these Morogoro marvels.....

Polydor POLP 544 or POLP 544