April 30, 2010

Xème Festival

I will try and control myself with the superlatives on this one. This is not easy when dealing with a release on the Syliphone label.

I was recently reading an article* about what appears to be one of the side-effects of the digital 'revolution' of the last twenty years: the enormous loss in dynamics. In digitising older lp's and cassettes I am used to seeing quite a wide dynamic range in the recording tool. When I first heard the digital conversions of the Syliphone records by Syllart, I was immediately struck by the enormous loss of dynamics compared to the vinyl versions. Here you can find an example of "Gön Bia Bia" by le Nimba de N'Zerekore. There are certainly more spectacular examples; personally I have difficulty surpressing my tears when I hear the seriously mauled Syllart versions of Sory Kandia Kouyaté's songs. But I think the versions of the Nimba song should give you an idea of how compression can (in my opinion: dramatically) change a song.

All this brings me to the subject of this post: another superior release on the Syliphone label. In this case another collection from the Festival Culturel National. Again the album features federal orchestras; in order of appearance: Sombory Jazz from Fria, Bafing Jazz from Mamou, Palm Jazz from Macenta, Camayenne Sofa from Conakry II, Niandan Jazz from Kissidougou, Kolima Jazz from Labé and Sorsonnet Rythm from Boké.

This is a nice album all round, but if I have to name favourites I would mention "Zimai" by Palm Jazz for their freshness and uncomplicated approach (with a touch of humour) and "Dho Welilan" by Kolima Jazz. The latter is something of a signature tune of this orchestra, and - if I am not mistaken - this is the original version.
But on another day I might have mentioned "Nana" by Sombory Jazz (this time in a sung version - the instrumental version is on SLP 54 "Musique sans paroles"), or the driving "Sira" by Sorsornet Rythm....

Syliphone SLP 50

*I can also recommend the videos...

April 25, 2010


I am sorry for the delay in posting. There seems to be some mild form of flu going 'round. I myself haven't been affected - so far (knock on wood)-, but have had to attend to & serve those who have....

Anyway, I have been planning this post for a while, but kept postponing it. The reason for this is that I have been trying to figure out the truth about the origin of the song "Mokolo Nakokufa". Rochereau claims it as his composition, and given the poetic/philosophic (or - if you like - intellectualistic) content it seems more than likely that this is true. However, it may also be true, as some Congolese sources claim, that Rochereau was 'inspired' by a song Wendo Kolosoy performed, accompanied on guitar by another legend from those early days of Congolese music Honoré Liengo, at the funeral of Paul Mwanga* (see here, here and here) in 1966.
I have come to the conclusion that it seems unlikely the real sequence of cause and effect will ever be revealed.

It does seem a bit ironic, however, that Rochereau claimed to be the heir of Wendo ("Mokitano ya Wendo"), after he invited Wendo (who was unemployed after Ngoma closed down in 1966) to join his African Fiesta National, - only to subsequently treat him with little respect, even to the point where Wendo (and others) was left stranded in Brussels without pay....

The version of "Mokolo Nakokufa" I want to post is not the one by Rochereau (which by the way can by found in this post on the Global Groovers blog), but the one by Sam Mangwana, who was a member of African Fiesta at the time when Wendo joined.
Mangwana recorded this version at a time when he had decided to leave the T.P. O.K. Jazz and (again) go his own way. He was after all, as Franco accurately described him in an interview in 1987, "cavalier seul" ('lone rider'), albeit one with a foot in both 'schools' of Congolese music.

The lyrics are slightly different from Rochereau's version. Sam leaves out the personal references Rochereau made, and Rochereau's final lines about a ndumba (unmarried woman or girl) thinking of what will become of her only worldly goods, i.e. her wig and her clothes. But he also has two additions to the lyrics, the first of these being the addition of "nkisi" (which translates as "medicin"; but usually meaning "traditional medicin" or even witchcraft) as a possible cause of death, and the second are two additional, spoken lines in which Sam also addresses Rochereau with the rather cryptic "Tabou, oh words".

Here is the translation of Mangwana's version, borrowed from Aboubacar Siddikh's YouTube post:

(chorus) Mokolo nakokufaThe day I will day
Mokolo ya liwaThe day of my death
Mokolo mosusu ngai nakanisiThe other day I was wondering
Naloti lokola ngai nakolalaI dreamt as I was sleeping
Aa mama aa Mokolo ya liwaAh mother, the day of my death
Mokolo nakokufa nani akolela ngai?The day I day, who will weep for me?
Nakoyeba teI don't know
Tika namilelaLet me weep for myself
Liwa ya nzamba soki mpe liwa ya maiDeath in the forest or in water?
Liwa ya nkisi soki mpe liwa ya mpasi mamaDeath by witchcraft or of illness
Mokolo ya liwa, mamaThe day of my death, Mother
Mokolo nakokufa, ngai moto ya mbongoThe day I will die, I the rich man
Nakanisa nini kaka mosolo o?What will I think of, but my property?
Nakanisa lopango na bakaminyoI'll think of my houses and lorries
Nakanisa bana ngai natinda kelasi koyekolaI'll think of the children I sent to school
Mokolo ya liwa, mamaThe day of my death, mother
Mokolo nakokufa, ngai moto ya pauvreThe day I die, I the poor man
Nakanisa nini kaka bana na ngai?What will I think of but my children?
Nakanisa kaka mpasi ya mokili ezali kotikalaI'll only think of the problems of the world that will be left
Mokolo NakokufaThe day I die
Mokolo nakokufa ngai moto ya kwitiThe day I die, I the drunkard
Nakanisa kopo ya masanga na ngaiI'll only think of my glass of beer
Nakanisa nini kaka suka ya sanzaWhat will I think of but the end of the month
Tango namelaka ngai na baningaWhen I used to drink with my friends
Aa mama, mokolo ya liwaAh mother, the day of my death
Mokolo nakokufa nani akolela ngai?The day I die, who will weep for me?
Nakoyeba teI don't know
Tika namilelaLet me weep for myself
Liwa ya nzamba soki mpe liwa ya maiDeath in the forest or death in water?
Liwa ya nkisi soki mpe liwa ya mpasi mamaDeath by witchcraft or of illness?
Aa mama, mokolo ya liwa.Ah mother, the day of my death
(spoken) Liwa, elombe ayaka nayo centre na la vieDeath, the hero who comes with you to the centre of life
(spoken) Tabu, O MalobaTabu, Oh, words!
Mokolo nakokufa ngai moto ya kwitiThe day I die, I the drunkard
Nakanisa kopo ya masanga na ngaiI'll think of my glass of beer
Nakanisa nini kaka suka ya sanzaWhat will I think of but the end of the month
Tango nakutana ngai na baningaWhen I met with friends
Aa mama, mokolo ya liwaAh mother, the day of my death
(chorus) Mokolo ya LiwaThe day of my death
Mokolo nakokufaThe day I will die

Sonafric SAF 1819

This is not all.
I also would like to share this single with you which Sam Mangwana recorded just before or even while he was working with Franco. It is from 1973 and features Sam with a group called "orchestre Beya Maduma". This Beya Maduma was a sax player who in the sixties played with Negro Succes, and in the mid-seventies with orchestre Vévé and from there with Bana Ngenge, before moving to Abidjan and working on the famine relief project 'Operation Africa' in 1985. My favourite of these two songs, both of which are very much in the African Jazz/Fiesta style, is the B-side "Bigina", which sounds very 'live' and offers Sam the opportunity to use some of his crooning skills.

ZP 01

And talking about Mangwana's crooning skills, here is a rather mysterious, undated track which will certainly hit home with all fans of Mangwana. It is a total mystery to me why these songs have never been released in digital form, and especially the B-side, titled "Babla". It is not without a reason that this post bears the title of this song, which I consider to be a highlight in Mangwana's extensive career. The song fits Sam like a glove, and shows him in brilliant form. It is obviously aimed at the east-african audiences with a mix of lingala and swahili in the lyrics. Note also the great accompagnement.

I am sure there must be someone who can tell us more about this song, the musicians, - and perhaps even the circumstances of these recordings?

ELG 06

PS (May 1, 2010): I see I have forgotten to post a link to Flemming Harrev's website ("unofficial homepage"). Essential information about Mangwana.

EDIT October 31, 2011: I've changed the link for the first single.

EDIT November 5, 2011: *the funeral apparently was not of Paul Mwanga, but of another Paul: the musical pioneer from 1940s Brazzaville, Paul Kamba.

April 18, 2010

The Lion of Wassoulou

A legend among legends is an understatement when dealing with Toumani Koné. Nicknamed "the Lion of Wassoulou" he was successor to the throne occupied before him by historic, but unrecorded legends like Ngonifo Bourema.

Ali Farka Touré described him as "very special", "very difficult to imitate" and "a great authority on the legends, on the culture and art of the Wassoulou region". And he stressed that he meant the whole of the sizeable region. More particularly Toumani's expertise lay in the profound knowledge of the culture of the hunters, a culture surrounded by a wealth of rules, secrets and mystery.
Moreover, he was a member of a family of blacksmiths,- which linked him to another society filled with cultural secrets and a strong tradition.

Toumani started as a singer/ngoni player, but had to limit himself to singing after loosing fingers in an accident (which gave rise to a endless stream of rumours about jealousy and sorcery). As a ngoni player he was in a league of his own, according to Alou Fané, to whom Toumani Koné had been a major source of inspiration.

I will certainly be posting more of his cassettes, which - by the way - have been re-released in Mali many times over the years, but in a increasingly worse audio quality. This cassette is from the 1980s, and was released with two covers (but exactly the same music); one of these portrays the artist.

Together with Vol. 1 (which I will post at a later date) it contains Toumani Koné's greatest 'hits', all of which were recorded by Radio Mali (ORTM). Over the years I have listened to these cassettes with a lot of Malian musicians, and two things have struck me: 1. the immediate attention and awe Toumani's voice provoked and 2. the fact that nearly all of these musicians used titles different from the ones on this cassette for these songs, - with the notable exception of "Gon Maigni", which appears to be a slight misspelling of "Gon Magni" ("Monkey is no good").

Concentrating on the music, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to understand why this man is considered a legend. What a voice, what power, what passion! When listening to this music for the first time, you may get the impression that the rhythm of the songs is roughly the same. But after a while you will get to distinguish the incredible variety and the unbelievable complexity of these rhythms. Each individual rhythm has its own meaning, I have been told, and refers to a detail of the extensive tradition of the hunters. There are rhythms that are related to certain animals and their gait, and there are rhythms that in themselves carry a message and shouldn't be played by those who are not initiated into the secrets that lay behind these rhythms.

Unfortunately, nowadays Toumani Koné is too often only mentioned in relation to artists that borrowed from his extensive legacy. Even his daughter, Mama Toumani Koné, seems to get more webspace than her father.

I met this master at his very last concert (Toumani Koné fell ill and died shortly after returning to Mali), in the banlieu of Paris, when my late friend Alou Fané had the honour to accompany him. I will dedicate a future post to this remarkable encounter.

Super Sound SS-33

April 16, 2010


Normally I wouldn't even bother to listen to an artist with a nickname like "Benin's Godfather Of Funk". Luckily, in the case of El Rego I was not aware of this label until after hearing his music. So I was able to enjoy it without all kinds of distracting associations and preconceptions.

Sorting through his extensive output I have come across some more noteworthy tracks, which I would like to share with you.

The first of these is "Mando Homin O", a dramatic ballad sung by El Rego himself, accompanied by a lingering accordeon (bonus points!!) and a ditto guitar. The B-side of the single, "E Nan Man Nuku", is in a similarly enjoyable non-funk style.

Albarika Store ASB 24

In the second single El Rego and his Commandos only act as a backing group to Togolese singer Germaine Jourias, who in a surprisingly dowdy voice sings the praise of her president, and late runner-up (after Gabon's Omar Bongo) in the list of African dinosaurs, Étienne (or Gnassingbé) Eyadéma. While I gather Eyadéma was not averse of a bit of flattery, I just don't get that feeling of sincere happiness and joy when hearing Germaine's eulogy. In fact, I would go as far as stating that she seems far more at ease in the song on the B-side.

Albarika Store ASB 33

The third single again sees El Rego in an accompanying role, in this case behind Charles Rodriguez. For more details about this singer I glady refer you to this post on the Analog Africa blog. In the interview he recalls working with El Rego: "Anyway I did some "chansons Francaises" and he (El Rego) backed me with his band Les Commandos." But in these songs El Rego is not with Les Commandos but with Les Astronotes. I am not sure what this means, but I assume Benin experts like Oro will be able to clear this up.

"Felicité", on the A-side of this single, is clearly meant as a cover of "Para Fifi", one of the classic hits from the 1950s by le Grand Kallé and his African Jazz. Halfway the song wanders off into another song, again probably modelled on a Congolese merveille du passé.
The B-side is called "Conseil Présidentiel", but is not in french. This song appears to be about the presential council consisting of three men, which took power in Dahomey in 1970, until they were forcefully removed by Mathieu Kérékou in 1972.
Whatever the lyrical content, the music is (again) notably devoid of any traces of funk...

Aux Ecoutes AE 010

April 11, 2010


He had to go on television and explain the song in Benin, Ivory Coast, Togo and Cameroon. They were invited to the US because of this song. Wherever the T.P. O.K. Jazz went Ntesa Dalienst was asked about "Munsi".

But "Munsi" may be the title by which most people know the song, it is not the original title. The song was released in 1980 as "Liyanzi Ekoti Ngai Na Motema". As Ntesa explained in this interview in 1990, the liyanzi of the title is a nasty insect that can burrow into your toe to lay its eggs, causing a very nasty disease called tungiasis (or tungosis). In the song it is not an insect which has infected a man, but the love for a woman. It is causing him pain, and can't be removed by a doctor. Only when the woman will return his love the pain will go away. But the woman doesn't want him because he is married. The man retorts by pointing out that the woman's father too was polygamous. The woman's name, "Munsi", was invented by Ntesa to hide the true identity of the lady, and consists of the first letters of her surname combined with the first of her first name.

The song was first released on the lp "A Paris Volume 1". In this version Franco is not playing. In fact, Franco hardly ever played on the songs composed by Ntesa Dalienst. There are of course exceptions. Like this version recorded in 1980 during a concert in Abidjan.

Ntesa Dalienst & TP OK Jazz - Liyanzi Ekoti Ngai Na Motema
Uploaded by wrldsrv. - See the latest featured music videos.

And, while we're at it, here's a second version. This time recorded in Zaïre, by Telezaïre, and probably also in 1980. This time Thierry Mantuika replaces Franco, - as he does in the version on the lp.

From the same year, but this time at the home base of the T.P. O.K. Jazz, the "1-2-3" Club, here is a third version. Again with Thierry Mantuika.

Originally released on the same lp, "A Paris Volume 1", here is a song composed and performed by singer Ndombe Opetum, called "Youyou". Supporting Ndombe are Wuta Mayi, Lukoki Diatho and Ntesa Dalienst.

There is also a version recorded in Abidjan , which can be found here.

Also on "A Paris Volume 1", but also on video, is the song "Kadima", composed by Lutumba Simaro and sung by one of Simaro's favourite singers, Djo Mpoyi. During this concert at "1-2-3" he has difficulty not to succumb to the (material) praise that is bestowed on him.
Note that both Franco and Simaro are playing in this song.

Unfortunately I have never seen a video of the remaining track of "A Paris Volume 1": "Na Komipesa Na Nani?", composed and sung by Franco himself. This is even more unfortunate, because it is my favourite track of the album. The track was previously released as "Mobali Aboyi Na Ye Kaka" on African (Nigeria) 360.129 in 1979 (and later in digital form on Sonodisc CDS 6862).

The rather exaggerated stereo separation on these tracks suggests that "Youyou" and "Na Komipesa Na Nani?" are from the same recording session, and recorded a year earlier than "Liyanzi Ekoti Ngai Na Motema".

VISA 1980 FRAN 003

April 05, 2010

Farka & Haïra

This is one of my favourite cassettes by Ali 'Farka' Touré. It features Ali on guitar and occasionally on vocal, accompanying singer Haïra Arby (also known as Khaira). Haïra appears to have become rather famous, even outside Tombouctou (see below). But this is from the 1980s, when she was only popular on a regional (and - to a lesser extent - national) level.

The cassette has a rare and beautiful intimacy, primarily as a result of Ali's fantastic guitar playing. At times it is almost like he is singing with his guitar, either guiding or following Haïra. But then the guitar takes off, meandering, curling and dancing in circles.

As far as I can tell, Haïra is singing in sonrai and tamachek. Personally, I prefer her pure singing on this cassette to her later work, including the acclaimed cassette "Ya Rassoul" which she made six or seven years ago.
Comparing the version of "Aigna" (sonrai for "mother") with the one on "Ya Rassoul", one can almost touch the deep emotion in the version on this cassette. It is, by the way, the only title which I have been able to trace.

Farka & Haïra (local cassette)

For good measure I am borrowing the video of the "Ya Rassoul" version from afropopstar.

(posted in loving memory of my ex-mother-in-law Assitan Sango)

P.S.: Shortly after posting this, it was brought to my attention that the same cassette has been posted on the VOA blog. That post adds a lot of information about the setting in which these recordings were made.
I was initially inclined to withdraw this (redundant) post, but have decided not to do so for two reasons: 1. the tracks appear not to be the same and 2. the quality of the cassette is not the same. The latter may be a result of the fact that my copy was obtained in the early 1990s, and is perhaps closer to the original.
P.S.2: The brilliant photo of Ali was taken by the great Ton Verhees (also responsible for that great photo of Remmy Ongala, and many many other...)

April 03, 2010

J'aime Jesus

A quick post for those in need of a bit of easter worshipping.

"This first recording of USS-Sound is brought to you for your Pleasure and your Salutation in Jesus-Christ our Lord and Saviour.
Whoever shall have this record shall pass moments of Happiness listening to it", comments a very stern looking reverend Zinsou on the back of the sleeve.

He at least had the good Sense to let himself be accompanied by Les Black Santiago.

USS Sound USS001

April 02, 2010


"Darling, if you don't know how to twist, don't feel ashamed. I will explain it to you. This is the moment to start". These lyrics, in french (!!), are on this EP with the surprising title of "Nigeria's Greatest". The artists performing this song with the exciting title of "Cherie Si Tu Ne Sais Pas Twister" are none other than Air Congo Orchestra City Five from Leopoldville, Congo. And if this is the first time you have heard of this ensemble: you're not the only one!

Fortunately, the other three tracks are by Nigerian artists, but - perhaps disappointingly - I have posted these before; all three are on the collection "Nigeria's Request Programme" (also on Philips West African Records).

But there is more 'new' material on this second EP, also released by Philips. And again the title, "Top Hits from Nigeria Vol. 2"* may lead to some confusion, as there is another 'foreign' band on this selection: Negro Jazz Brazzaville. They appear to be accompanied by George Arakpo and His Congo Bell (who are likewise complete strangers to me). This Negro Jazz sings in what is suppose to be spanish, borrowing some lyrics from Dewayon's Conga Jazz ("Eh non non non Mamie"). The result can be described as quite invigorating.

Again, the three remaining tracks are by Nigerian artists. The first is a highlife tune by one of the pillars of Nigerian highlife, Roy Chicago and his Rhythm Dandies, who will the subject of future posts (plural). Then there is a very enjoyable ibo highlife track by another Great, Rex Lawson and his Mayor's Dance Band. Note, by the way, that his nickname on this EP is not "Cardinal", but "Pastor". And finally, there is more twisting, with a second twist (after his "Suzzy Twist" on "Nigeria's Greatest") by King Kennytone and his Western Toppers.

With all this twisting going on, and assuming that all tracks are from roughly the same period, I think it is safe to date these recordings in the first half of the 1960s. The fact that EP's too are a phenomenon from this period, and "Leopoldville" (renamed "Kinshasa" in 1966) in the name of Air Congo City Five seem to confirm this estimate.

If anyone has any more information about the two orchestras from the two Congos, please let us know.

Philips 420026 PE
Philips 420018 PE

*The backside of both sleeves show there is also a volume 1 and a volume 3, and many more marvels still to be (re)discovered.....