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.