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.