December 31, 2011


I would like to round off* this (in many aspects not so happy) year with some sounds that I am almost sure will make you happy. And in the process I will try and clear up some misunderstandings and/or correct a few errors.

The subject of this post is one of my favourite ones: the music of Franco and his O.K. Jazz. More precisely I would like to focus on that fascinating period of the early 1970s, when Franco took control of the O.K. Jazz and the O.K. Jazz had not yet 'transformed' into the Tout Puissant O.K. Jazz.

Although it is easy to state this nearly forty years later, I am inclined to belief that Franco came out on top after the attempts to undermine his popularity in the late 1960s. One of the key ingredients of his success, and not just then but throughout his career, was that he had a capacity to absorb influences by others while remaining himself. Asked about the inspiration for his music Franco has replied in several interviews that he has spent his whole life listening to the music from his country. These words are not to be taken as some form of cliché. Franco really listened to all music from Congo/Zaïre and had done so since his youth. Seen in this light the call by Mobutu for a "recours à l'authenticité" seems 'tailor-made' for Franco.
The word "recours" has over the years been misinterpreted. It does not mean a return to, but rather an appeal to.
And authenticity was of course by no means an invention of Mobutu. For Mobutu it was actually more a solution to an imminent - or perhaps even urgent - problem. In that respect I think there are some parallels with the present search for a national identity and the 'recours' to a disturbing and shortsighted form of nationalism in countries like the Netherlands...

For Franco the 'recours à l'authenticité' meant a confirmation of what he was already doing. When he contacted people from the pre-independence era of Congolese music in 1971 he wasn't the first to do so. Wendo had been playing with Rochereau in the 1960s. Contrary to Rochereau legendary musicians from the Ngoma label like Manuel D'Oliveira and Camille Feruzi played with the O.K. Jazz on equal terms; they weren't used as an embellishment.

As far as I know (and please, please, please correct me if I am wrong!) Franco recorded two songs with and by Manuel D'Oliveira and a whopping five with Camille Feruzi. Of the latter I am only sharing four with you in this post. Of the last song (unconfirmed title "Tika Kolela Cherie") I have only a sadly very low-fi copy.

Three of the songs with Camille Feruzi have been released on CD (Sonodisc CD 36581), but - typical of Sonodisc - not without a slight cockup. "Kuyina" has been renamed to "Mbanda Nasali Nini?", - which happens to be the title of the track that is missing from the CD.

The songs were originally released on three singles by Franco's Editions Populaires, and according to my information in December 1972 (the first two singles) and the beginning of January 1973 (the third). Gary Stewart states that it was exactly one year earlier, and - although I am willing to believe this - I have no confirmation of this, or of the source of this dating.

The first of the three singles contains besides Franco's brilliant "Likambo Ya Ngana", featuring not only Franco and Camille Feruzi (on accordion) but also the same female chorus that can be found on "Boma L'Heure", an equally brilliant "Casier Judiciaire" (= criminal record). And this last song is a different version from the track included on the CD I mentioned before. Franco's acoustic solo after 3'20 is to me one of the absolute highlights of his career.
A small detail: on the CD "Likambo Ya Ngana" fades out a few seconds earlier than on the single. Why??

EP 78 [Fiesta 51.149]

On the second are two compositions by Camille Feruzi. On the B-side is "Siluvangi Wapi Accordeon?" which you may know from the CD. And on the A-side is the song missing from the CD, "Mbanda Nasali Nini?". Again I wonder why. Why wasn't this song included in the CD?
Coincidentally this happens to be a song with a bit of a mystery. Because who is the singer besides Youlou Mabiala? Aboubacar Siddikh suggests it might be Vicky, but I am more inclined to think it is Kwamy. Alternatively it can be a singer brought along by Camille Feruzi (Tenor Beya perhaps?).
This song is not only different because of the singer, but also because of the arrangement. In the second part (after 2'32) there is a full orchestral arrangement with the horn section sparring with Feruzi's accordion. Fascinating!

EP 79 [Fiesta 51.151]

The third single not only features the fourth track with Camille Feruzi, "Kuyina", with Franco and Feruzi competing for a place in the limelight, but also a track composed by that seminal composer duo from the early 1950s: Georges Edouard and Manuel D'Oliveira. Together with Henri Freitas and Bila Edouard they formed the group San Salvador, which can be described as the band that laid the foundation for all Congolese modern music. I will certainly be dedicating a post (or perhaps even more than one) to this group in the coming year.
The song "Ba Mipangi Ya Matadi" is in my opinion the very best example of a "recours à l'authenticité". I am not sure of the singers, but I suspect one of them is Manuel D'Oliveira, and the other could be Michel Boyibanda. The rhythm is 100% San Salvador and is accentuated by the percussion. Franco seems to have adjusted his tuning to the tuning of San Salvador, but remains clearly and recognisably Franco.
Again I can not understand why this song has never been included on one of the many Sonodisc CD's.

EP 80 [Fiesta 51.181]

The three singles plus the second track of Manuel D'Oliveira with the O.K. Jazz ("Na Mokili Mibale Na Mibale" - see this post) can also be downloaded in one file and in the FLAC format (alternative links - 2 files: here and here).
I will be posting more from this fascinating period very soon.

I wish you all a happy, healthy and successful 2012!

* and I am well aware that you may already be in the new year.

December 30, 2011

Update on "Disaster"

John Collins has sent me an update on the situation with his house and archive (see my post of November 20). Unfortunately his mails have been marked as "spam" (probably as a result of the links he included), so I have not spotted these until a few days ago.

He writes:
"As mentioned in my previous email letter - due to a number of factors that include climate change unplanned development and blocking of natural waterways Accra was severely flooded on 26th Oct and my own Bokoor House and the BAPMAF Music archives its hosts were severely affected. After this I spent a frantic months trying to save the damaged materials and at a guess I roughly estimate that about 10% of the BAPMAF archives was destroyed . Please see the following blogspots of the American Public Radio program Afropop for pictures and more details of the disaster - and also the BBC and Batuki Music of Toronto

Also see youtube video clip:

In my previous email letter I also mentioned some of the things I have to do - which include
· Storing all the BAPMAF archives temporarily upstairs in the BAPMAF Exhibition Room.
· Repairing flood damage and build circa 200 feet of reinforced concrete wall with gravel embankment to immediately protect the Bokoor/BAPMAF property from flooding.
· Replacing thousands of dollars of lost equipment, computers, car, scanners, cameras, record player, stabilizers, 4-track recorder, chargers and 12 volt battery backup system, power point and slide projector etc..
· Finding means and funds to temporarily relocate both my residence and the exhibition section of BAPMAF (either together or separately) elsewhere.
· Salvaging and restoring the BAPMAF holdings and make its exhibition section available again to the public.

In just one month I have already done some of the above. I have saved all the materials that could be saved, dried them and stored them with other BAPMAF materials safely upstairs. I have built about 80 feet of wall and embankment. And right now I am making arrangements with a Ghanaian national cultural institution to loan the exhibition section of BAPMAF and have it relocated at somewhere in Accra (possibly the National Museum) - so that it can remain open to the public whilst I am salvaging, re-organising and re-building the BAPMAF archives.

I will also relocate myself my family and the BAPMAF library, research documents and archival holdings elsewhere for the meantime. During this time I will repair flood damage to my Bokoor property and also convert the upstairs property into an area suitable for both accommodation and BAPMAF activities (other than its public exhibitions facilities). It may also be possible later - if a sensible system of drainage is introduced to the area and people are prevented from blocking the river with sawdust and other materials - for my downstairs property to become the location for the BAPMAF Exhibitions space. However, as mentioned, for the meantime, the BAPMAF exhibitions and photo gallery might be located at a suitable national public space in Accra.

Those who wish to contribute to getting BAPMAF back on its feet should either send donations (especially larger ones) to my bank account (bank transfer) in the UK (see below) - or to a paypal account that has been set up with the help by American colleagues and well wishers. Anyone who already has a PayPal account can simply make a donation through PayPal to at . People who don't have a PayPal account should click on the donate button (marking these as a "gift") on either of the two following blogspots.

[BANK DETAILS :NATWEST, Tottenham Court Rd Branch, P.O.BOX 2EA 45 Tottenham Court Rd. London WIT 2EA ,Reward Reserve Account of E .J. Collins, Account number 26592258, Sort Code 56-00-31, Swift code NWBK GB 2L, IBAN number GB16 NWBK 56003126 5922 58]

All the best, John Collins

I am a Ghanaian-British national, a musician, musicologist and music lecturer at the University of Ghana - and I have been operating the BAPMAF music archives in Ghana since 1990. BAPMAF (the Bokoor African Popular Music Archives Foundation) is an NGO established in 1990 by myself with the assistance and encouragment of some leading Ghanaian musicians and musicologists (like E.T. Mensah, King Bruce, Kwaa Mensah, Beattie Casely-Hayford, Oscarmore Ofori, Koo Nimo and T.O. Jazz, etc), to preserve, research, promote and disseminate Ghanaian/African performing arts, with the focus on popular performing arts. BAPMAF was first opended to the public in 1996 and then after extensive re-building at Bokoor House BAPMAF was re-opened in 2007 during Ghana‘s 50th anniversary Independence Day celebrations. The BAPMAF and its Highlife-Music Institute exhibited the ‘Golden Years of Highlife Exhibition’ through literally 100’s of photos, diagrams, maps, captions and posters as well a instuments and memoribilia connected with Ghanaian, African and Black Diasporic music. The BAPMAF complex also included of a large seminar/work-shop space, digital documentation room, audio-video laboratory and library. The BAPMAF Highlife Institute archival holdings prior to the October 2011 floods consisted of 1,200 photographs/slides, 700 publications, hundreds of rare and old documents and 1,500 hours of recorded music; including almost a thousand old highlife songs on shellac and vinyl records. It provideds materials for teaching and research purposes and has collaborated over the years with many local and foreign agencies: the Goethe Institute, the University of Ghana, the Alliance Francaise, the Dubois Centre, the Swizz Embassy, The Muscians Union of Ghana (MUSIGA), Ghanaba’s African Heritage Library, the US Embassy Public Affairs Section (Black History Month) and Rocky Dawuni’s Africa Live Project. BAPMAF is also a member of the UNESCO Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity and has provided materials too both local and foreign media agencies: the BBC, Joy FM, Ghana Broadcasting, TV3, Citi FM, ETV, American Public Radio, Radio France International, Mietzer-keiner-filmproduktion, Cinecon Africa, Creative Storm, the Soul to Soul project, Archiafrika, Analysis Lost Productions and Panafricas/Instituto Midia Etnica."

I have little to add, apart from an encouragement to donate generously to this very worthy cause.

November 20, 2011


This is not really a post. I am just trying to point any readers who may have missed this to the appeal made on the Afropop and the Osibisaba blog.

I am sure the original poster won't mind me quoting John Collins' appeal for help:
"Dear colleagues, supporters, fans, friends and well wishers,

As you know I have been operating the BAPMAF music archives since 1990 which was partly opened at my Bokoor House to the public in 1996 and more fully in 2007. However, devastation struck in the middle of the night of 26th Oct, 2011 in the form of a flood. This occurred over many parts of Accra due to more and more people building in or blocking water ways - so that rivers could no longer easily run into the sea. In our particular Taifa-Ofankor area this was compounded by the construction of a 3 mile section of the Kumasi highway (from Achimota to Ofankor) without adequate gutters - and also saw-millers who have been dumping sawdust in rivers and wetlands.

We residents have complained to both the Ghana National Highways Authority and the Ga District Assembly (Council) over the years to no avail Indeed the National Highways Authority told us residents that they had to build the road first before constructing the drains and that these 2 projects even fell under 2 different ministries. Furthermore, the saw-millers in the MUUS next to us, who are relative newcomer to the area, did not allow space on their adjacent land to ours for a gutter. In fact, by dumping sawdust on the drainage river (Brenyah River) they re-directed part of this river though my house and garden – which broke my wall – they are even now claiming my garden is their ‘natural’ gutter.

The resulting flooding on the 26 Oct. was unprecedented with almost 6 feet of water entering our land and 5 feet into the downstairs house and premises where some of the BAPMAF archival holdings are kept. I was in Mali at the time at an African popular music conference organized by the French Institute in conjunction with and the Malian Ministry of Culture. On returning to Ghana on the 29th I met my family perched upstairs in the BAPMAF exhibition space. They had escaped drowning by 2 minutes due to a timely call from a neighbor upstream who noticed the water build up and got them to leave the house and flee upstairs.

Some of the losses are as follows:
• Approx 10-20% 0f BAPMAF archival holding lost. Some we are still trying to dry and salvage.
• Loss of all electronic equipment including materials donated a few years ago to the BAPMAF archives by the German Goethe Institute for a digitization project.
• Loss of car, backup generator, various pumps, etc.

The house and area is now too dangerous for human habitation (i.e. residential purposes ). All this due to the short sightedness of the government in not insisting the National Highways Authority build storm gutters alongside the highway they have been constructing for seven years (which incidentally also went under water on the 26th Oct). And also the government’s inability to stop individuals or saw-millers etc from building on or blocking natural water flows.

As this is not likely to be resolved in the near future I have no recourse but to remove myself and my family from the house that myself and my father before me have been living since the 1970’s – and find rented property where we will not be drowned like rats.

So my immediate plans are as follows:
- Find temporary storage space for the BAPMAF archives so that at some point in the future these can become available again to myself and the general public.
- Find temporary accommodation relatively near the university at Legon.
- Build circa 200 feet of reinforced concrete wall with gravel embankment to protect the Bokoor/BAPMAF proper from future flooding – so I and the BAPMAF archives can move back to upstairs properties. This alone will cost around 7000$.
- To replace lost equipment, computers, car, scanners, cameras, digital record player, stabilizers, chargers and 12 volt battery backup system, slide projector, etc.
- At some point I will write to various individuals and organizations that donated general books, videos and DVD’s and music materials to BAPMAF to send me, if possible, copies.
- To replace the broken wall and add an embankment to it - or possibly even build a wall and embankment closer to my house and the BAPMAF premises. Even though I will lose my garden this will keep the building premises intact - so that in the future and the government demolishes obstacles to the water course, stops the saw-miller dumping saw dust in rivers and get the Highways Authority to build a storm drain alongside the Achimota-Ofankor Highway --I could at least use the BAPMAF premises again.

If you have any suggestions as how I could proceed – including any agencies, individuals, organizations who could assist financially or by replacing lost books and music this would be most appreciated. Letters of sympathy would also be most welcome.

Yours sincerely
John Collins (Prof).
POSTAL ADDRESS: P.0 Box LG 385, Legon , Accra, GHANA

If money is sent to help rebuild please send it to my UK bank account at follows.

NATWEST, Tottenham Court Rd Branch
P.O.BOX 2EA 45 Tottenham Court Rd. London WIT 2EA
Reward Reserve Account of E .J. Collins
Account number 26592258
Sort Code 56-00-31
Swift code NWBK GB 2L
IBAN number GB16 NWBK 56003126 5922 58

November 13, 2011

Mama Sissoko

I would like to start this post with a video of the concert by Orchestre Super Biton. This - in my opinion historic - concert took place at the Institut Français in Bamako on October 24, - i.e. on the evening of the first day of the colloque.

Unaware of any seating arrangments, we (Graeme Counsel, John Collins and me) went and sat down in the middle of the first row. Just before the concert began, the Malian Ministre de la Culture, Hamane Niang, made his entry surrounded by his bodyguards. John, to the right of me, was obviously sitting in the seat that was meant for his excellency. But the minister made no attempt to claim his privilege and sat down next to John, and subsequently proceeded to noticeably (but in a dignified manner) enjoy the concert.

This video was recorded with a smaller camera (hence the movement), with mono audio. I am still trying to correct the slight distortion on the songs I recorded (in stereo) with my other camera. So there is more to come....

The title of this song is "Kara Demba". You may remember my post of the Balandzan lp and Bomama cassette, both of which feature this track. The singers in this video are, from the left, Toussaint Siané, Gaoussou 'Papus' Diarra, Aboubacar 'Cubain' Kissa and - the oldest surviving member of the group - Mamadou 'Coulou' Coulibaly. Left of Toussaint is Mama Sissoko, the lead guitarist and chef d'orchestre.

I hadn't seen Mama Sissoko perform as a member of Biton since 1988, and I have to admit I wasn't very enthousiastic about his solo projects. During the tour of 1986, which brought the orchestra to Holland, his fellow musicians complained about his tendency to prolong the guitar solos. The annoyance was one of the factors which led to chef d'orchestre Amadou 'Armstrong' Bah retiring from the orchestra, which in turn contributed to the decline of the orchestra after 1988. So it is ironical that one of the persons who was in a way co-instrumental to the disappearance of this great orchestra is now playing such a major role in its revival.
And not only through his position as chef d'orchestra.

I was particularly impressed by his very controlled and well-dosed guitar playing. I think that most of the participants of the colloque agreed that his well-tempered* guitar managed to compensate to some extent for the absence of a horn section. Or perhaps I should write: the horn section. And, please, don't get me wrong: I still hope Biton finds some good horn players to fill in the gap left by the demise of the great Amadou Bah and Mamadou 'Blick' Diarra.

I hope I can correct the distortion on the other videos so I can share some more examples of the brilliance of this great Malian orchestra.

In the meantime I would like to share with you two examples of Mama Sissoko's guitar playing from the 1980's.
The first was recorded in Amsterdam on October 2, 1986 by Dave van Dijk for VPRO radio. Super Biton did three concerts in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht. Especially during the concert in Rotterdam Mama was virtually instoppable, also as a result of the audience reaction.

Tere (Super Biton, Melkweg Amsterdam, October 2, 1986) [FLAC]

The second was recorded by myself two years later in Segou, during a concert for president Moussa Traoré, which was recorded by Malian television. This song was actually a 'prelude' to the concert, - which incidentally was attended by no more than 30 persons, including the technicians of the ORTM. The singer of this version of a Malinke classic is Papa Gaoussou Diarra.

Moriba Kaba (Super Biton, Segou November 19, 1988) [FLAC]

I intend to post the complete recordings of the Segou concert in a future post.

* I used this analogy intentionally, as Mama is trying to play in two tonal scales: the heptatonic of the traditional Malinké music and the 'classic' Malinké guitar and the pentatonic of (amongst others) the traditional Bambara music and the classic Bambara ngoni.

November 07, 2011


I returned from the symposium - or 'colloque' - in Bamako last weekend, but still haven't been able to digest all the impressions and information from this highly compressed (only one week) but absolutely fascinating meeting. The highlights of this inspiring gathering were too many to deal with in one post, so I intend to dedicate several posts to these.

I am planning to post images of a brilliant concert by the legendary orchestra Super Biton, led by Mama Sissoko, who demonstrated he must be counted as one of the most outstanding guitarists in West-African music.

Then there will be a post dedicated to the fantastic research done by Vincent Kenis (who unfortunately was unable to attend the colloque), Césarine Sinatu Bolya and a young Congolese whose name I forgot to write down. They interviewed 'survivors' (musicians and mélomanes) from the golden era of Congolese music, i.e. the 1950s and early 1960s. This includes Paul Mwanga (photo right), who, contrary to what I wrote in my post about the song "Mokolo Nakokufa", is clearly not dead, - or at least was still very much alive at the time of the interview some five years ago.

More mysteries were resolved (and others added...). I was able to retrieve the titles of some unreleased Super Biton tracks, which I also hope to share with you in the near future. I found out more about the Malian lamellophone about which I reported a short while ago.

Other highlights of the colloque included a performance in the restaurant of the Institut Français by a group of azmaris from Ethiopia, which led to a remarkable encouter between a masengo and a sokou (photo right)... I intend to post a few videos of this encounter.

Then there were two very short but delightful performances by John Collins, the eminent expert on highlife music in general (and Ghanian music in particular). Unfortunately on Thursday John received news that his house in Accra had been hit by the floods which destroyed parts of the city. It seems likely (but I have had no confirmation of this) that his music archive has been damaged.... I will keep you informed.
We had some interesting discussions about the influence of the Kru sailors on the musics of west and central africa. No doubt this will lead to another post...

The presentations during the colloque gave plenty of food for thought. I was particularly interested in Lucy Duran's presentation about the phenomenon of the "sumu" (soirée), and the domination of female singers in the Malian music scene (in Mali, that is...). I will certainly come back to this, - and probably soon.
Others. like Ariel de Bigault and Uchenna Ikonne (of the Comb and Razor blog), surprised me with presentations packed with information on subjects about which I know little or nothing.

I could go on about the meeting with experts like Francis Falceto (of the brilliant Ethiopiques series), Wolfgang Bender (the author of - amongst others - the classic "Sweet Mother, Modern African Music", who in his presentation spoke about a subject which is very close to my heart: the archiving and preservation of African musics) and Gérald Arnaud (a francophone expert on yoruba music). I am sure I will dedicate posts to subjects about which they talked.

As I wrote, the programme was very compact. I would have loved to have talked more with South African lawyer, radio presenter and researcher Richard Haslop, who in his excellent presentation on South African music not only came up with some intriguing musical examples, but also appeared to have a fine nose (or ear) for good music in general.
The same goes for prolific writer (he will be finishing books about Malian and Burkinabe music very shortly, and has just published "Afro Pop, L'Âge D'Or Des Grands Orchestres Africains") and almost manic record (vinyl) collector Florent Mazzoleni, who I assume was mainly responsible, or at least instrumental, for my invitation to the colloque, and whom I certainly expect to meet more often (assuming he will be in Europe long enough).

And, of course, it was a great pleasure to meet 'my brother from the other end of the world': Graeme Counsel. We were fortunate enough to - again (after our visit to the first new-style Semaine Nationale in 2001) - share some memorable experiences in Bamako, one of which was the 'excursion' to a performance by one of the new style Apollo groups, Les Frères Dembélé, fronted by a very convincing female singer with a voice somewhere between Tata Bambo and Coumba Sidibé (photo left). This excursion too will be the subject of a post.

I am sure you have understood by now that it was a great meeting. I met many others, who I will mention in future posts. But special thanks must go to Lucien Roux (photo right), the 'directeur adjoint' of the Institut Français, who together with his very friendly staff not only organised the meeting but also proved to be a very pleasant and warm host.

More soon......

I had planned to post this video before leaving for Bamako, but just didn't have the time. It seemed a suitable way to get into the mood for a trip to Bamako. The video is by that almost archetypal Malian musician, 'Tasidoni' Karamoko Keita. This video from 1986 is not of the same exceptional image quality as the one I posted earlier, but is in my opinion musically more exiting. The title, "Randevou Ma Gne", seems to be a misspelling of "Rendezvous magnin" (magnin = bad).

October 05, 2011

Why worry?

I know I shouldn't, but I can get very worked up about stupid adverts. Unfortunately for me, there is an ever expanding range of those, and the level of stupidity has gone down to way below what until not very long ago was considered absolute zero. When it comes to that paradigms shift faster than the speed of light......

One advert that has completely put me off buying anything from that particular brand is by a manufacturer of cameras. In this advert a lady announces that she is a type of camera. Who are you kidding, woman? Are you receiving treatment for this psychopathic delusion?!

And this brings me seamlessly (!) to the subject of this post. For there are very few musical groups that have a name that is more inviting, more curiosity provoking than the group of the late Suberu Oni. Indeed: Why Worry?

I have attempted to dig up some background to this musical master from Nigeria, but have found it a challenge. Suberu Oni appears have been one of the pioneering highlife artists rising to fame in the 1950s and 1960s. A contemporary of Ayinde Bakare and Theophilus Iwalokun, he was a native of Ondo (and assume they mean the city in the state of the same name) and sang in a local Ondo dialect with a distinct, deep guttural voice.

The name of his record label suggests Suberu Oni was proud of his origins. The name Ekimogun is probably related to the name of an annual event. "On Ekimogun Day all sons and daughters of Ondo Kingdom at home and in the Diaspora come together to showcase their culture and raise funds for the development of their community.
In the past 23 years that the Ekiomogun Day has taken place, hundreds of indigenes have benefited from scholarship awards and trainings, through the funds generated by the organisers of the event, the Ondo Development Committee.
I think it would be too much of a coincidence to assume that Oni´s label led to the naming of this event. It seems more likely that both refer to another element of Ondo tradition and/or culture.

As to this lp, I am totally in the dark when it comes to titles and other useful info. Perhaps someone can help us out. If not, we still have the solid, old style music and those remarkable voices. And that in itself is good enough, if you ask me.
So why worry?

Ekimogun EKLP 096 (alternative link)

October 02, 2011


For those in Bamako, Mali, from October 24 to 29 there is a chance to meet some of the experts on African music during a symposium organised by the Centre Culturel Français in Bamako. And I will be there too, not so much an expert as an experienced amateur (and/or 'dabbler').

For me it will be a chance to meet some people again. Graeme Counsel and I only meet in Bamako, and it will be just over ten years since we last met on the occasion of the first Semaine Nationale des Arts et de la Culture, which took place from September 11 to 21, 2001. But some sadness will also be inevitable, as many of my musical friends will be missing, - and missed. Daouda 'Flani' Sangaré, Zani Diabaté, Ali 'Farka' Touré: they have all passed away.

For those who are unable to attend, I will attempt to report on the event when I get back.

All this has little or nothing to do with the cassette I would like to share with you in this post. This cassette has presented a mystery to me since I got it in the early 1990s. I have no idea what ensemble, troupe or group is playing, and I can only guess what the titles are. The sleeve carries no information apart from the title "Gao Thonville". And I am pretty sure that by the last name they actually mean "Thionville", a town in the north-east of France near the German border.

Apparently Thionville is twinned with Gao. This 'jumelage' was started in 1986, was suspended in 1992 (as a result of the Tuareg rebellion) and resumed in 1999.

My guess is that this cassette is a result of the enthusiasm of the initial twinning. This enthusiasm is reflected in the musical content. Or perhaps "love" is a better word to describe the general feeling (sorry) of the music.

The songs appear to be entirely in the Sonrai (or Songhai or Songhoi) tradition, which is no wonder given the history of Gao as the capital of the Sonrai empire. Perhaps you even recognise track B3 as a version of "Tamala (Maïga)", the first song of the Songhai lp in the "Premiere Anthologie de la Musique Malienne" on Bärenreiter-Musicaphon. Compared to this, the version on this cassette is much smoother, less earthy, and this is largely a result of the strange instrument which plays a leading role on this cassette. You may be tempted at first to think it is a kind of balafon. A smaller type perhaps. But listening to the first notes on side B it becomes clear that it must be a kind of lamellophone or thumb piano. This instrument, plus the njarka (fiddle), and the proud singing of the girls' chorus make this cassette one that could claim a permanent place in your musical memory, - as it has done with me....

Gao Thonville (cassette)

September 26, 2011


In this post I would like to share with you a rather obscure lp, produced in Nigeria but containing music from Congo. The obscurity is limited to the production. The artists, although not credited on the sleeve nor on the label (for copyright reasons?), are of the well-known variety. Of the ten tracks on this compilation four are by the O.K. Jazz, two by the Negro Band, two by Rock-a-Mambo and two by the the - perhaps less known - Dynamic Jazz.

Although I am not sure about the Dynamic Jazz songs, I estimate all the tracks to be from the late 1950s. The songs performed by the O.K. Jazz were composed by that great guitarist Antoine Armando, better known as Brazzos, and were originally released as Loningisa 189 (in 1957) and 211 (in 1958). The songs by both the Negro Band and Rock-a-Mambo* were originally released on the Esengo label as Esengo 192 ("Kumaye"), 194 ("Senhorita"), 119 ("Brigitte") and 71 ("Bakoule Bidama"). And Dynamic Jazz made records (and quite a few) for the Ngoma label. Both "Rumbita Dynamic Jazz" and "A mi amor bonita" were at one point released on the Super 45 (EP) 1005.

As a compilation this record deserves excellent marks. It features some of the Greats of the époque d'or of Congolese music. "Bakoule Bidama", for example, not only stars singer Rossignol, but also Kabasele himself, as backing vocalist (and a brilliant one, if you ask me!), plus Essous and Nino Malapet. Franco and Vicky Longomba both are prominent in the O.K. Jazz songs. But that is only to be expected.

Needless to say that my favourites are the tracks by Brazzos. I am still trying to figure out what latin original 'inspired' "Cuidado Conamallo" (which I suspect should be "cuidado con la mano"). I am inclined to believe that the O.K. Jazz copied the song (or perhaps just the name of the song) from other Congolese orchestras. I recall having heard a version by either Rock-a-Mambo or African Jazz (if I bump into it I´ll post it).

Lyric-wise there is a lot to be enjoyed, especially in that same song. With Vicky in fluent jibberish-spanish: "Venga, chiquita! Baila! Awela-wela" (or "abuela, abuela"?) ", si yo me muero muero muero de todo mi amor".
Who invented these lyrics?

ISP 101

* Actually "Brigitte" is credited in the Esengo catalogue to Lucie Yenga et l'African Rock.

September 18, 2011

"San" but really Nioro

In this post I would like to share two wonderful videos from Mali. Both are by a 'troupe' from San, a town (or village?) in the Ségou region.

Ségou may be known as the historic heart of the Bambara empire, it is also a region with a large cultural variety and diversity. A diversity that has been eminently exploited by great stars like Hawa Dramé and Safoura Denou & Seny Sangaré.

In this case I have been told that the songs are both Sarakolé traditionals. The first song, "Danama", has also been interpreted by another Malian diva, the great Mah Damba, on her very first cassette. And I am sure I have heard the second song performed by another singer, somewhere, sometime (please help me out here...).

I love the almost informal 'ambience' and the sheer fun of these two songs, and more particularly the dancing. The men take turns in showing of their skills, almost in a peacock manner. And the women in turn react (when they feel like it) by joining them. And the dance itself has absolutely nothing to do with the over the top dancing that is sometimes presented as "the" African dancing.

Although I have had this video for over twenty years I keep discovering new details. I refer to the reactions by the participants of the troupe, and not to the curtain, - which has of course seen some great acts over the years (you may remember this video, and I´m sure you´ll find more examples on Ngoni´s great Youtube channel).

The second song starts of in a much slower tempo, which reminds me of Hawa Dramé. But then it gradually gathers speed until, after 4'20, it switches into another rhythm, and a more peacocky dancing ensues. What a delight!

EDIT/CORRECTION: January 15, 2012: A comment on YouTube, plus the find of a video by "Les artistes de San" have urged me to investigate the origin of the groupe in these two videos.
This research has led to the correction posted here.

The videos in this post are in fact from a groupe from Nioro, in the Kayes region and near the Mauretanian border. As to the cultural origins of the music it seems likely the comment on YouTube may be right that group is Bella (i.e. maure).

September 08, 2011

Mbaraka on TV

I have to confess it is at times hard to keep up with all the comments that are sent to me both on posts on this weblog and on videos uploaded to Youtube. Although I don't always have the time to react to all of these I can assure you I do read them and do appreciate all the comments* you send in.

The other day a comment was sent to me by a Mr. Msomali, who is - I deduce from his writings - a Tanzanian living in the UK. He wrote about a subject which is also very close to my heart and very high on my (unfortunately extensive) wishlist:
"I want to start the discussion of where the videos of Mbaraka Mwinshehe can be found. I am sure it is in Kenya and Japan.

I will explain why.
Mbaraka took his Morogoro Jazz Band as part of a large group of cultural ensembles/artists representing Tanzania in the EXPO 70 exhibition that took place in Japan in 1970. Being good in technology as they are, I am certain the Japanese recorded every event that went on in each pavilion.

As to Kenya: a lady asks her husband to take her to a Super Volcano show (when the Band was visiting the couple's town) as she says she listens to their songs almost every single day on the Radio, and she also watches them often on the Television. All this is in Mbaraka's song called 'Nipeleke Nikashudie' (which roughly translate as "Take me, so that I can see them perfom live"). By TV here she means VOK Tv (Voice of Kenya Tv).

I believe both VOK (now called KBC Tv) and NHK Tv (Japan's National Tv) have Mbaraka's videos in their archives.

I also believe that both these institutions have a public duty to release these videos of one of the truly gifted musicians to come out of East Africa.
His country was/still is too poor to have have had Television in his lifetime, but he served Kenyans and entertained them in equal measure, and has everyone listened to his song EXPO 70, celebrating his participation there?
Mbaraka belonged to all of us, so the least these two institutions can do to world music heritage is to release his videos into the public domain.

Any ideas on how we can go about asking them to do this service to world music, anyone?

Mr. Msomali

What can I say? I support this appeal wholeheartedly. I can't wait to see a video of this giant of Tanzanian music.

If there is anyone out there who has links with either Kenyan or Japanese television, please help us out!

And should you need any encouragement I advise you to listen to this brilliant sample of the great man's repertoire, which as it happens contains both the song "Nipeleke Nikashudie" and two songs dedicated to the EXPO in Japan (including that killer "Expo No.2"!!!!). And the five other songs are all equally disarming in their unpretentious and truely authentic brilliance.

POLP 566 (or POLP 566) (December 21, 2016: update the first link to 320 kbps)

* I would like to make an exception to those sad idiots (and I am holding back here...) who try and slip a commercial link into their so-called comments.

September 01, 2011


Over the years I have come to acquire a distinct aversion against the term "crossover". It must have started in the eighties with (the highly respected and very likeable) journalist Stan Rijven, who was always on the lookout for the connection, the 'cross-fertilisation' (yuk) and the 'sameness of the other'. At the back of this inclination I couldn't help but suspect a lack of confidence in the appeal of African music.
My personal preference lay and lies in finding the 'otherness in the other', in the authenticity of the (so far) unknown. If I had wanted more of the same I wouldn't have ventured out into the realm of African music. How can I appreciate a crossover if I have no idea of the individual elements involved in the crossing?

Rochereau (r) with a very young Daouda Sangaré
Twenty-five years later my aversion is still present. Experience has shown that musicians claiming that their music is a 'crossover' between styles usually produce a watered-down blend of predominantly western music.

This doesn't mean, however, that all 'interaction' between different musical styles is uninteresting. But the real enjoyment of this can only start with the understanding and acknowledgement of the styles involved.

And that brings me to the subject of this post.

For how can anyone really enjoy Rochereau's version of "Seyni Kay Fonema" without knowing Laba Sosseh's original (here and here), and without having some knowledge of Rochereau and his background and of the music of African Fiesta (in this case National) and African Jazz?
Rochereau's version was recorded in the late 1960s and is not only interesting because it is a cover of a Senegalese song. That in itself is if not unique, at least very special. I suspect that Laba Sosseh singing a Congolese tune (Orch. Bella Bella's "Sola") is not half as special.
It is unclear why "Izeidi" is included in the title, unless Roger Izeidi is playing the (prominent) maracas in the song or is responsible for the rather abundant orchestral arrangment, as he was in the Surboum days with African Jazz. Both are possible.

The end result is very enjoyable. I doubt very much though if this song can or should be called a crossover. Not only is there no crossing going on (it's just a slightly different version of the original), but also it is not really very far from African Fiesta's style. As Franco put it in 1987, the main source of inspiration of the African Jazz school of Congolese music lies in Latin-American music. So a Latin-tinged song like "Izeidi Seyni Kai Fonema" is normal for one of the main representatives of the school.

The B-side of the single (Ngoma J 5153), "Los Probas", seems to confirm this. I haven't been able to trace the - no doubt latin - original of this song (maybe this has another title?), but it is still very much in the African Fiesta style of borrowed melodies like "Africa(n Jazz) Mokili Mobimba" and "Kayi Kayi".

The second single (Ngoma J 5156) has more of the same: an instrumental, "Négra Sanda", which could be (and I'm not saying it is) a version of "La Negra Sanda", a song composed by a certain Francia, and made famous in the early sixties by Pete Terrace (I hadn't heard of him either..) and - perhaps even earlier - by Fajardo y sus Estrellas.
The B-side, "Munequita" (and that's what he sings), certainly is not the "Muñequita" of Sonora Matancera or of Orquesta Aragón, nor Aragón's "Bella Muñequita", - but I'll be damned if the original is not Cuban.

Luckily I have traced the source of "Trembla Tiera" (Flash FL 39, the B-side of Sam Mangwana's wonderful "Bina Ringa", which has appeared on several lp's and cd's). The song was composed by a certain G. Ruiz Perez and recorded as "Tiembla Tierra" by the (still) great Orquesta Aragón.

With all these tracks I love the way in which Rochereau is trying to cover up that he has no idea what he is singing. In "Izeidi Seyni Kay Fonema" this results in a kind of melodic mumbling with a few recognisable words thrown in. In the spanish songs he is slightly more confident, but still has a tendency to drift off into gibberish.
I love it!

More Rochereau to follow soon.

Ngoma J 5153
Ngoma J 5156
Flash FL 39

or as one file.

PS± Covers of the Ngoma´s are very welcome...

August 30, 2011

Title (no longer) unknown

The cassette I would like to share with you in this post was a major source of inspiration for me to want to dig deeper into the music of Mali. I copied it from a Malian living in Amsterdam in the mid-1980s. I remember he complained that a lot of Malian music was "talk talk talk". I assumed he meant he was no fan of the "Regard Sur Le Passé" genre. I, however, was new to this phenomenon, and was - and still am - intrigued by the combination of epic and music. The epic part was (and still largely remains) a mystery to me, but the music.... Well, what can I say? It was love at first hearing.

A little later I discovered that some of the tracks of this cassette were also available on lp. The lp being the Bärenreiter-Musicaphon version of a Malian original, by the Orchestre Régional de Ségou. The cassette had "Super Biton" written on it, but it was clear that this was the same ensemble.

To be honest, I still prefer the cassette.
And not just because of the absence of the irritating fake applause on "Da Monzon". But mainly because of the titles on the B-side.

The cassette is undisputable proof of the Greatness of the regional orchestre of Ségou. An orchestra that can come up with a majestic, or even imperial, beginning like the one of the second or the fifth song on the B-side, should have at least a museum to preserve their legacy and to glorify their name.

Unfortunately nothing of the sort has happened to Super Biton. As I reported in an earlier post the orchestra fell apart in the late 1980s, and it is nowadays hard to find any traces of the orchestra in Mali, other than indirect references*.
I hasten to add though that attempts are being made to revive the orchestra, albeit in a leaner version. I'll keep you informed.

At one point I found someone who gave me the titles of the tracks on the B-side, but unfortunately the list got lost somewhere between Bamako and Amsterdam, along with assorted other items of my luggage. Perhaps there is someone who can help us out with these?

As a bonus I add another version of "Bakari Dian", which is from a cassette recorded at my request in 1990 at Radio Mali. It is perhaps hard to recognise, but it is - unless I am very much mistaken - the same version as the one on "Regard sur le passé à travers le présent".

"Bakari Dian" (Malian cassette earlier 1980s)

And finally as an extra bonus I am adding a FLAC version of the Bärenreiter-Musicaphon lp.

BM 30 L 2601

* and while on the subject of videos, you may want to take a look at this 1990 video by the last remnants of Biton. Certainly worthwhile.

EDIT November 13, 2011: I had to change the title of this post, as I have retrieved the names of the songs of this cassette. In meeting the members of the orchestra in Bamako, I was able to sit down with them and listen to the cassette. Toussaint Siané, with the help of the other singers (and especially doyen Mamadou 'Coulou' Coulibaly), wrote down the missing titles. The version with the titles can be found here: Bakari Dian (Malian cassette 198x)

August 12, 2011

Short message

To those that are getting worried I may have stopped: I am experiencing some problems with the connection to the internet. I am busy trying to resolve these.

I have no intention of stopping, and hope to resume 'service' as soon as possible.

EDIT August 21, 2011: Connection has been restored, so a new post can be expected soon.

June 19, 2011


I have asked (the now unfortunately late) Daouda 'Flani' Sangaré about the labelling of this album. And he agreed that "Rythmes du Wassoulou" only partly covers the music he and his friend Alou Fané recorded. Both Flani's and Alou's roots lie in an area just to the east of the Wassoulou. Alou has indicated that he was influenced mostly by the music of the hunters (donso n'goni), but Flani's influences are more diverse.

Compared to their first album (which I posted earlier) the second one has more of Flani than of Alou. Also the themes of their songs seem to get increasingly moral and theatrical. I assume their work with the Ballet National (see this post) had something to do with that.

As a member of the Ballet they were encouraged to do research. Flani told me that whenever he went to his native district he would go and talk to the elders, and would coax them - by gifts of cola nuts and some money - into telling him the tales and legends of the past. He was well aware that, until he would get to a certain age, they were not going to tell him the whole of these stories. And he assured me that he too did not use all of the information he had received...

The main inspiration for their songs came, however, from daily life. "You in Europe sing about the moon and the sun. You can sing about anything as long as it sounds okay", commented Flani when I first interviewed him. "But we have to have a reason to sing a song. The song has to reflect reality, either the reality of today or that of the past. Suppose I would sing about the moon, people would come up to me and ask me what I mean."

Both daily life and the theatrical were obviously present in the song which became their biggest 'hit' ever: "Keleya". The song is about the jealousy ("keleya") between co-épouses (co-wifes) in a polygamous marriage. When performing the song Flani would dress up as a woman, and would at times improvise to add to the comical effect of the song. The song was even recorded for television:

In the video, recorded in 1983, Alou is playing kamalen n'goni and Djourou Diallo flute. The song was later also recorded with the Djata Band, and was re-recorded by Flani, Alou and Djourou in 1995 1987 (see comments) in an austere London studio for the album of the same name which was released by Indigo (label Blue). An album which I - unfortunately - cannot recommend.

Besides "Keleya" the lp which I am sharing with you in this post contains a full palette of wonderful songs.
Starting with "Flédonkli", a song in which Alou and Flani alternately sing the lead. I just love the natural way in which they take turns, while staying in their own style. The two voices meet at the end.
The uptempo rhythm of "Flêlibana" certainly does not remind me of the music of the Wassoulou (apart from the very end, that is). Sung solo by Flani, this song appears to be inspired by a traditional (percussion?) style of Flani's Ganadougou district.

My favourite song on this lp is the last one of the A-side: "Ounhoun Koro". I know this was a favourite of Flani himself too, if only for the 'posé' rhythm (Flani was a sucker for posé rhytms; he loved Haruna Ishola). Alou's subtle ngoni playing is matchless in this song, adding to the posé effect. Flani's voice is full of deep emotion, while Alou's vocal is almost comforting behind him. I especially like the last thirty seconds, when they almost fade out the song, but without touching the volume.

"Mangoya" is perhaps the most Wassoulou style song of the album. It is sung in an almost monotonous singing style by Flani. I am sure this must be related to the lyrics.
You may recall the last song, "Koursigui Tan", from the tribute to Zani Diabaté. In this, the original version, Alou demonstrates that you can increase the tension by playing an apparently very stoic rhythm. I have heard several ngoni players trying to imitate this brilliantly understated style, but so far I have not heard anyone who can match Alou. I never cease to be amazed, by the way, by the timing of Flani in rejoining the song (after 4'07).
I will write about the lyrics of this song in a later post.

Ivoire Polydisc IP 8301

PS: I won't bore you with the technical challenges that have kept me from posting in the last few weeks.

May 31, 2011


May 28, 2011

In the 60s

A few years ago I expressed (in this post) my preference for the more 'profane' work of Nigerian juju star Ebenezer Obey. "Profane" in the original sense that is, i.e. "not belonging to a church or religion".

On closer inspection, I have to take back what I wrote.

In fact there are, in my opinion, no better songs in Obey's extensive repertoire than the godfearing tracks collected on this album "Ebenezer Obey in the 60's".
This has been one of favourite juju albums (if not THE favourite) for over 25 years. And in all this time its shine has not diminished. On the contrary, the lp has only grown in stature, as a monument to the early work of the now chief commander.

Unlike the majority of juju music albums this lp does not contain two medleys, but a total of twelve short tracks. Among these there are several that, as far as I am concerned, can compete with the best tracks from the sixties by pan-african superstars like Franco and Kabasellé.
To me the very best of these is the concise but heavenly "Ori Bayemi". I get tears in my eyes every time I listen to this stupefyingly beautiful song. Obey manages to cram all of the good bits of juju music into less than three minutes, including - in order of appearance - some eternal guitar chords, very casual sounding but for exactly this reason brilliant lead and chorus interplay and a 'get down & shake it' drums bit.

The whole of the A-side is in fact of a surreal wonderfulness. "Ope Fun Oluwa" and "Gbe Bemi Oluwa", both songs filled to the brim with Jesus and Our Lord (Oluwa), offer stiff competition to "Ori Bayemi", with the rootsy (okay, you can shoot me now) "Ope Fun Oluwa" very close, if only for the great rhythm.

The only hint of profanity is in "Pauline", a song with sensual guitar balanced against manly vocals and chest-beating drums.

On the B-side there are some surprising jewels. Like "Edumare Lon Pese". After the opening notes I almost expect Tunde Nightingale to squeak in. I love the guitar in this song.

This lp is the first volume in a series of two. But if you ask me, the second volume does not get close to this (mono!!) evergreen of Nigerian - and African - music.

Decca WAP 432 or Decca WAP 432

Another technical note

Some of you have reported that the Adrive service is not working. In attempting to download from Adrive a message appears suggesting that the service is overloaded ("Public File Busy").

Inspection of the number of downloads shows that no downloads at all are possible from Adrive. I have reported this to Adrive, and am awaiting their answer.

I will re-upload some of the more recent files to another server. If you want to download an older file on Adrive, please report this to me (for example by commenting on this post). I will subsequently upload that file to another server.

UPDATE Mat 30, 2011: Adrive reports that the issue has been resolved. I have checked this with a few files and everything seems to be in good working order now.

May 22, 2011

Franco at Ngoma

You may remember my earlier posting of two of the volumes of the Sonafric series (of three) "Les Grands Succes Zaïrois". In that post I mentioned that all of the tracks on those two albums appeared to have been released on the Ngoma label.
Furthermore I indicated that it looked to me like the two tracks by Franco et l'O.K. Jazz on Volume 3, "Beyos" and Franco's superb "Ngai Na Boya Na Boya Te", had been shortened.

A few weeks later I received a mail from Danish journalist and connaisseur Flemming Harrev. He wrote: "I can confirm that the two Sonodisc albums 'Les Plus Grands Succès Zaïrois' vol. 2 (SAF 50.043) and vol. 3 (SAF 50.044) were rereleases. They were originally released by Ngoma in France ca. 1969. The Ngoma albums were titled 'Toute l'Afrique Danse' vol. 5 (J 33 008) and vol. 6 (J 33 009) respectively. The track-titles and the sequencing is identical on both Sonodisc albums. In your comments on the Sonodisc albums you indicate the length of the tracks have been tampered with. I have a copy of Ngoma J 33 008 and have compared it to Sonodisc SAF 50.043 and can confirm that the length of all the tracks are identical. The back cover of my Ngoma album has b/w pictures of covers and track info on nine other Ngoma albums (inluding J 33 009 alias Sonodisc SAF 50.044)."

And there is more!
"When it comes to Sonodisc SAF 50.044 I can only make a comparison of the two tracks with Franco & OK Jazz (BEYOS / NGAÏ NA BOYA NA BOYATE) which I also have as an Ngoma single (J 1 056). When I checked the length of the tracks on the single against the length of the same tracks on the Sonodic album I came up with the following result: the Ngoma single tracks are 5.26 / 5:21 respectively, compared with the Sonodisc album tracks' 3:49 / 4:15. Voila!

I have copied the cover of the Ngoma single - attached. On the back-cover you will find the missing series number on your list of Ngoma original singles for Verckys & son ensemble (Okokoma Mokristo / Sasa Akeyi Congé): J 5 146. I also have two other Ngoma singles with OK Jazz: J 1 058 MARIE CECILE / MARIE ELENA and J 1 059 CONGO MIBALE / THOMAS which I could send if you are interested.

Returning to the Sonodisc albums 'Les Plus Grands Succès Zaïrois'. Vol. 1 (SAF 50.042) is identical to the Ngoma album with Dr. Nico and African Fiesta (J 33 007). Another Ngoma album with Dr. Nico (J 33 001) was rereleased as Sonodisc SAF 50.007, Ngoma J 33 002 with Rochereau was rereleased as Sonodic SAF 50.004, Ngoma J 33 003 with Dr. Nico was - as far as I can make it out - never rereleased (Alastair Johnson does not have it in his book either, so it must be very rare) , Ngoma J 33 004 - still in the 'Toute l'Afrique Danse' series - was with Don Diego et son orchestre (Cuban band-leader), Ngoma J 33 005 with Rochereau was rereleased as Sonodisc SAF 50.002, Ngoma J 33 006 with Dr. Nico was rereleased as Sonodisc SAF 50.003, Ngoma J 33 008 and J 33 009 became vol. 2 and 3 of 'Les Plus Grands Succès Zaïrois', Ngoma J 33 010 with Kosmos Alphonso et l'orchestre Les Esprits I have no further information on.

I have checked old issues of Bingo Magazine and found 3 more Ngoma albums in Gilles Sala's list from March 1971 (page 57): J 33 013, J 33 014 and J 33 015. Judging from the album titles alone the two first albums with Verckys would be identical to Sonodic SAF 50.008 and SAF 50.009. The third album (J 33 015) Kwamy à Paris 'Ma cousine Bernadette' I have no further information on. I miss copies of Bingo from 1969 and 1970 (have 1967-1968 + 1971-1991) so I have no idea of what might have been released on Ngoma J 33 011 and J 33 012.

In your comments on 'Les Plus Grands Succès Zaïrois' you also made a point of Cercul Jazz not being a band from Zaire but came from Congo-Brazzaville. Maybe the other two unknown bands, Kongo Vox and Congolia, also cane from Brazzaville. I have a another Ngoma single with Kongo Vox where the composer of the tracks is given as Dupool - alias Jean-Félix Pouela - whom I am to believe came from Brazzaville (according to the information I can find on the internet) and who should have had a short envolvement with OK Jazz. Does this ring a bell with you?

What a delight to receive such detailled information!

I must correct the point about Docteur Nico's Ngoma J 33003 not being in Alastair's book. It is, on page 40.

I am very curious about the Kwamy à Paris album (Ngoma J 33015). If anyone has it, please share it with us!

As to Dupool, Lutumba Simaro mentioned him in 1991 as a drummer originally from Brazzaville, where he played with Les Bantous.

It gets even better. Flemming not only sent the three singles he mentioned in his mail, but later even found a fourth one. And all four singles are in absolute top condition. And, as if to prove a point I made in an earlier post, none, - I repeat: none - of these tracks has made it on to CD.
Which, if you ask me, is a miracle......

Because not only is there an extended version of "Ngai Na Boya Na Boya Te", which not only means the sax solo is finished (it is faded out on the lp version), but also that Franco returns once more. This 'upgraded' version of one my (many) favourite O.K. Jazz songs would be enough for me.
But the other three singles also have some classic O.K. Jazz songs to offer.

"Michaël Bolingo" is one of these, with Vicky Longomba (again - as in "Beyos") delicately backed by Franco, and with Youlou joining Franco when Vicky does his solo bits. For some it may sound like more of the same, but me, I can't get enough of these songs.
The B-side "Mbanda Na Ngai" (not to be confused with the song of the same title by Kwamy on the Surboum label) again offers proof of composer Lola Chécain's great skills as a backing singer. Here he backs Youlou like a shadow, - but does add his signature after 48 seconds...

On Ngoma J 1058 "Marie Cécile" offers a mystery. Well, at least to me. For who is the singer next to Franco at the beginning of this song? Is it a cleverly disguised Michel Boyibanda? And who is the guy talking after 1'11? And what is the meaning of that comical interlude with the sums, after 4'10?

And talking about comical, is the B-side serious? I mean, it is an absolutely fantastic version of that Mexican evergreen "Maria Elena". But it is also very much too. The singing is relatively normal (and who is singing the lead? And is that Chécain backing? Or - also - Franco*?), but my pants dropped when the trumpet came in.

I suspect "Congo Mibale" is one of Franco's song with a Message. The decisiveness of Franco's singing, the fact that he is trying to fit words into the rhythm, the naming of famous Congolese (Lumumba).... The passage between 1'48 and 2'55 suggests that the song is about the division of the two Congos. Franco names the languages the two countries have in common. It is clear that this was in issue in the second half of the 1960s (see also my earlier post about Orchestre Manta Lokoka).
As to the B-side, "Thomas" (again composed by Franco**), is it me, or is this song dominated by the bass player? For some reason it seems to provide a perfect build-up to Franco's solo, starting at 2'41.

I have mentioned it before, and these four singles offer more proof: there is still a great part of Franco's legacy that has never been released in digital form. So there is also no reason to stop looking, and to only reproduce (and sometimes even in distorted or incomplete form) what others have produced before.

Ngoma J 1056
Ngoma J 1057
Ngoma J 1058
Ngoma J 1059

Alternatively you can download all four singles in one file.

* I am almost sure the hums after 4'42 are Franco.
** In fact the only two songs on these four singles not composed by Franco are the song composed by Chécain and "Marie Elena".

May 19, 2011

Super Rail

As I reported a while ago I have been very busy - in my spare time - backing up my collection of CD's. Unfortunately this process is taking a lot longer than I anticipated. And the backing-up process itself is not a very pleasant or exciting one. In fact, it is just slightly more entertaining than watching paint dry.
So every now and then I like to take a break. Earlier this week I broke the monotony by listening to and digitising a few cassettes. And I was so pleasantly surprised by one of these that I decided to share it with you in this post.

This cassette is a (more than likely bootleg) version of the first of two lp's released in 1979 on the Disco Stock label in Abidjan by guitarist Djelimadi Tounkara and the Rail Band du Mali. Graeme Counsel has dedicated a page on his website to these two albums, which to be honest leaves me slightly confused. He writes: "Djelimady Tounkara was the lead guitarist of the Rail Band until 1979 when, with Mory Kanté, he left to form L'Orchestre Super Rail Band International in Abidjan. He rejoined the Rail Band in 1984. The above recordings were released on the Disco Stock label and finds the group at their creative peak, with the tracks "Dosoke cery" and "Djiguiya" stand-out numbers. Tounkara is one of West Africa's foremost guitarists, and is well supported by the keyboard solos and the excellent brass arrangements."

These recordings are from 1979, but does this mean that they are in fact by "L'Orchestre Super Rail Band International"?
Although neither the cassette sleeve (right) nor the lp sleeve of the Disco Stock lp (left) mentions the "Orchestre Super Rail Band International" I am inclined to believe the answer to this question is "yes".

The two tracks Graeme cites are both from the second volume*. I am surprised he has left out what I consider to be the highlight of this first volume: the brilliant, passionate version of "Soundiata" by Mory Kanté.

To be honest, I started off on the wrong foot with Mory Kanté. The first songs I heard, in the mid-1980s, were from his European albums, 'culminating' in the hit "Yeke Yeke", - which even gave rise to a sentiment bordering on resentment. It took me more than ten years to get over this negative feeling. Since then I have come to appreciate especially his older work, like for example the wonderful album he made as part of the ensemble of kora legend Batourou Sekou Kouyaté. This version of that Malinké classic "Soundiata" is another of my favourite Mory Kanté songs.

On the three other tracks of this album the emphasis is on the instrumental. The guitar playing by Djelimadi is in the typical Malinké style. Nowadays he regularly accompanies griots from his native Kita (like diva Kandia Kouyaté). On this record too he stays close to his roots.
Notable too are the penetrating organ chords, particularly on "Nama" (another** version of the song about a historic sinking of the ship of the same name on the Niger river?) and "Famadenke" (see my earlier post and the link to the history and lyrics of this song). But I certainly don't want to leave out the horn section, which in my opinion is classical in its own right.

Kosmo KS 230 [Disco Stock DS 7918, 1979)


* which, if you like, I will gladly post later.
** well before the one by National Badema.

May 10, 2011

More South African jive

You may remember my posts (here and here) about the "South African Jive" series of cassettes which I bought in London in the mid-1980's.

Following the last of these two posts one of the followers of this blog emailed me to inform me that his friend Keith had created and sold those cassettes from his African/Latin records stall in Camden Market. "They were naturally very popular and sold well, and now seem to be doing the collector's rounds via the web. None of this was sold as CDs because it was all before CDs were easy to home-copy, and long before the web and mp3s", he added. In a later mail he recalled that Keith moved to teach Economics in Botswana University.

I promised to share the other three cassettes with you, and am doing so in this post.

I know Volume 3 has been posted on the ElectricJive blog, but I am still posting it again. Although on principal I have no objections to removing noise from noisy, crackly or hissy analog recordings, I am inclined to be cautious when it comes to older recordings. And in my humble opinion some of the character of the originals has been lost in the version posted by ElectricJive.

My favourite tracks on the first volume were the two tracks by the Transvaal Rocking Jazz Stars accompanying the Dark City Sisters. On the third volume they have been my favourites too for a long time, until I visited South Africa in the late 1990's and began to understand the atmosphere which must have led to the other of these instrumental tracks. Since then my favourites have broadened, to include guitarist Rex Ntuli and the remarkable Boy Masaka (I hope you haven't missed the special at ElectricJive).

Volume 4 has perhaps the most varied selection in the series. It has instrumental tracks, including the lovely "Matcheketcheke" by Steven & His Twisters, some by illustrious vocal groups like the Dark City Sisters (with a version of "Langa More" without the "tap tap"), Black Mambazo (not to be confused with Ladysmith B.M.) and the Killingstone Stars, plus some brilliant more 'ethnic' (for lack of a more appropriate description) songs. Especially the latter stand out, like the soulful "Udokotela" by Mekuyise Maphumulo & Party and Alfred Muchunu's "Umakhlehlana", which - most of the time - is my favourite on this cassette.

Volume 5, titled "Soweto Special", has a whopping 20 tracks, including (oh bliss!) seven by the Flying Jazz Queens and five very diverse tracks by Black Mambazo. Top favourites are the three tracks by the Flying Jazz Queens on the B-side, which to me have a wonderful feeling of decisiveness. These ladies are not kidding, and know what they want!
I would also like to mention the two tracks by Frans Mdau, - and in case you are wondering: I didn't 'accidently' remove the beginning of "Hey Cherrie", this is the way it is on the cassette...

South African Jive Vol. 3 or (MF) Vol. 3
South African Jive Vol. 4 or (MF) Vol. 4
South African Jive Vol. 5 or (MF) Vol. 5

May 06, 2011


I was happy to read this article about the celebration of the great Victor Olaiya's eightieth birtday. Happy, because at least one of my musical heroes has reached the age of eighty. And also happy, because he has not done so in total obscurity, forgotten by generations that have never heard the truly miraculous highlife this man has produced. And certainly also happy, because it provides me with another opportunity to share some more of his music with you!

Here in the Netherlands we are enjoying another patch of splendid weather, which makes this music even more appropriate. But with a bit of imagination it also works with the worst storm and rain.

This is music which will melt even the coldest soul, which will comfort the inconsolable.

All seven tracks are jewels, but my personal favourites are "Laba Laba", a brilliant example of Nigerian highlife at its very best, Kendy Adex*'s "Ije Jemila", music to lie down and dream away, and especially "Iyawo Patako", a seemingly unpretentious masterpiece with an almost unbelievable durability, a song which has over the last 25 years sounded fresh and has never failed to move me every time I heard it.

But I also love the trumpet and the singing (by the master himself) in "Moonlight Highlife" and in the opening "All Stars Invitation" (great bit of trumpet playing after 2'30!).
With "So Fun Mi" and "Me Fe Mu'Yan" (mentioned in the article I referred to at the beginning of this post) I can't help thinking I am missing most of the song because the emphasis appears to be on the lyrics. But I realise this is just my own inadequacy in not understanding the language...

Polygram POLP 073

PS: Another article about Olaiya´s birthday can be found here.

*who - as far as I know - is also a trumpet player.

April 29, 2011


We have been enjoying some exceptionally good weather here in the Netherlands, so this has not contributed to my good intentions with regards to the frequency of these posts.

Anyway, in this post I would like to share with you a single from the N'Dardisc label, a label which already has had some coverage in this blog.
The artist featured on this single is cora legend Soundioulou Sissoko. He is best known performing with his wife Mahawa Kouyaté, as you may recall from my post a few months ago. I wrote there that a presenter at the Guinean radio had claimed that this duo was the source of many classics from the golden era of Guinean and Malian music.

As you can see on the label of this single Soundioulou even goes as far as to claim that he is the composer of the Malinké classic "Maki". It is not very unusual for artists from African countries to claim the authorship of a traditional song, or even of a song composed by another author. Vicky Longomba of the O.K. Jazz even went as far as to claim "El Carretero". Most artists defend their claims by pointing out that they are the author of the particular version.

Well, I suppose we'll keep it at that then....

N'Dardisc 45.12
or here

April 14, 2011


Ballaké at the Harlem Bar, 1994 (photo: Rob Lokin)
While searching on the net for a better copy of the sleeve of this album I stumbled upon many examples of disinformation about this star of Burkinabé music. Sometimes the fragments of disinformation get combined in copying. I read for example that he was a founding member of the Horoya Band de Ségou.
I don't claim to have the final truth when it comes to the biography of Amadou Traoré dit Ballaké, but given the testimony from Guinean artists gathered by Graeme Counsel it seems unlikely that he was a member of the Horoya Band (an orchestra originally from Kankan, Guinea), let alone of the/an orchestra from Ségou, Mali. The confusion may have arisen from the name of the orchestra he did join: the Bafing Jazz from Mamou, Guinea.

More biographic detail in my earlier post here.

I was reminded recently that this album has so far not been posted on any of the (fortunately numerous) blogs dedicated to African music. I have to admit I am not able to follow all the blogs, so I still may be wrong. But it seems such a great omission that I felt it my duty almost to step in, and share this classic album by one of my musical heroes.

The album is another, and perhaps even the best, example of Ballaké's street credibility. He follows the trend to add elements of funk, James Brown and afrobeat to his music, but still manages to remain authentically Burkinabé. What may appear as pure funk, is in fact based on existing (mainly Mossi) traditional rhythms. As for the lyrics, Ballaké is - as always - inspired by the ordinary man and woman in the street. The "bar konon mousso" (literally "bar bird woman") refers to the women serving in bars. Ballaké sings about the hardships they have to suffer and the 'excursions' they have to make to earn a few extra francs. Going by this article (unfortunately only in french) their situation - over 30 years later - remains unchanged.
I especially like the way in which Ballaké describes his own position in relation to these "birds". The bar kono mousso tells him: "Ballaké leave me alone. You don't have money. Musician, that's nobody*. You're a poor boy."

I'm sure the other songs on this album have similar - or perhaps even more notable - lyrical highlights.

Musically this is no less of a treasure trove. It may take a while for the penny to drop with some of these songs, but when it does I am sure the whole album will embed itself in your musical memory forever. The brilliantly manic "Nabacouboury", the head-over-heels "Dounignamou", the almost Guadeloupean "Balake Ya Mariama", they all have one thing in common: the powerful presence of the great Amadou Ballaké.

Sacodis LS 8-78 or here (MF)

Going through my archives, I discovered a copy of an older version of "Bar Konon Mousso". Despite the rather scratchy condition of this single, released on the Club Voltaïque du Disque label, I am inclined to prefer this version to the version on the Sacodis lp. The tempo seems more fitting to the theme of the song, and the ambience is more 'bar-like'. The lyrics appear to be exactly the same as the later version. The condition of the vinyl is more annoying on the A-side "Absetou", especially as this song has some (seemingly?) nice instrumental bits.

Club Voltaïque du Disque CVD 44 or here (MF)

*"c'est pas quelqu'un", where a "quelqu'un" is a 'somebody', and a "grand quelqu'un" is an important person.