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.

April 10, 2011

Mwana ya Luambo

So far this has not been my year, I think. Fate (or call it what you like) seems to throw all kinds of obstacles in my way to prevent me from spending time on this blog. Since my - apparently dangerously - optimistic penultimate post both sad personal events and ill health have been demanding my full attention. So I am more careful now in promising very frequent postings, but I can assure you that this blog will continue, - and hopefully also to surprise you with more musical 'wonders of the past'.....

It is hard to imagine that he must be 64 by now. In my mind I still see Youlou Mabiala as the mwana ya Luambo, as Franco's musical child. Discovered at the age of only 15 in a vocal group which performed on Brazzaville radio, he was recruited into the O.K. Jazz in 1963. He spent the first years in the shadows, being drilled into singing shape by the likes of Vicky, Kwamy and Mujos, before being allowed to contribute his first composition ("Obimi M'Bwe") in 1966.

On the basis of just the historic facts it is hard to understand how Youlou ever got his nickname. He was involved in several rebellions against Franco, starting with the one in 1968 which led to the departure of Verckys, followed only a few years later by the "Orchestre Mi-affair". He even left the O.K. Jazz in 1972 to join Vicky in Orchestre Lovy, and returned three years later only to leave again in 1977 to launch "Les Trois Frères".
I recall reading somewhere that he did return to the O.K. Jazz in 1987 to record the medley version of "Vyckina" (a.k.a. "Nakomi Musulman").

Of course there is his marriage to Franco's daughter, which certainly must have contributed in the family's selection of Youlou as the heir to the name of Franco's orchestra in the early 1990s (but not the orchestra itself!).

To understand why Youlou is called "mwana ya Luambo" you have to turn to the music. To the many duos of Franco and Youlou in the late 1960s, to the gentle guidance Franco provided to Youlou's sometimes hesitant vocal, to the at times brilliant interplay between Youlou's and Franco's voices.
Then there is the reception of Youlou, after his stint with Lovy and Somo-Somo. Remarkably, Youlou is treated almost as a prodigal son, and is allowed a position at least equal if not more prominent than new stars like Josky Kiambukuta. Testimony to this is this video from the end of 1975, showing a very confident Youlou Mabiala:

Personally I am inclined to think that Franco saw in Youlou a worthy replacement for the likes of Sam Mangwana, who - as Franco was beginning to understand - would always be a 'cavalier seul'. The single which I would like to share with you may have confirmed Franco's vision of Youlou.
This single is surrounded by some mystery. According to this discography Youlou is being accompanied by the O.K. Jazz. Although the orchestra is very competent, I have my doubts about this. It seems more likely that this is a recording from his Orchestre Somo-Somo period.

But, as always, I hope you are able to shed more light on the matter....

Editions Elengi ELg 008
or ELg 008

More posts about Youlou in the future.

P.S.: a full version, but in black&white can be found here. And the singers accompanying Youlou are (l. to r.) Michel Boyibanda, Wuta Mayi and Lola Djangi 'Chécain'.

EDIT April 14, 2011: As Peter Toll has pointed out, Youlou did not enter the O.K. Jazz in 1963, but in 1966. In my hurry to post this I did not look this up. Simaro actually confirmed this in an interview in 1991. Naturally this means that neither Kwamy nor Mujos were involved in his training.