Back to Congo in this post, with some more of those superb and timeless recordings from the early 1960s. In this case two EP's re-released on the Columbia label, but originally recorded on the Esengo label.
I'm afraid I don't know anything, or very little, about these two orchestras. Orchestre Jamel seems to be the better known one of the two, and is mentioned twice in Gary Stewart's "Rumba On The River". First as "a group of young musicians on the way to bigger things", where Franco's brother Bavon Marie Marie played sometime between 1961 and 1964 (when he joined Négro Succes).
The second time the orchestra is mentioned in the context of the Trio Madjesi. Apparently Loko Massengo a.k.a. Djeskain was a member, also before joining Négro Succes.
The second orchestra, Orchestre Casanova, features in Michel Lonoh's "Essai de Commentaire de la Musique Congolaise Moderne"(from 1966). "Features" is perhaps exaggerated, as only the members are listed. According to this list a Mbasi Alof P. was the founder, - as well as the bass player. I assume he is the same person as Alof Kesther, who the cover of this EP cites as directing the orchestra in the first track. The man in charge of the second track, evocatively named Samy de Mivida, is - according to Lonoh - really called Lendo Samuel. He is not only a "chanteur tenor", but also the chef d'orchestre.
His nickname "de Mivida" fits in a certain 'tradition' of semi-francohispanic nicknames used by Congolese artists since the mid-1950s: "De la Lune" (Daniel Lubelo), "De la France" (Pierre Bazeta), plus of course "de Mi Amor" (Franco). Casanova takes this fashion a step further by also using it in the intriguing songtitle of the fourth track: "Amina Lapaloma" ("Amina the dove").
Musically Casanova offers three pleasant rumbas, with a predictable influence of their colleagues at Esengo, Kabasele's African Jazz. The vocal harmonies, however, are original. The last track, "Amina Lapaloma", is a cha-cha-cha, with nice guitar bits, - but not of the level of Rock-a-Mambo or the O.K. Jazz.
Columbia ESRF 1759
Compared to Casanova, Orchestre Jamel is - in my opinion - a more interesting orchestra. The four tracks in this EP are all in the category "merveilles du passé", with one track even in the top of that category. That track is the bolero "Martha Au Clair". In general I have a soft spot for Congolese boleros, but "Martha" scores on critical points: slightly messy but dramatic guitar, sonorous vocals and fantasy provoking lyrics (in kikongo). A hit.
Although the cover clearly states "enregistrement Esengo", I have found no sign of other recordings by Jamel on the Esengo label. To my knowledge they recorded for the Ngoma label (and I will post one of their EP's from that label in the future*). This may also explain the fact that the two rumbas on this EP are more in the O.K. Jazz style. Certainly the guitarist (Bavon M.M.?) shows no attempt whatsoever to hide or disguise this influence.
Added bonus on this EP is the track with the vaguely spanish sounding title "Abrabiente", a "cha-cha arto" (and why not?) with a strong influence by Les Bantous and very concise lyrics.
Columbia ESRF 1784
*if there is any future, with the rapid removal of blogs that is going on....