August 27, 2012

Kill them

I can imagine that a lot of followers and fans of the music of Franco and his O.K. Jazz get confused about the chronology of this impressive oeuvre. Unfortunately the CD's that have been released in the decades since Franco's untimely death in 1989 have done little to take away this confusion.

I admit, it is not easy to retrieve this chronology. And this is especially difficult in the recordings of the second half of the 1960s. In this period Franco was releasing records through different labels. The main labels were Epanza Makita (which according to Gary Stewart means "the rain that disperses gatherings", which should be a reference to the effect the recordings would have on the competition) and Boma Bango (which simply means "kill them"). To complicate matters other orchestras, like Négro Succès (see for example this single) and Cercul Jazz, were also allowed to publish their songs via these labels.
And to add to the confusion, O.K. Jazz songs were also published through the Likembe, the Tcheza and the Ngoma label.

In a (perhaps futile) attempt to create a beginning of order, I would like to share with you the first four singles released on the Boma Bango label.

I hasten to add that almost all of these eight songs have been released on lp or CD (and in some cases more than once). And the quality of these releases is certainly better than that of these scratchy old singles from 1966*.

It is clear that the O.K. Jazz was in control of what tracks were to be released on what single. The first single on Boma Bango features two songs composed by Franco himself. Both songs (which have been perfectly reproduced on Sonodisc CD 36521) are in every aspect typical Franco songs. Side A, "Bondoki Na Boniama", a bolero dealing with witchcraft (bondoki) and bestiality or cruelty (boniama). And side B a rumba about a (to me, unknown) topical event in Congolese politics. Franco is emphatically present, vocally, jokingly, brilliantly laid back (side A) or aggressive and biting (side B) on guitar....

Boma Bango BB 1 (African 90.020) or BB 1

BB 2 is as typical of Vicky Longomba as BB 1 of Franco. This single featured on "L'Afrique Danse", the first lp on the African label**, with songs released in 1966. It was later somewhat confusingly added, almost as an afterthought, to Sonodisc CD 36588.
"Tonton" is a Vicky and an O.K. Jazz classic, and features, besides Vicky on lead, Michel Boyibanda on backing vocal. The B-side, "Quand le film est triste", is clearly a cover of a sentimental (lyrics!) French ballad. My guess is that Vicky had heard Sylvie Vartan's 1963 (or 1962?) version of this song. This in turn is credited by some to Georges Aber (France), John D. Loudermilk (US) and Lucien Morisse (France), or to Sylvie Vartan herself with lyrics by a Canadian singer called Michelle Richard, while others claim it is a copy of a 1961 song called "Sad movies make me cry" by Sue Thompson. In any case, it seems very unlikely that - as the label claims - Vicky is the composer...
But both Vicky and Franco make the most of it (and I certainly prefer it to Ms. Vartan's version).

Note, by the way, the trumpet in "Quand le film..". Does anyone have a clue as to the identity of this musician?

Boma Bango BB 2 (African 90.008) or BB 2

The third of these singles features two songs composed by Michel Boyibanda. Both of these were digitised for Sonodisc CD 36533, although the A-side "Ata Na Yebi" was renamed to "Valenta Yoka" and the B-side "OK Asuanaka Te Mpo Na Muasi" lost the "muasi" (= woman). The second, a cha cha cha, can certainly be characterised as a typical Boyibanda tune, if only because he had - at the time at least - a certain reputation for singing Cuban songs. But I am personally more inclined to favour the first, a very delicate rumba, with a fine balance of voices and a superb support by Franco, which lift the song to another level. Notable too is the lovely understated sax, probably by Verckys, but very much in the style of that master of saxes, Isaac Musekiwa.

Boma Bango BB 3 or BB 3

The fourth and final of these four singles contains two songs attributed to Verckys. Side A, "Oh Madame De La Maison", has a history for getting misplaced. It was included on the lp Authenticité Vol.3 (African 360.072), a collection of songs released in 1963 and 1964 on the CEFA label, and subsequently in digital form on Sonodisc CD 36586, a rather incomprehensible collection of songs from different labels and years. Besides this, the track is also interesting musically, and more particularly vocally. As far as I can distinguish Mujos is singing with Michel Boyibanda, but both are singing the lead part (so no lead and backing roles). This lack of harmony leads to a very tight song, which helps to accentuate Franco's neat guitar playing. Verckys hovers in the background for a long time, but when he finally does move to the foreground he does not challenge Franco (as he does for example in "Course Au Pouvoir" and other later tracks on the Boma Bango label).
When I mentioned that both sides of this single are attributed to Verckys, I was referring to the B-side, "El Cuini". As far as I known this is a composition by Cuban legend Richard Egües and was made famous by his Orquesta Aragón (still going strong!). As with the other song which the O.K. Jazz borrowed from Aragón, "Chaleco", I am amazed at the idea of copying a song which relies heavily on the presence of a violin section and the flute of Egües. It must have taken quite a bit of inventiveness to 'translate' this to guitars and saxes, and just for this the O.K. Jazz deserve a credit. I particularly like the use of multiple saxes in this version, and I suppose this was Verckys' contribution.
A slight different form of inventiveness seems to have been applied to the lyrics, - but that just adds to the attraction of these songs....

Boma Bango BB 4 (African 90.023) or BB 4

The combined four singles can also be downloaded here.
And more Boma Bango tracks are on this lp I posted earlier.

* Although there are good reasons for preserving these vinyl treasures. Compare, for example, the tragically compressed "Tonton" of CD 36588 to the open sounding version of the single....
** On this lp you can also find BB 5, "Finga Mama Munu"/ "Revolver" both by Mujos.


JP said...

Thanks for the music and the write up. I've only recently started listening to Franco and I've been a bit confused by his discography. I appreciate this little education you've given me.

Grumpy said...

Must admit to finding the discography at the back of "Congo Colossus" a tad ill-edited at times; some of it seems in need of serious proof-reading. However, that said, no one could deny that Ewens's list is a profoundly usefui starting point but the point is that it is greatly enhanced by the kind of scholarly revisions and amendments made available by the careful research and considered information provided by World Service (even if sometimes it is just to get the A and B sides the right way round).

Dennis said...

Disappointed to see that downloads of these tunes are not available. Thank you though for the many treasures that you have shared over the months.

WrldServ said...

@Dennis: If you read the end of the post you'll see that the songs are still available.
Nevertheless I have added an alternative for the individual singles.

Dennis said...

Thanks for your patience.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stefan. I've just spent 3 hours here on your blog - normally an enjoyable & enlightening experience - but in this case, a frustrating one.

I love these 4 Boma Bango singles, but have had no luck tracking down the album with BB5. I've searched the titles, Mujos, African & "L'Afrique Danse" without success.

Perhaps I've misunderstood & the mentioned album is NOT on your blog. Could you please clarify? I understand that even for keen scholars of Franco such as yourself, life is full of little frustrations, but I'm such a stickler for trying to keep things together in an order that makes some sort of sense.

Thanks Stefan. Mick from OZ

WrldServ said...

@Anonymous (Mick from OZ): You are right. The "L'Afrique Danse" lp (African 360.001) is not on this blog. I would have added a link to it if it had been.

It has been uploaded by Moos of the Global Groovers blog a few years ago, but I see the link is no longer working.

Send me an email via the address in my profile and I will send you a copy (of my copy) of that lp.