I have been very hesitant about posting this absolute marvel. Hesitant, mainly because of my appreciation for this masterpiece, and because of my high esteem for the genius who made these recordings. That I have persuaded myself to post it primarily has to do with the lack of recognition these recordings appear to be getting. And they certainly deserve to be honoured as a milestone in the publication of local and authentic music.
Contributing to my posting has been the posting of other, earlier recordings made by the same Belgian musical explorer, Tony Van der Eecken, by my good friend Gerrit at Lola Vandaag. That cassette with recordings made in Burkina Faso should in itself be enough evidence of Tony's fine musical taste (I am particularly crazy about Les Trembleuses, those over the top bala players from Banfora).
The recordings which Tony Van der Eecken made during trips to Congo (then Zaïre) in 1988 and 1990/1991 can be seen as a starting point for the '(re)discovery' of groups like Konono No.1 (see this earlier post). At the time of the first broadcast of these songs, on May 31, 1991 in a (four hours!) edition of VPRO's "De Wandelende Tak", they hit me right between the eyes. It was like the discovery of a missing link in the evolution of mankind. In retrospect this may sound somewhat exaggerated, but up to that point there had not been a lot of material from so-called folkloric music, which had NOT been recorded by (ethno-)musicologists.
Besides, it was clear that this music was not some kind of static phenomenon, a culture frozen in time (and space), but a living music which incorporated influences both from traditional and modern styles.
Listen for example to the opening track by the group SASA Tshokwe ("Sauvons l'Authenticité Suivant l'Art Tshokwe" - see also this site). The guitarist, a certain Mutshi, clearly is trying to do some Franco-like chords. Despite the use of what may be described as 'primitive' instruments (two cassette boxes, a bottle, a cooking pot) I certainly would not call the music primitive. Inventive, yes. Original, certainly. Even authentic and unique.
The CD contains a fantastic and paradigm shifting collection of musical marvels. Songs that will move and will get even the most reluctant misanthrope moving.
Who ever thought that it would be possible to dance to what sounds like a (mechanical) typewriter (track 3) or to the sound of someone blowing through a plastic tube into an oil drum (track 7)?
As can be expected, the lyrics of the songs are as relevant as the music. Topics are usual of a social nature, like "eat together with others, for they will help you if you have a problem" or "those who drink a lot shouldn't forget they have a wife and children to feed" and similar globally valid themes.
The booklet gives the lyrics of track 5. Translated (from the Dutch translation):
"The sun rises, everyone starts work, I am worried about my wife.
[Chorus:] Where is my wife?
I have woken up, everyone is at work, I stayed. Where is my wife?
I agreed when she told me the other day: 'I am going to buy products on the market. Watch the house, I will come back. I am going to Kinshasa'.
She died there, she did not return. I am worried, I remember her last words: 'Watch the house, I will come back, I promise'.
I accept death, but my wife told me before she left 'See you later'. But she has gone (is dead). She has left clothes and shoes, but who is going to wear them? She has left the house full of money.
I told her: 'Stay here, there is money'. But she replied: 'I have business to settle in Kinshasa'.
[Chorus:] You have left me behind with many worries. What should I do?
[Spoken:] No suffering.
We shall tire them, we'll let them eat mushrooms (i.e. poison them). The young girls are numerous, we'll take them for free. You are numerous, we'll take you if you're not married.
My wife, come, come, come. Come and eat beignets (i.e. the fritters which can be bought on any street corner).
I have lost my wife. The family will hand out all the food I have ever eaten (during the funeral). When the beans were prepared (at the funeral), I wasn't there. Father Eugène, don't follow our music, go inside while we continue here. Sister Louise. don't follow this, prepare fufu for us to eat."
VPRO CD 009
Luckily these "Mundenge" recordings have proved to be only the start of a stream of memorable masterpieces. And in case you are wondering: yes, Tony Van der Eecken is a friend of Vincent Kenis. They travelled together through Congo. Vincent has subsequently introduced the world to Konono No.1, the Kasai Allstars and Staff Benda Bilili, besides being involved in a very interesting project to 'uncover' the remains of the Tango Ya Ba Wendo (1950s musical scene) in Kinshasa/Léopoldville*.
Personally I am very impressed by The Karindula Sessions, which have been release as a CD plus a DVD. This video gives an impression of the mind boggling performances.
The Karindula Sessions from Crammed Discs on Vimeo.
*After seeing a preview of the documentary in Bamako last October I am very very eager to see the final version. (...please?)