August 20, 2012

Mundenge

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?)

12 comments:

LolaRadio said...

Mundengue oye!

gilhodges said...

Such a spectacular post, Stefan. Thank you! I am a bit confused by the booklet information and the labeling of the tracks. Is it possible to provide the names of the performers for each of the songs? (I would like to be able to credit the artists when mentioning them on the air.) As given, it appears that only tracks 1, 5 and 8 have the artist(s) identified. Is this so? Sorry for my confusion.

Again, this is brilliant. I am so glad you shared it.

WrldServ said...

@gilhodges: I'm afraid this is all the information given in the booklet or sleeve with regards to the artists performing. In the full radio show some more details were given, but more about the circumstances than about names. It is clear though that most performers were not professional.

Of course I can only cite the names of the performers/performing groups where they are mentioned (and this is the case with only 3 tracks...).

The names between brackets, by the way, are of the towns where the recordings were made.

gilhodges said...

Thanks much for the follow-up!

jan duinkerken said...

die 4 uur vpro-uitzending, is die nog ergens te vinden?
estdnfe1

WrldServ said...

@jan duinkerken: Jazeker.
I am contemplating posting the entire (historic) broadcast. As you can gather (CD is just under 1 hour), there was more music in those 4 hours than there is on the CD. Plus I have a few related 'bits & pieces'.

jan duinkerken said...

thank you wrdsrv, i can hardly wait.
greetings, jan.

Anonymous said...

Oh, wow, Stefan, this is an absolut treasure - thank you so much - a new facette of Congolese music.
Bernd

BarryB said...

Not primitive, at all. This is wonderfully vital, and quite sophisticated music. Far more going on than in plenty of vapid Western releases excreted by certain corporate studios on a regular basis.

WrldServ said...

@BarryB: I trust your comment is not directed at me. I have given up on what you call "Western releases excreted by certain corporate studios" 35 years ago...

glinka21 said...

Certainly not by you--in fact, our tastes in this music appear to be rather similar. I was thinking more along the lines of some French production houses that overload everything they turn out from various musicians out of Mali and Zaire.

I've no doubt their product sells well. And to that extent, they do their artists a favor. But I can't help thinking that music is better off when it relies upon natural sounds and production, and stays "close to the ground," so to speak. Just my point of view, mind.

WrldServ said...

@glinka21: I agree.
Only the future can tell, but in my opinion the choice is between durability and quick money. I am still hopeful that this music and these brilliant recordings will prove to be 'timeless'.
In these harsh times when 'economic objectives', 'large target audience' and other commercial rubbish are hard to avoid I don't blame the artists for going for the quick win. But they won't get my vote for this choice, and I won't waste my time on their work.