On the brink of the festive season (or the end of the world) I think it is time for some seasonal music. And what could be more seasonal than four "rumbas corvées"?
I admit I had never heard of that crazy rhythm called "rumba corvée" before listening to these four songs. And I am still not convinced I have now...
"Corvée" seems to indicate a certain level of exertion, of a type which may be getting more popular in these regions going by the rigorous measures proposed by our respective governments. I.e. unpaid! Do I see the shadows of slave labour and pre-industrial revolution labour conditions looming up through the mist of time?
Luckily these gloomy visions are not reflected in the music. On the contrary, the music is better typified by the name of the orchestra: Festival des Maquisards, where "maquisards" is about rebellion and resistance against oppression by the common people. That's more like it!
And it gets better.
For the star of this orchestra is a young Sam Mangwana, here still presented under the name of Sam Moreno. Co-leader of the group is another ex-member of Rochereau's African Fiesta 66 and a contemporary of Mangwana (also born in 1945): lead guitarist Paul Vangu better known as Guvano.
The first track features Mangwana in splendid form, with vocals clearly based on or inspired by his time alongside Rochereau. As in some of the songs with African Fiesta he demonstrates that he can compete with Rochereau on equal terms (within R's own singing style), while at the same time adding his own magical 'je ne sais quoi'. Sam has always had a 'real' quality in his singing, a quality which he shares with great singers like (for example) Josky Kiambukuta and Celia Cruz. No belcanto, no pretentiousness, very much 'de la rue'.
I'm not sure who is accompanying him in "Ligenda Obosani?", composed by himself. My first guess would be Lokombe (who at the time was called Camille Lokombe, but later became Lokombe Nkalulu), a very talented singer with a career lasting right on to this very day. In fact, if you are very quick you can see him performing with a former colleague from Les Maquisards, Dizzy Mandjeku, and his Odemba OK All Stars (also starring that superb singer Malage de Lugendo!) at the Tropentheater in Amsterdam this Saturday (December 15).
But alternatively it is possible that Diana Nsimba, also ex-African Fiesta, is backing Sam.
There is no doubt whatsoever about the second singer on the B-side. Ntesa Dalienst is very much present in this version of Celia Cruz's "Sopa en Botella". And for those who don't recognise his voice, he's the singer doing the 'chorus' starting at 1'15. This song seems tailormade for Mangwana and Ntesa. Mangwana does the best impression of Celia Cruz I have ever heard, and Ntesa adds a subtle touch of sophistication. A sheer delight!
The second single, while significantly worse for wear when it comes to the physical state of the vinyl, delivers the same high musical standard. The A-side, "Catho Nakozonga", is composed and wonderfully sung by Lokombe, with Sam doing the backing vocals. The flipside is composed by a Gérard, and I am not sure who this is supposed to be. Ntesa once mentioned guitarist Gérard Biyéla, but as far as I know he was with Les Bantous, and I haven't heard his name in connection with Les Maquisards. I am not sure if this is the start of Mangwana's career as a polyglot, but if I am not mistaken this "Tabu Wangu" contains some lines in swahili.
It remains a mystery why these treasures have never been reissued.
Negro Festival NF 3503
Negro Festival NF 3507