These two songs are guaranteed to get stuck in your long-term memory. They have been firmly lodged in mine since I digitised this single from my friend Pieter, who in those days used to fly to Abidjan regularly. Before you know it you'll be singing along with the chorus, as I do occasionally and in the most unexpected places (queueing in the supermarket, in the shower, during a meeting at work). Luckily I have learnt to suppress the tendency to sing out loud.
The drive and rhythm of these two songs - probably from the mid-1970s - by Amédée Pierre and l'Ivoiro Star (who you may remember from this post or this one or this one) can only be described as compelling. The A-side, titled "Vla" (which just for this reason will hit home with any Dutch readers*), is a moralistic story narrated partly in french about an owl (chat huant) who keeps everybody awake at night with his screeching and who the chef du village wants to have killed. I am not quite sure how the moral ("So - to conclude - I ask all my brothers from Africa to help each other, for trouble affecting one individual may affect everyone.") fits in, but perhaps some francophone reader can explain?
Apart from the rhythm and the chorus the organ especially sticks out. I adore the sound of the instrument in this particular song.
The same organ is back on the B-side "Aze-Ni". This song is even more compelling than the A-side. Just listening to it can lead to shortness of breath or even hyperventilation. But that is, in this case, a risk well worth taking!
You may have read my complaints in earlier posts about the multiple omissions in the digitisation of the works of Franco and his O.K. Jazz. To be fair these omissions are negligible compared to what has happened with the repertoire of the other 'Grand' of the music of Congo. For of the spectacular (and this is an understatement!) music of Joseph Kabasele and his African Jazz only mere snippets have been converted to digital form.
And what has been released has been often sadly accompanied by no or incorrect information. Or it has been released in a unbelievably mangled form (e.g. Sonodisc CD 36579 and 36582). Or re-recordings by Kallé himself have been released as the original versions (Sonodisc CD 36560 and 36561). Ntesa Dalienst mentioned in 1991 that the family of le Grand Kallé had been unsuccesful in claiming the copyrights of their father (and uncle) with the Belgian SABAM. So it seems that there is little hope of a structured and comprehensive release of the extensive African Jazz catalogue (but I am nevertheless still hopeful that someone will prove me wrong).
Perhaps as a result of the greater western 'input' most of the recordings of African Team have been preserved, and have been re-issued in digital form. Unfortunately these recordings do not - in my opinion - do justice to the great artist that Kabasele was.
So all in all it is not surprising that the appreciation of this Monument of African music has been lacking, especially amongst audiences that have not seen or heard him during his lifetime.
This is only a first attempt at helping out. The two singles I would like to share with you were recorded for the Surboum African Jazz label, but for a series (1000 etc.) of which I unfortunately have no details. It seems to me that these recordings were made in the mid-1960s, when Kabasele had revived African Jazz and was joined by Jean Bombenga, who previously had played with Jazz Africain, the band that Kallé had left behind in Congo at the time of the Table Ronde. Kallé and Bombenga together with Mathieu Kouka formed the vocal heart of this new edition of African Jazz. I suspect that the guitarist in these songs is André 'Damoiseau' Kambite, although Papa Noel also played with Kallé for a short while in that period. According Michel Lonoh (in his "Essai de Commentaire de la Musique Congolaise Moderne") the sax player in the August 1966 lineup was Michel Yuma (a.k.a. Michel Sax), who after the death of Franco joined the T.P.O.K. Jazz (and sadly passed away on December 29, 2005).
All four tracks demonstrate the vocal brilliance of the African Jazz during this era. The harmonies are unequaled, with solos by Kabasele in the second version of "Caisse D'Epargne" and the second part of "Somba Journal Special".
The composer of the song "Julie Aboi Ba Mbanda", a certain Rody, is completely unknown to me, but if anyone has any information about him, please let us know.
The first single has a slight bump in the middle, but fortunately still does not leave the groove, and the delightful music can still be enjoyed.
PS: The photo on the left, borrowed from Sylvain Bemba's "50 Ans de Musique du Congo-Zaïre", is from 1966. According to Bemba it shows - from left to right - Damoiseau, Kabasele, Bombenga, Mathieu Kouka, an unnamed artist (Joseph Diasemwa??) and on the far right Papa Noel. I have my doubts about the last name. It doesn't look like Papa Noel to me....
I first met Zoumana Tereta when he took part in a rather prestigious project called "Fura, Opera Bambara", which toured through the Netherlands in March 1999. I remember it was a miserable day, - cold, wet (see photo on the right).
My interest in the tour was drawn not only by the fact I had been phoned by the producer Abdoulaye Diarra, but also because my friends Daouda 'Flani' Sangaré (see previous posts on this blog) and Zani Diabaté (see particularly this post) were participating. It actually was the first time I saw Flani dance without Alou Fané. Because he was not only singing, but also dancing.
Besides these stars from the Djata Band the Opera feature two great names from Malian comic theatre & television: Habib Dembelé, better known as "Guimba", and Michel Sangaré. Leading lady in the production was Guimba's wife, singer Fantani Touré. You can find the full line-up here (unfortunately only in Dutch, but I guess you can still sort out the names..).
We saw them perform in Amstelveen and a few days later in Utrecht, where we joined them afterwards for a chat and a drink. They were staying in a somewhat bleak motel outside of Utrecht. To liven things up Flani suggested they would play a bit of music. I have posted one track of this session in the tribute to Zani (#10). If I remember correctly Zoumana himself suggested he would do one of his own songs. I was surprised about how familiar his voice sounded to me when he started singing "Sira Mougoulé" ("the well made path"), accompanying himself on the soku, the bambara fiddle.
I have since wondered about this. I had never heard him sing before, but still it seemed to me as if I had. His voice is well-matched with the instrument of which he is the undisputed master. Zoumana, by the way, disputes the suggestion that the soku has its origin in Wassoulou (as I see is also claimed on wikipedia). According to him the roots of the instrument are in Segou, and in the bambara music of Segou.
When I heard Zoumana Tereta play and sing again, a few days later at my own house, it dawned on me that I was listening to a voice from the past, a survivor from another era. The era of artists like Bazoumana Sissoko, Koni Coumaré, Fanta Damba and Tara Bouaré. An era of artists that had not succumbed to the (at times narrow-minded) taste of western moneymen. An era in which traditional music began the transition from the live performance in front of real people to the still images recorded in the sterile surroundings of a studio.
Zoumana has played with everybody. In the eighties and nineties he played with Sali Sidibé, he replaced Aliou Traoré in Oumou Sangaré's band and in Badèma National, he performed and recorded with Bassekou Kouyaté, with Toumani Diabaté, with that sympathetic Samba Touré (who appears to have his own YouTube channel - or channels?), in fact with everyone who is anybody in Malian music... He has released two albums himself, "Niger Blues" (2003) and "Soku Fola" (2008), which are perhaps not so easy to get hold of (and - again - please correct me if I'm wrong).
Last October I saw him again. During a performance by Ethiopian azmaris (subject of a later post!) at the Patio, the - excellent - restaurant of the Institut Français (or the Centre Culturel Français or CCF as most Malians continue to call it) on October 26, 2011 he intervened, joined in. While it was interesting to see the merging of pentatonic styles, I was more interested to see him perform solo, - 12 years later.
I managed to record one or two of the songs he performed. He seemed very self-assured, matured, compared to 1999. And more extrovert too. It was clear that he had grown in stature in the last decade.
Seeing him unfortunately also filled me with nostalgia for my two friends who since those sessions in 1999 had passed away...
In the video you may note Lucy Duran reacting to the praises of Zoumana. Sitting to the left of me and noticeable at the end is Momo, the algerian (via Denmark and other parts of the world) host of the Patio.
* You may be interested to know that the 'percussion instrument' you can hear in both sessions is actually a box of matches. The instrumentalist is comedian Michel Sangaré.
To me these last few weeks have been very demanding. I am not a winter person, and have a strong tendency to feel culturally alienated when the whole of the Netherlands is in the grip of such - to me abhorrent and trauma-provoking - activities as skating. On ice, that is. I have been in various stages of cocooning, cut off from most public media with their constant incitement to partake in the winter 'fun', avoiding the mass hysteria and manic social derangement that went on in the freezing towns and villages of these usually moderate regions.
As an added bonus I was forced to play nurse, errand boy and cook to both wife and child as they, as a result of their involuntary participation in the same winter merrymaking, were knocked out with a sobering attack of the flu.
So I have resorted to a certified cure. To all ailments of the spirit and the soul. The positive energy of the immortal master of apala music, Haruna Ishola and his group. From the days prior to his visit to the holy place, it appears (no "Alhaji"). And although in the last part of side B there is mention of a "detention" (and this linked to the future Alhaji himself!!) I am convinced it must have all been a very unfortunate misunderstanding, and must have ended with the magistrates and police officers involved offering their humblest and sincerest apologies to the aggrieved but forgiving Baba Ngani.
Perhaps not the best quality record 'vinyl-wise', but good enough to help me through these rough winter times and to get me in the right mental mood for spring...
Quite a few days have passed since I read - on the Mbokamosika blog - about the death of yet another Great of Congolese music. On Sunday January 29, 2012, less than a year and a half after his brother in music, Jean Serge Essous, Jean Dieudonné Malapet, better known as Nino Malapet has died in the military hospital in Brazzaville, - according to the Mbokamosika blog and other sources after a prolonged illness.
I do not intend to write a biography of this great artist. You can find some biographical details in this Mbokamosika post and more in this hommage on the same blog. I especially recommend the video on the bottom of the first of these two posts, which gives a good idea of the cheerful personality Nino Malapet was.
Instead I would like to focus on his musical heritage.
There have been some misunderstandings about the start of Nino Malapet's musical career. Although several sources claim that he worked - for a short while - at the Loningisa label, and it is possible that he recorded with the Franco*, he was certainly never a member of the O.K. Jazz, - unlike Essous and Saturnin Pandi, who both composed (and are named in) several songs. According to Lutumba Simaro Essous was even the first chef d'orchestre.
Nino stayed with the orchestra which had joined a few years before: Negro Jazz.
But Nino firmly stamped his mark on the music scene with the start of the Esengo label, on January 1, 1957. One of the big names of the Loningisa label, Henri Bowane, had persuaded Greek businessman Constantin Antonopoulos to finance a new record label and had subsequently recruited musicians from Loningisa, including two of the big boys from the O.K. Jazz (which had only been formed a few months earlier), singer Philippe Lando a.k.a. Rossignol and clarinetist Essous. The latter and conga player Pandi persuaded their longtime friend Nino Malapet to join them, and that was the start of one of the hottest orchestras in the history of Congolese music: Rock-a-Mambo. The very first two tracks to come out off this marriage of talents were "Les Voyous" and "Mi Cancion", composed and arranged by Nino Malapet.
Remarkably the first of these was an instrumental track, but an instrumental track that must have hit home hard with the Leopoldville scene. It was the first of many recordings by one of the legendary duos of Congolese music: the duo Essous (clarinet) - Malapet (sax). The second was what was to become the archetypical Malapet composition: a cha cha cha sung in spanish (and relatively good spanish too!!). It also, by the way, put the spotlight on another great legend of Congolese music: guitarist Tino Baroza.
In the - unfortunately - few years of Rock-a-Mambo's existence the combination Nino and Rock-a-Mambo was like a quality mark. It stood for a superb danceable tune and musical excellence.
I have collected some of Nino's compositions with Rock-a-Mambo. These are just of few of the many.
And that to me is one of the major mysteries in Congolese music: that so very little of the Esengo catalogue has been reproduced and reissued. A few songs have been re-released on Pathé lp's and on one or two anthologies. But a systematic and/or organised re-release of the great tunes by the great orchestras of the Esengo label, African Jazz, Rock-a-Mambo and the combination of the two, Rock-Africa, or even of the other orchestras - like Dewayon's Conga Jazz, the Negro Band, Kongo Jazz and Elegance Jazz - has never been produced! Going by the relatively few tracks that I have heard (some of these I have combined in this podcast), this can only be described as a disaster.
I can understand Nino's reluctance to let go of a good thing, when in 1959 Essous and others moved back across the river to Brazzaville and formed Bantou Jazz. He stayed on with Rock-a-Mambo for almost another two years, until the orchestra disbanded. After a short attempt at studying law Nino was drawn back into music and rejoined his friend Essous at Les Bantous. Soon he went back to arranging and composing those typical Nino songs: "Oiga Mambo" (a song originally recorded and released with Rock-a-Mambo), "Tu Silencio", "Destino", "Ritmo Bantou" and many more.
Songs which, beside the distinct latin-congolese touch, share a neatness and love of music which makes Nino Malapet one of the alltime Greats of African music.
Collecting the songs from Malapet's - extensive - period with Les Bantous was actually easier than gathering those from his days with Rock-a-Mambo. His 'output' was less prolific, I suppose as a result of his changed position within the orchestra (he became the leader of the orchestra when Essous left in 1966) and the changing times (which demanded other music styles). He adapted well and now and then surprised with some absolute marvels. Personal favourites are "Suzy", from the "El Manicero" album which brought stardom to young singer Tchico, and "Gigi", a monumental composition with a brilliant buildup from the heyday of Les Bantous.
* This must have been recordings made between the end of 1955 and June 1956, because between June 1956 (when the O.K. Jazz was founded) and January 1, 1957 (the start of the Esengo label) there are simply no recordings featuring a sax.
I've been cut off from the internet for a few days. Nothing to do with the copyright mobsters; I suppose it was just my internet provider's way of reacting to the cold spell we are experiencing here in the low countries.
So there is some catching up to do.
What better way to do so than to jump in at the deep end.
In this case into the music of the Fulani or Pular of the Foutah Djallon (or Fuuta Jaloo) in Guinée. This is one of those cassettes of which one suspects the (real) owner of the copyright has long forgotten about its existence. No cover, no details about the circumstances in which the recordings were made, the titles a mess*. So lots to fantasise, plenty to fill in....
The name on the cassette is "Farbatela", but I suppose this must be "Farba Téla". This is a qualification rather than a name. "Farba", according to Justin Morel, is a top ranking griot (or gawlo) in the Fouta, while "téla" means what it sounds like in english: "tailor". It is also the nickname of a singer and player of the kérôna (a type of lute, - examples of which can be heard here).
The names of the musicians are mentioned in the first song of the cassette, after about two minutes. My familiarity with the language is insufficient to deduce the full names, but there are one or two members of the Sow family, a Dabola and two Barry's, one of which - Mamadou - may very well be the same as the Mamadou Barry playing in the fourth track of the CD "Les Nyamakala du Fouta Djallon" (still available). In fact, it is possible that this is in essence the same group as the one playing in that track.
Except that in this cassette they are playing the rough version.
Because I think I should add a word of warning: this music is right on the very edge.
The singer with a voice that could cut through steel, a brilliant but unstoppable (electric) guitarist and an instrument which could very well be a modern version of the kérôna I mentioned before creating a rhythmic wall to lean against.
My current favourite on this cassette is "Diari", but this is one of those cassettes that will last you a lifetime.
cassette 7455 (1987)
* It has taken me years to fit the titles with the songs, as they appeared to be in a random order. I am still missing one...
After more than 23 years of making radio programmes I am seeking new ways to share my passion for African and Latin music. My intentions are 100% non-commercial.
If any post offends you please email me or report this in a comment.