June 20, 2012

Peacock comfort

I am aware that Moos at Global Groove has posted an album by this very same group a few days ago. But in this case I can't resist adding my contribution to a well-deserved eulogy of the fantastic Peacocks International.

According to the inimitable John B. of the matching Likembe blog in the notes to the discography of this band on Professor Toshiya Endo website, the liner notes of the lp-version of this cassette claim: "..yet only very few of the millions of fans within 150,000 family units in Nigeria and Ghana really know who the Peacocks are. Some call them Ghanaians and are ready to stake anything to argue their claims, but call them what you like, the boys are Nigerians."

As an outsider I am truly amazed. I have never been in any doubt as to their nigerianess. And, it may be my total ignorance of efik, ewe, igbo or any of the other languages they may sing in, or call it intuition if you like, I had a nasty suspicion they might be from the igbo-side of Nigerian music.
Whether it is the music of that late Consistent King of Highlife, Stephen Osita Osadebe, or these Peacocks, there is a definite comforting feel about this music. I have had plenty of time to analyse this, as I have had this cassette for a few decades and have listened to it hundreds of times.

There is magic in those guitars, the passionate harmonies and meticulous percussion. And this is amply demonstrated in the songs on this cassette. You just haven't lived if you haven't listened to that opening of "Sambiro", or have joined in* the chorus of "Sambola Mama" or "Isuola Me" while driving at top speed on the motorway. And my head has an irresistible tendency to start wobbling listening to "Kinkana Special". And I could go on, but it might get embarrassing...

If you want to know more about the group I am afraid I will have to direct you to John's Likembe blog. I am still hopeful that he will share some more Peacock music with us.

EMI HNLX 5096(cassette)

* well, just the sounds and not really the words....

June 05, 2012


Another of the big men of Congolese music has gone. Paul Ndombe, better known as Pépé Ndombe or Ndombe Opetum has died on May 24, 2012 in Kinshasa.

The first rumours of his death reached me on the very same day. As it was impossible to verify this tragic news, and as rumours have often been found to travel faster than the truth, it seemed wise to wait a little before posting it in this blog.
Unfortunately, the rumours were soon confirmed by several sources. Apparently Ndombe had been taken ill a few days earlier; it appears this illness was to be his last...

I have never had the fortune to interview Ndombe. So with regards to his biography I have to rely on other sources.
Born on February 21, 1944 in the Bandundu province, Paul Ndombe moved to the capital Leopoldville at the age of five, where his father had found work as a teacher. Having succesfully finished his schooling, Paul was sent to the town of Kikwit in the Kwilu province to start work as a civil servant. There, at the age of seventeen (and far from the watchful eyes of his parents?), he gave in to his passion for 'the arts' and joined a group called Select Jazz. A few years later, with some friends and with the help of a local sponsor, he started a band called Super Fiesta.

In 1965, as a result of the unrest in the Kwilu province, his job was 'relocated' to the capital. Although this meant leaving his band behind, it appears the urge for music did not diminish. According to some reports Paul Ndombe in 1967 attempted to join Vox Africa, after Sam Mangwana left the group. But Jeannot Bombenga turned him down.

single by Ndombe Opetum & African Fiesta Nationale
A single by Ndombe with African Fiesta Nationale
on the Isa label (link to this single)
A year later he was encouraged to audition for an even greater star of Congolese music: Rochereau. According Gary Stewart (in his "Rumba On The River") and others he again was to replace Sam Mangwana, who had left after the orchestra had been suspended for showing up late for a gala concert set up by President Mobutu. He managed to impress Rochereau with an immaculate rendering of the song "Baboka" (a.k.a. "Michelina"), according to this interview (which unfortunately is in lingala, but which I still recommend very strongly, - if only for the bits of singing by Ndombe!).

Ndombe, nicknamed "Pepe" by Rochereau, settled in great with African Fiesta National (or African Fiesta 'Le Peuple'). His voice combined perfectly with Rochereau's. In fact, both voices were similar to a point where fans even confused Ndombe's vocal with that of Rochereau.
As a composer too Ndombe soon started to make a name for himself, with hits like "Hortense", "Nakoli Kotika Yo Te! Papa" and - my favourite - "Longo". And in 1970 he accompanied Rochereau, who by then had adopted the title of "Le Seigneur", during his prestigious concerts at the Olympia in Paris. Concerts which - by the way - Rochereau has described in several interviews as a highlight in his career.

In the following year, things turned slightly sour for African Fiesta. Some musicians and dancers left after they had not been paid for nine months. Rochereau himself was even jailed after a dispute about money.
The exodus was completed in 1972, when Pierre 'Attel' Mbumba (who had joined African Fiesta shortly before Ndombe) and Empompo Loway 'Deyesse', together with Ndombe (who had been renamed Ndombe Opetum in the Mobutu's Authenticité campaign), were lured out of the orchestra to form Orchestre Afrizam.

Sam Mangwana joined for a short while, but after he had left Ndombe was the star of the show. He composed a great number of songs and sang in most, if not all.

My impression is that things did not go as smoothly as Ndombe would have like with Afrizam. Some point out that the ghost of Tabu Ley Rochereau's Afrisa/African Fiesta kept pursuing Afrizam and that this was only strengthened by the use of Afrisa's rhythms. Ndombe decided to team up with guitarist Dino Vangu and change the name of the orchestra into Makina Loka. Here he recorded - amongst others - this single "Zongisa Bolingo 1 & 2" (which was re-released on CD as "Mpongo").

Ndombe 1975My guess is that it did not take a lot of persuading to get Ndombe to join the Tout Puissant O.K. Jazz in 1975. He fitted perfectly into Franco's strategy to merge the styles of the two schools of Congolese music into one.
Again he served as a replacement for Sam Mangwana, although I assume that Franco saw the 'added value' which Ndombe could bring, and which he very soon demonstrated in songs like "Yo Seli-Ja" (video) and - especially - "Salima" (highly recommended video).

Besides being a great addition as a vocalist Ndombe also proved his relevance as a composer. Best known in this early stage of his career with the T.P. O.K. Jazz is his song "Voyage Na Bandundu". Although others see this song as a continuation of his repertoire with Tabu Ley, I don't agree. My impression is that Ndombe tried to emulate the success of Lutumba Simaro's classic "Ebale Ya Zaïre", which had been so brilliantly interpreted by his 'predecessor' Sam Mangwana.

In later years Ndombe produced many hits with the T.P. O.K. Jazz, the biggest of which were the 1982 "Mawe" and "Na Yebi Ndenge Bokolela Ngai" (video) from 1983 (also known as "Masha Masha" or "Mashata"). And perhaps I should add this song, originally from 1979:

Ndombe Opetum with his son (Delft, 1991-08-03)
Ndombe and son (Delft 1991)
In 1983 Ndombe left the T.P. O.K. Jazz*, for reasons which so far I have not been able to uncover. Perhaps they had to do with Franco's lengthy stay in Europe, and with Ndombe's ownership of a bar dancing, called "Lal Abiy Santamaria", which was his pride until it was burned down (in 1994?).
He teamed up with Sam Mangwana and Empompo Loway in a group ambitiously called "Tiers Monde Cooperation" ("third world cooperation"). The Tiers Monde 'project' delivered - as far as I am aware - three lp's, and four if you count the lp featuring "Fatimata" which is credited to Sam Mangwana (who is only on one of the Tiers Monde Cooperation lp's) and orchestre Tiers-Monde.

Ndombe returned to the O.K. Jazz flock in 1986, and joined Franco on the tour of Kenya that year, and during the concerts in Brussels in April 1987. But later the same year he had another row with Franco and left the band to rejoin Tabu Ley's Afrisa International.
Fortunately Franco and Ndombe put aside their differences and reconciled before Franco's death on October 12, 1989. Ndombe rejoined the T.P. O.K. Jazz and became one of the leading forces of the band after Franco's demise. In 1993, when the band was forced to abandon the name of T.P. O.K. Jazz as a result of dispute with Franco's family, Ndombe was one of the initiators of the new orchestra Bana O.K.. He played a crucial role in the continuation of Franco's legacy until his untimely death.

Ndombe leaves a wife and 9 children.
May he rest in peace.

Ndombe with African Fiesta National and Afrizam
Ndombe with T.P. O.K. Jazz

photo: Aboubacar Siddikh [copyright]
Madilu System, Ndombe Opetum, Lola Djangi Chécain, Aimé Kiwakana (Delft 1991)  

* according to some sources. Other sources claim that he never left the T.P. O.K. Jazz, but was allowed to 'moonlight' with Tiers Monde.