June 12, 2015

Obsession

I have been struggling to compile traditional songs from the DR Congo for a podcast. The struggling was certainly not a result of the lack of choice, but entirely the result of my obsession with this cassette.
I got stuck on this cassette, and just couldn't get any further.

The recordings on this cassette are generally labelled as 'traditional music', and I am sure there must be some form of passing on from one generation to the next involved. Unfortunately the label 'traditional' suggests, at least to a large section of western audiences, cultures on the brink of extinction, archaeological finds, ethnomusicologists travelling to remote regions to record octogenerians, staged performances of natives in costumes which even their grandparents would be too embarrassed to wear. These recordings are indeed made by an ethnomusicologist, and it seems more than likely that quite a bit of travelling had to be done to get to the location where the recording took place. But "staged performance": I don't think so. And the performers are perhaps nów in their eighties, but they weren't at the time of the recordings in the mid-1970s.

The recordings radiate the confidence and general optimism which is typical of a lot of - if not all - Congolese music of that era. This is particularly the case with the songs in these recording which are performed by women and girls. The casual boldness of the singing, the natural and unforced interaction between the individual women, who manage to combine chaos with harmony, is simply spellbinding.

Take the third song on side A. Every participant is free to add her own individual melodic line to the collective. The effect is both kaleidoscopic and harmonic. I would have loved to be there when the recording took place!

Magic can be found in all tracks of this cassette; there are simply no weaker songs. Besides the songs sung by women, either accompanying themselves or accompanied by an issanji or sanza ensemble, there are songs sung by men. These are, fortunately, in the same vein, with the same tendency towards controlled anarchy in the chorus. The last two songs are different from the others in that these are examples of the evolution towards modern instruments, - in this case a acoustic guitar and a bottle... The result is mesmerising and nimble, delicate and confusing.

I am sure you have recognised the musical style as the one that was modernised and commercialised by Tshala Muana. Personally I find that she took the evolution a step too far and has lost the magic of the original, which can still be heard on this cassette. I can only pray that some of the essence of this brilliant music has survived, somewhere in the immenseness of the border regions between Congo and Angola.

LLCT 7313

4 comments:

glinka21 said...

Back in the day, Lyrichord issued some of the finest authentic folk-archival records. They weren't a large outfit, and when I was working just out of university in a record store, placing an order with them meant speaking with one of the Fritschs, the owner or his wife. They did a little advertising, but not much, and their albums at the time never sold particularly well. I seem to recall that they didn't feature as much in the way of notes as Folkways, but my memories could be incorrect on that. For some reason, their album covers always looked like they'd been badly scuffed over the floor of a warehouse.

You're right about those last two cuts. And Muana, at least on the only album I have of hers, Munanga, sounds pretty much like every other African album produced in France. Whether it was produced in France, or not. Which isn't to deny the lady her talent, but as you point out, she's lost something special along the way, and it's in this Lyrichord release. Thanks for that.

Jim Finlayson said...

This is great. Reminds me when I heard the Arthur Alberts recordings for the first time 16 years ago. Dont get that feeling very often. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Amazing recording--thanks!

DJ Daudi said...

Great tape. I have been waiting for a chance to just sit and listen to this as opposed to listening while doing something else and it was well worth the wait.
Stunning. Thanks very much.