Showing posts with label congo-brazzaville. Show all posts
Showing posts with label congo-brazzaville. Show all posts

April 20, 2014

Dots on the i's

This short post is really about just one song. And about a survivor.

For as far as I am aware he is one of the few survivors from the brilliant orchestra which rocketed Congolese music to an altitude where it subsequently influenced the whole of a continent. I was reminded of this the other day when I saw him on a photo (on the right - and Edo is the second from the right) uploaded by Dizzy Mandjeku. Born on October 27, 1933, Edo Nganga has left enough traces in the musical history of the two Congos to warrant a prominent place in the hall of fame of African music. Contrary to some reports, he was not present at the founding of the O.K. Jazz. But he did arrive only a few months later, when Rossignol (Philippe Landot) and others left for the new Esengo label.

Edo has contributed many memorable compositions to the 'grand oeuvre' of the O.K. Jazz (and I am tempted to post a selection of these). But he is perhaps best known for his songs based on traditionals. I am referring to tracks like "Semba Mbwa Semba Dibou", "Tsia Koi Bon Tchele"(both on African 360.156*), "Ba O.K. Batele Wo" (Sonodisc CD 36553) and "Bazonzele Mama Ana" (Sonodisc CD 36555). I am still not quite sure on which tradition these are based. I have been told that Edo was inspired by the folklore of the Kongo people, but that seems to refer to many rather distinct traditions.

I am assuming there must be more songs by Edo Nganga with the O.K. Jazz which have only been released on a 45 r.p.m. record (i.e. never been reissued).
And one of these is the gem on side B of this EP: "Veronica". A beautiful bolero, offering Franco the opportunity to do what he does best: decorate and dress a song. He is at it right from the start, putting the dots on the i's, the cream on the cake, the frills on the wedding dress... The effect is accentuated even more because of the rather 'normal' (well at least compared to the Vicky's and the Kwamy's of those days) vocal of Edo Nganga. What never ceases to amaze me is the timing with which Franco adds his decorations. Take the dramatic 'interlude' starting at 1'04 and ending 20 seconds later: just perfect!

As the two other songs on this EP: the second song on the B-side, "Ba O.K. Batele Wo", is probably from the same recordings session, while the song on the A-side, Franco's "Timothée Abangi Makambo" (which as appeared on several lp's and CD's), is from a totally different recording session.

Pathé 45 EG 958

* "Semba Mbwa Semba Dibou" was later reissued on Sonodisc CD 36521, but the brilliantly arranged "Tsia Koi Bon Tchele" has never made it to a digital release, as far as I know. Why?

February 19, 2013

¿Qué Ry-Co?

In case you are wondering about the fall in the frequency of the posting on this blog, I have recently purchased a new second-hand VHS recorder, and have been messing about with the digitisation of video-cassettes. I hope and intend to share the fruits of these efforts (which are in an exploratory phase right now) at a later moment.

In the meantime here is a short interludum.

With this record by Ry-Co Jazz I get the same uneasy feeling I had when I first heard the CD on the RetroAfric label (Retro10CD, 1996). In fact even slightly more so than that CD. It's not that I don't like the CD; there are quite a few rather nice songs on it. And there is the added pleasure of Gary Stewart's informative liner notes (which is a thing that is missing from a lot, if not most, Congolese albums...). It is just that there is a certain akwardness about it, which I for a long time credited to the Parisian influence. I saw a comparison with the recordings of Kabasele with the African Team, and the feeling of missed opportunities I often get when listening to those records.

But now, many years later, I suspect bad timing may have something to do with my uneasiness. This single is a good example of this. Both sides feature a cover of a song originally recorded by the O.K. Jazz. The A-side is a cover of Dele Pedro's "Tu Bois Beaucoup" (which is also on the CD, by the way), which even within the repertoire of the O.K. Jazz is not a typical song. The appeal of the song is one of a gimmicky type. Musically it is not one of the highlights of Congolese music of the early 1960s. In the version of Ry-Co Jazz the gimmick is watered-down, and the result falls absolutely short of the mark.

The B-side is a cover of Franco's 1960 classic "Liwa Ya Wech". This song has been covered by artists in several countries. I have even heard a Guinean version (and I don't mean the version by Miriam Makeba). In a way this is surprising as this is a very personal song, about the death of a personal friend of Franco. If you ask me the personal touch and even intimacy of the original is completely flattened by this version, even it is sung by Essous, an ex-member of the O.K. Jazz. Although I am not averse to organs, the one on this single does not lift me off the floor and definitely sounds very dated, very late 1960s.
All in all I don't feel all that Ry-Co after listening to these two songs....

DEBS 45 DD 159

PS: Who is this "Mawa"?

February 09, 2013

Topical

Usually I am not a great fan of these 'topical' records. My father used to have several of these, with subjects ranging from the first moon landing to the pope's visit to Ireland (recently posted on the Lola Vandaag blog). He had a very special way of boring the pants of visitors...
I must stress that I don't include songs about topical subjects in this category. I am particularly excluding all those great calypsos (either from Trinidad or from West Africa) about the Queen's visit or a local scandal, songs about a strike of lorry drivers, shipping accidents and other assorted disasters. In fact, I wish they would reinstate this tradition. We could have songs about Italian politics ("Bunga Bunga Benga"), about hurricanes ("The Sandy Shuffle"), scandals ("The Zagreb Conspiracy") and footballing incidents ("Christiano's header").

This said, I would also like to add this lp. And not so much because of the subject, the eighth African Nations Cup (Cameroon, 1972). Football matches tend to have a very limited 'shelf life'. I have recorded countless 'historic' matches, thinking they would make for a great evening in front of the telly after a tiring day at work. But I must admit that it just doesn't work like this. Football ('soccer' to you Yanks) is very much an on the spot event. The fiery emotions 'while events unfold' just can't be warmed up to be consumed later...
What really makes this record special is not the music of Manu Dibango. While recognising his importance for music in general I have never been a fan of his music, to be very honest. In fact, the music in this record is of the kind that I would gladly do without.

What does make this record special is the inclusions of the 'live' commentaries from the different participating countries. The commentary styles are varied, from the staccato of Boevi Lawson (Radio Togo), via the very disciplined and rather eloquent Malians Boubacar Kante and Salif Diarra (who even sportingly congratulates the opponents after his country loses the final), to the controlled but outrageous Joseph Gabio (Congo-Brazza). Joseph does not shun insults, both of players of his own country's team - when they 'allow' their Zairean neighbours to score a goal - and of a "cursed" Cameroonian player (also called Joseph) who misses in front of the Congolese goal. And I just love the over-the-top enthousiasm of the two Cameroonian reporters, with one of them announcing: "Ladies and gentlemen, the Cameroon boys are doing it!".
Which brings me to what is perhaps a challenge in the enjoyment of this record: apart from these few exclamations it is all in french.

Watching the CAN 2013 I have often thought of this record, and of the enthousiasm of the commentators. Unfortunately the lukewarm and misplaced arrogance of the European reporters tends to act as a real turnoff, even with the most spectacular matches.

African 360.036

February 13, 2012

Godgiven

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.

Nino Malapet et l'orchestre Rock-a-Mambo (Esengo 1957 - 1961)

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.

Nino Malapet will be sadly missed.

Nino Malapet et 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.

November 30, 2010

Butterflies

So much inspiration, and so little time... I hope to have more time in the next month to post all the things I have in mind, - or just planned.

You may remember the post of those great EP's recorded by Les Bantous for the Stenco label. These EP's were actually pressed and marketed by Pathé. Gary Stewart's "Rumba on the River" reports that the label was founded in Brazzaville in 1963 by a French clothing salesman called Stein. Apparently he did so well in the clothes business that he expanded into music, first opening a bar - called "Super Jazz" - and then a home recording studio. Stein not only was the recording engineer for his own Stenco label, but also took care of the artwork* for the sleeves, as well as marketing the records 'locally' in Congo Brazzaville. He managed to persuade Pathé to do the pressing, and the distribution and marketing on the international market.
Unfortunately his success did not go unnoticed. A few years later he was miraculously forced out of business with the help of and/or by the Brazzavillois authorities.

The two EP's in this post were recorded and released on the Stenco label. Both records feature the Negro Band (of which I posted some later work earlier), an orchestra which was founded in Léopoldville in 1958 according to some by sax & clarinet player Max Massengo, according to others (Stewart, page 163) with the aid of Franklin Boukaka and Michel Boyibanda, while others (Mbokamosika) add even more 'founders'.

The eight songs on these two EP's are of a disarming freshness which typifies the Negro Band at this stage of their existence. They have their 'own thing', while on the other hand I am constantly reminded of Franco and his O.K. Jazz, - and not just by the solo guitar of Jean Mokuna a.k.a. 'Baguin', but also by the vocals (by Démon Kasanaut?) which bear some resemblance to Vicky Longomba's.

As with their work on the Esengo label I particularly like their 'spanish' songs. I am using quotes as these songs are in a kind of mock language, which sounds very good, but is mainly rubbish. I love it! On Negro Band No.5 there are two of those: a pachanga called "Bailar Con Negro" and an "afro cha cha" called "Ahora Las Mariposas" ("Now the butterflies"). I would love to have a year to investigate the meaning of this last song....

Stenco NB 4092
Stenco NB 4099

* You may remember that brilliant sleeve of Negro Band No.3 (see the Muzikifan site)!

April 02, 2010

Twisting

"Darling, if you don't know how to twist, don't feel ashamed. I will explain it to you. This is the moment to start". These lyrics, in french (!!), are on this EP with the surprising title of "Nigeria's Greatest". The artists performing this song with the exciting title of "Cherie Si Tu Ne Sais Pas Twister" are none other than Air Congo Orchestra City Five from Leopoldville, Congo. And if this is the first time you have heard of this ensemble: you're not the only one!

Fortunately, the other three tracks are by Nigerian artists, but - perhaps disappointingly - I have posted these before; all three are on the collection "Nigeria's Request Programme" (also on Philips West African Records).

But there is more 'new' material on this second EP, also released by Philips. And again the title, "Top Hits from Nigeria Vol. 2"* may lead to some confusion, as there is another 'foreign' band on this selection: Negro Jazz Brazzaville. They appear to be accompanied by George Arakpo and His Congo Bell (who are likewise complete strangers to me). This Negro Jazz sings in what is suppose to be spanish, borrowing some lyrics from Dewayon's Conga Jazz ("Eh non non non Mamie"). The result can be described as quite invigorating.

Again, the three remaining tracks are by Nigerian artists. The first is a highlife tune by one of the pillars of Nigerian highlife, Roy Chicago and his Rhythm Dandies, who will the subject of future posts (plural). Then there is a very enjoyable ibo highlife track by another Great, Rex Lawson and his Mayor's Dance Band. Note, by the way, that his nickname on this EP is not "Cardinal", but "Pastor". And finally, there is more twisting, with a second twist (after his "Suzzy Twist" on "Nigeria's Greatest") by King Kennytone and his Western Toppers.

With all this twisting going on, and assuming that all tracks are from roughly the same period, I think it is safe to date these recordings in the first half of the 1960s. The fact that EP's too are a phenomenon from this period, and "Leopoldville" (renamed "Kinshasa" in 1966) in the name of Air Congo City Five seem to confirm this estimate.

If anyone has any more information about the two orchestras from the two Congos, please let us know.

Philips 420026 PE
Philips 420018 PE

*The backside of both sleeves show there is also a volume 1 and a volume 3, and many more marvels still to be (re)discovered.....

March 26, 2010

Soukous

I have trying very hard to get an accurate dating for this lp by Les Bantous. This dating may be of interest for historians for two reasons. I have been assured that this is the first record by a Congolese (and in this case of the Brazzaville side of the river) artist released in stereo. And secondly, it appears to be one of the first uses of the word "soukous" in combination with Congolese music.

I estimate this record to be from either 1964 or 1965. It was recorded in Paris, with the aid of Gilles Sala, who has played a crucial role in the development and popularity of African and particularly Congolese music. It remains a mystery to me that so little can be found about this man and his part in the 'rise' of African music. His name keeps popping up, whether in the context of African Jazz (someone even told me that he was instrumental in linking Roger Izeidi, and through Izeidi not only African Jazz but also OK Jazz, with Fonior) or Ry-Co Jazz, or G.G. Vikey, or Malian stars like Fanta Damba and Sory Bamba.

In this case I strongly suspect that he may be responsible for the name "Soukous", which was a label of the French record company Vogue. So it may well be that Gilles Sala was the 'inventor' of soukous music (there you go: I've said it*).

Let's get back to the dating. Jean-Serge Essous was still in charge. He gradually got involved with other matters (Ry-Co Jazz, African Team) in and from 1965. In 1966 Bantous played at the Premier Festival Mondial des Arts Negres in Dakar, and remained in West-Africa for a while before returning to Paris. There are only a limited number of musicians on this album, all from the 'old', early sixties Bantous. So this suggests it was a one-off trip to Paris with just a small team.

And there is - as always - the evidence of the music. And don't be fooled by the clear, stereo, sound. There are two songs labelled "twist". This strongly suggests a date in the early to mid-sixties. The 'cha cha' and "guapacha" even would point to an even earlier dating.

One thing is obvious, though. This is a very remarkable album, with some great songs, featuring superb artists like Essous and Papa Noel (who are both on the cover). I particularly like Papa Noel's "Paris-Brazza" and Essous' instrumental "Souvenir de Paris".
My only regret is that there is only a disappointing 25 minutes on this album....

Soukous SV 13001

* I am regretting it already...

November 30, 2009

In Memoriam Jean-Serge Essous

Another monument of African music has passed away. Jean-Serge Essous (born January 15, 1935) has died in Brazzaville on November 25, 2009. He was present at the foundation of the O.K. Jazz, of Rock-a-Mambo, and of 'his own' orchestre Bantous and Ryco Jazz. His music and his orchestras have had a huge influence on African music, and maybe even on the music outside of his continent.

During his stay in France earlier this year he was taken seriously ill and had to be hospitalised. Unfortunately he was not insured and was forced to return to Brazzaville, where he died in the Hôpital des Armées.

Essous started his musical career in 1951 as a flutist, but after a few years switched to the instrument which brought him fame: the clarinet. As a clarinetist he soon made a name for himself and joined a band called Negro Jazz. With this band he crossed the river to play in Leopoldville and was 'discovered' by Henri Bowane, who in 1955 invited him to record at the Loningisa label. Essous subsequently played on a series of tracks recorded in 1956, and was present when the O.K. Jazz was founded in June. Unconfirmed legend has it that he signed the first contract for the creation of the O.K. Jazz in place of the then under age Franco.
But persuaded again by Bowane, he soon decided to join singer Rossignol and other Loningisa artists in their move - on January 1, 1957 - to a completely new record label: Esengo.

At Esengo Essous played with the stars of the former Opika label (which had closed down in 1956), Kabasélé (le Grand Kallé), guitarists Nico, Dechaud and Tino Baroza, and female star Lucie Eyenga. Initially the names of these 'ensembles' varied depending on who were present at the recording sessions, but soon the 'nuclei' of these sessions took on a more permanent form. Essous was the leader of one of these: orchestre Rock-a-Mambo. With the huge composing talents of a sax player, who had come over from the Ngoma label, Nino Malapet, and with Rossignol as principal vocalist, Rock-a-Mambo churned out hit after hit, offering a stiff competition for the O.K. Jazz who were doing the same at Loningisa.

As examples of these glorious days, I would like to share nine tracks with you from the Esengo label.
The first two of these, "Jalousie" and "Amigo", are from the beginning of the label, and were composed by Nino Malapet. The songs feature not only the typical Rock-a-Mambo combination of Essous (clarinet) and Nino (sax), but also the great Tino Baroza on guitar, plus Kabasélé and Rossignol on vocals!
On the second record, with two compositions by Essous called "Bolingo Na Ngai Gigi" and "Bolingo Etumbu", the orchestre is named as "African Rock". Playing guitar is Nico, and singing are Kabasélé with Lucie Eyenga (on "..Gigi"), and Rossignol backed modestly by Kabasélé (on ".. Etumbu").
The third record is from a slightly later date (probably 1958). Again the compositions are by Essous, who on "Calu Wa Essous" plays flute, and on "Mi Paralitico" is the lead singer. This is one of the first examples I know of of the typical Essous singing style. I am not sure about the other singers or the guitarist on these tracks (apart from Rossignol).
The last of the Esengo tracks is another example of those superior and timeless Nino compositions: "Comité Rock-a-Mambo". In my opinion Essous is especially great in this track.

Essous on Esengo

With the political unrest of 1959 which would eventually lead to the independence of the Belgian Congo, the musicians from Brazzaville decided that it would be better to 'regroup' on the other side of the river. Thus Essous and drummer Pandi (who also had a history with the Loningisa label) founded an orchestra which was named "Bantou Jazz", but soon changed its name to Les Bantous de la Capitale. Their first public concert back in Brazza was on August 15, 1959.

It is impossible to write down Essous' complete biography in this post. I am sure there are other sites where you can read a more concise overview of his impressive career.
I can promise you, however, I will come back with more Bantous in a later post.
For now, I would like to give you an example of the brilliance that was Bantous with the great Jean-Serge Essous, in the form of this record from 1963, released on the Stenco label. I advise you to read the description on the back of the sleeve of this record (the scan quality is unfortunately rather poor; but you can find the same information on this sleeve).

Stenco B 25421

May his soul rest in peace.

PS: In the photo at the top of this post Essous is the one with the white shirt (and the tell-tale clarinet in his hand...).

October 20, 2009

Bilombe ya mindule

I am hoping that this post can shed some light on a mystery that's been bugging me ever since I have heard "Bilombe ya mindule", a song attributed to Franco and his O.K. Jazz. The thing is: I can't identify the singer of this song. There are some slight touches of Kwamy in his voice, but it's not him. It's certainly not Vicky or Youlou, and after closer study Boyibanda and Chécain could also be eliminated. Given that the music suggests the track is from the late 1960s, there is not a lot left....

Friend Aboubacar decided to ask a Congolese connaisseur, and his answer meant a dramatic shift in my perception of the track. He wrote: "Here is my true opinion: this is from CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE, not necessarily from the Bantous de la Capitale, but nonetheless from some band in Congo-Brazaville. I'd say even the lyrics point at that side: traditionnaly & 'politically' people from Congo-Brazzaville have always wished the two Congo's to unite... Listen to Franklin Boukaka for instance .... Whereas my people have always seen those from Congo-Brazzaville with suspicion...
The lyrics talk about the Congolese music and musicians of both sides. No Congolese musician from Congo-Kinshasa would sing about a musician from Congo-Brazzaville, - not that I know of anyway..
"

The title, he explained as follows: "Bilombe is the plural of elombe. And what does elombe mean? (...) Elombe = someone living, thus elombe mobali = a man, elombe mwasi = a woman. Elombe is always 'positive' and contains some kind of admiration, the opposite is yuma. Bilombe ya Mindule = those 'fantastic men' who make music & song, i.e. musicians (with the touch of admiration I was referring to above)."

With this in mind, I begin to understand why I couldn't recognise the singer: maybe the song is simply not by the O.K. Jazz... Could the track be by the orchestra that is responsible for the A-side of this single on the Pathé-Marconi label: orchestre Manta?
A mix-up is not completely unlikely. Manta also released some records through Franco's Epanza Makita label, so maybe the mistake started there.
And listening to one of those records, I can hear some similarities between the singer of "Tokei Kotala Bango" and the singer of the mysterious "Bilombe Ya Mindule"....

But there is still doubt. A doubt inspired by the horns on "Bilombe Ya Mindule". There is no sax at all on the Epanza Makita record, and only one sax on "Gaby Kulutuya Tango", the A-side of the Pathé 45.

So who are these 'fantastic men'?

Pathe PF 11590
Epanza Makita 384.432

PS: Come to think of it: where is Franco on "Bilombe Ya Mindule"?

April 05, 2009

Bridge

Although he was born at the other side of the Congo river, Franklin Boukaka's first serious move into a musical career was made in Leopoldville. In Brazzaville he had helped to form the Negro Band, and when the band started recording at the Esengo label he came into contact with the Rock-a-Mambo/African Jazz clan and Joseph Kabasele (a.k.a. le Grand Kallé), who was at the time the Big Star of Congolese music. He joined Rochereau and Jean Bombenga in Jazz Africain in 1960, when Kallé was at the Table Ronde.
Gary Stewart states that Boukaka joined Bombenga and Casino Mutshipule in forming the first version of Vox Africa in 1960, but personally I think Jazz Africain was not abandoned so quickly, - although Rochereau left when Kallé returned.

Around 1963 or 1964 Franklin returned to Brazzaville to join Cercul Jazz, the band of the cercle culturel* in the Bacongo quartier of Brazza. It was with this orchestra that he moved away from songs about love and nature (as Ntesa Dalienst once described it), and started singing about social matters, and even politics (which finally cost him his life - but that's the subject of a later post).

And that brings us to this great lp from the Merveilles du Passé series on the African label, released in 1986 and claiming to contain tracks from 1967.
This is likely to be true for the tracks with the Cercul Jazz. The most famous of these two tracks is "Pont Sur Le Congo", in which Boukaka calls on the two Congos to unite (a translation of part of this song can be found in Gary Stewart's "Rumba on the River"). I don't want to go into the lyrics of this song.
What strikes me with this song is the vocals, with a strong influence of African Jazz - and more precisely Jean Bombenga - in the duets.
My favourite tracks on this lp are, however, the two tracks of Franklin Boukaka with the Negro Band. In every aspect in the style of Franco's OK Jazz, including the great guitar picking, which must be by (the strangely unknown) Willy Stany. Both songs are composed by the other singer on "Journal Dipanda", Démon Kasanaut.

The B-side of this lp contains four nice (but not as nice as the A-side) tracks by Franklin Boukaka and Negro Succes, composed by Bholen and Bavon Marie Marie.
If all these tracks were recorded in 1967, Franklin Boukaka must have had a busy year. Because in the same year he founded his ensemble which he named "Franklin Boukaka, ses sanzas et son orchestre Congolais".

I'll be posting more of Franklin Boukaka in the very near future, starting with more of Franklin and the Cercul Jazz.

African 360.153

*a centre set up by the French after World War II to educate the population (i.e. mainly in the French ways...)

December 20, 2008

A Tout Casser

The earliest recorded tracks of the Negro Band from Brazzaville date from the time when Simarro was playing with the Kongo Jazz, Dewayon with Conga Jazz, and when Rochereau (accompanied by "l'African Rock") had a hit with "K.J.". It must have been 1960.
But this post is not about these eventful times; nor is about the Negro Band's adventures at the Stenco label, nor about their relationship with Franco and his record labels.

This post is about what can be seen as the Negro Band's heyday.
In 1968 they managed to land a contract for concerts and recordings in France. At the time the line-up of the Negro Band included Michel Boybanda who shortly before had seen Orchestre Révolution disintegrate. He had been a member of the OK Jazz since 1963. When in 1967 established members like Kwamy, Mujos, Brazzos, Isaac Musekiwa and Dessoin left the OK Jazz to form this orchestra (a move which according to Simaro was helped by the financial support of one of Mobutu's subordinates), Boybanda at first was hesitant to join them. He was however persuaded by the apparent wealth the new orchestra displayed (they had bought new Vespa's and cars, and new instruments). A few months after joining Révolution he was even in charge, as Kwamy and Mujos almost never bothered to show up.

Boybanda wasn't new to the Negro Band. He had been present at its formation in 1958, and had worked with them off and on until joining the OK Jazz.

The Paris recordings by the Negro Band were released on the Pathé label, in the form of one lp and a few singles. The sleeves appear to carry the same photo, but if you look closer you'll see some remarkable differences.

How many can you spot?




Pathé 2 C054.15054 (lp)

Pathé 2 C006.15004