October 12, 2019

30 Years

It is hard to believe that thirty years have passed since Franco died. Regular visitors of this blog (if there are any) probably recall my earlier posts on the subject of his demise and the sad or even tragic circumstances of his last performance, just twenty days before in the Melkweg in Amsterdam.
Fortunately a lot has been done in the last few years to preserve and/or restore his legacy. And one can only hope that even more can be retrieved before it disappears in the inevitable mist of time.

In this post I would like to share one of the key albums of the Grand Maître's extensive legacy. This double album, "Tonton Franco et le T.P. O.K. Jazz - 6 juin 1956-6 juin 1980 - 24 Ans d'Age", released on the V.I.S.A. 1980 label (FRAN 004-005), contains eight songs, - and only one composed by Franco himself. The album was released in 1981, so in fact almost 25 years after the foundation of the O.K. Jazz.
It is only the fourth album on the V.I.S.A. label, the label which Franco had initiated after the collapse of Fonior/Decca in March 1980 and for which he had negotiated a distribution deal with Daniel Cuxac's Disco Stock in Abidjan in 1980 (an interview with Daniel Cuxac from 1983 can be found on the afrodisc.com website).

Unlike the first of the V.I.S.A. 1980 albums this album is not dominated by Franco himself, but more of an orchestra-wide effort, with compositions from Josky Kiambukuta, Ndombe Opetum, Gerry Dialungana, Lola Djangi (a.k.a. Chécain), Makosso (credited as "Mackos" on the label and "Makos" on the sleeve) and two compositions by Wuta Mayi. Of the two records the first one probably contains the most 'well-known' songs. Songs which were reproduced during concerts in the 1980s and became 'household names' with mélomanes all over Africa.
It looks like this record was intended as a 'theme' record, and perhaps even as a single lp. For the songs "Propriétaire" (owner), "Héritier" (heir), "Locataire" (tenant) and "Ayant Droit" (beneficiary or rightful owner) all refer to ownership and rights. It is doubtful that these songs were composed with this theme in mind though, as the composers later referred to them with other titles. "Héritier" was also referred to as "Machata", "Propriétaire" as "Sambwa Sambwa".

There are many highlights on this classic album. The first of my personal favourites is the start of Josky's "Propriétaire". I just love it when Ntesa Dalienst shines through in the chorus, adding extra swirls like a baroque painter.
Ntesa & Wuta Mayi
After 2'39 the rhythm changes into the trademark 'San Salvador' shuffle, used in more of Josky's compositions. Josky is - as always - in great form, with the typical decline at the end of his lines (which for some strange reason is why I love Josky's singing).
Josky is also great in the chorus in "Héritier", where he is joined by Lukoki Diatho, adding warmth and depth to the song which - as often with Ndombe's compositions - has plenty of drive, but tends to stay a bit two-dimensional.
"Ayant Droit", the first of the two compositions by Wuta Mayi, is in my opinion the star of "24 Ans d'Age". It has everything: great rhythm, great arrangement and - above all - great vocals. The melodious lead vocal by Wuta Mayi, the adornments by Ntesa, Josky providing the solid base: this is why the T.P. O.K. Jazz was top of the league. Ntesa told us in 1991 that Franco did not play on this and the other Wuta Mayi song; so the 'Franco guitar' in "Ayant Droit" is Thierry Mantuika.

Of course this is not the case on "Locataire". This is Tonton Franco himself playing. Once more Ntesa is prominently present, although more restrained than in the Josky and Wuta Mayi compositions. As per usual with the Franco compositions the sébène is intense, with Franco in charge.

"Kufwa Ntangu", composed by guitarist Gerry Dialunga, features Wuta Mayi and Josky alternating on lead vocal, backed by (a once more very prominent) Ntesa and (probably) Lola Djangi. "Probably" as Lola manages to stay well hidden behind Ntesa, but the combination of voices does remind me of his own composition, - which happens to be the next song on the album. "Kufwa Ntangu"" is one of those songs that grows on you after a while, and it is a pity that it is the shortest song on the album.

"Meka Okangama" has that special element which typifies a Lola Djangi composition: there is always something of a "mélodie mélancholique", as he himself described it. Even with the energetic voice of Ntesa besides him Chécain succeeds in radiating a certain sadness in this wonderful song, which is probably the most typical 'old school' O.K. Jazz song on the album. Besides Ntesa Josky is singing and Ndombe was clearly present during the recording (he can be heard animating at 8'30) but I doubt if he was singing.

Wuta Mayi's second composition, "Likambo Ya Moto", is in my opinion not as exciting as "Ayant Droit", but still has some interesting vocal combinations, with Ntesa, Lukoki Diatho and of course Wuta Mayi. Although Franco is not playing there is a lot of guitars battling it out in the sébène...

Djo Mpoyi, who joined the orchestra in 1978, only sings on one song: "Banza", composed by rhythm guitarist Makosso (full name Makonko Kindudi). Like "Héritier" this song does not feature Ntesa Dalienst, but this is amply compensated by Josky, who is backed by Wuta and Djo. Josky is once more in great form and really carries this song.

"24 Ans d'Age" is not so much a showcase of le Grand Maître Franco, but more of his Tout Puissant O.K. Jazz, and particularly of the vocal talents, which in the year before the release of this album had led to a huge hit with Ntesa's "Liyanzi Ekoti Ngai Na Motema". With the album Franco targeted a wide, mainly African, audience. The success of the V.I.S.A. 1980 albums made him realise that an even wider audience was possible, and in the following years he developed a plan to reach out to the world.

Wuta Mayi - Josky - Djo Mpoyi - Franco - Makosso - Papa Noel - Ndombe - Lola Djangi

Live versions of these songs can be seen on Aboubacar Siddikh's YouTube channel:
Propriétaire: Télé-Zaïre 1980
Héritier: Télé-Zaïre 1980
Ayant Droit: Télé-Zaïre 1980 and at 1-2-3
Locataire: Télé-Zaïre 1980 and in Abidjan 1980
Kufwa Ntangu: Télé-Zaïre 1980 and in Abidjan 1980
Meka Okangama: Télé-Zaïre 1980

And for those who can not enjoy music without seeing a picture, Aboubacar has also uploaded the songs of this album: Propriétaire - Héritier - Ayant Droit - Locataire - Kufwa Ntangu - Meka Okangama - Likambo Ya Moto - Banza.

FRAN 004/005 (mp3)
FRAN 004/005 (flac - available until December 31, 2019)

PS: coming up: more music from Mali....

March 31, 2019

Le Poète

Only a year ago we celebrated his 80th birthday with a selection of his work, today we mourn his death.
There are no words for the sadness, the loss, felt at the death of 'Le Poète' Simaro Lutumba Ndomanueno.
The only consolation I can offer is another selection from the extensive legacy of this great composer.

01. Kadima
02. Cedou
03. Presence Na Ngai Ebangisaka I & II
04. Naboyi Bombanda Ya Basi Misato
05. Vaccination
06. On Ne Vit Qu'une Seule Fois
07. Mbanzi Ya Kamundele
08. Desespoir 1 & 2
09. Minuit Eleki Lezi I & II
10. G.G. Yoka
11. Mbawu Nako Recuperer Yo
12. Regina Regina
13. Je Vis Avec Le P.D.G.
14. Monzo 1 & 2
15. Mbongo

In Memoriam Le Poète 19/03/1938 - 30/03/2019

May 27, 2018

Kasse Mady (1949-2018)

Yet another of my musical heroes has passed away, and once more too young. I still had high expectations from Kasse Mady Diabaté, who passed away in Bamako, Mali, this Friday (May 24, 2018) at the age of 69.

Kasse Mady was born in 1949 in Kela, a village 100 kilometres south of Bamako, upstream on the Niger river, and a village renowned for its djeli population and its proximity (only 8 km) to the village of Kangaba, which is seen as the craddle of Mande culture. Although born into a family with deep griot roots (his aunt was the great Siramori Diabaté, see this post) neither his father nor his mother were djeli (other than by birth), and Kasse Mady started out by helping his father, cutting grass for the horses. But even at a young age his voice stood out, and many started to compare him to his great grandfather Bintoufama Diabaté, nicknamed 'Kasse Mady'.
Still in his teens Kasse Mady builds up a reputation singing at weddings, baptisms and such, until he is asked to join the orchestre Super Mande from Kangaba, which subsequently participates in the first Biennale Artistique et Culturelle in 1970. A few years later he joins Les Maravillas de Mali, at a time when the orchestra is in a state of great unrest, after having been heavily censored by the new government of president Moussa Traoré. When the chef d'orchestre is replaced the name of the orchestra is changed to Badema National.
At Badema Kasse Mady is able to really make his mark, and he stays with the orchestra for 16 years, until he lured away by producer Ibrahima Sylla in 1989. He moves to Paris where Sylla produces his album "Fode".

I guess the first time I heard Kasse Mady sing was in the mid 1980s. I don't remember being very impressed, but this may have been due to the rather miserable quality of the cassettes (copies of copies of copies). This changed dramatically when I heard the song "Fode Nara", while visiting Bamako in 1988 (here is the actual recording; I missed the beginning..). I certainly wanted more of this.
Unfortunately there would be little more of Kasse Mady with Badema, as the public institutions responsible for the national orchestras disintegrated and musicians had to look elsewhere to find an income. Kasse Mady, like many others, moved to Paris.

Personally I think his album "Fode", (over)produced by Syllart, was a step backwards. Even today, after years of musical abuse from (especially) Paris-based productions, I still can't stand more than two minutes of this album. Fortunately the production was toned down a bit with the following album, "Koulandjan". While still very much a Parisian production, at least Kasse Mady gets a chance to shine. As the album title suggests, it contains a version of the Malinké classic "Koulandjan", for which Kasse Mady wanted to use the traditional version. He asked permission of the elders in Kela, which he received a few weeks later accompanied by a cassette explaining which parts of the epic song had to be included. The total length of the song including these lines would amount to 30 minutes. But Sylla stopped the recording after 13 minutes, much to the annoyance of Kasse Mady.

Kasse Mady went back to live in Mali in 1998.
In 2001 he was approached by Lucy Duran to record. Produced by Duran, the result is a mature album which set the tone for the albums which followed: strong songs selected from the Mande repertoire of Kela and Kangaba, mixed with a few excursions into other areas.

I am not going to review all the albums Kasse Mady has released. I would, instead, like to share a small selection of his work with you. You can either listen to or download the mix here:
Alternately you can download the tracks of this mix here: Kasse Mady in memoriam

Also, I would like to share with you this cassette, which was recorded (and produced) in Mali. It is undated, but my guess is that the cassette was recorded in the late 1990s.
IC 0497

As I mentioned, I had high hopes for Kasse Mady. I would have loved to have seen him with a revival of Badema, slowly rocking his shoulders to the rhythm of the music....

March 20, 2018

Le Poète à 80

A tribute to Le Poète Lutumba Simaro, on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

Tracks (all composed by Simaro):
01. Na Lifelo Bisengo Ezali Te (Orchestre Mi)
02. Fifi Nazali Innocent (O.K. Jazz)
03. Motema Na Yo Retroviseur (T.P. O.K. Jazz)
04. Mambo Mucho (Kongo Jazz)
05. Affaire Kitikwala (T.P. O.K. Jazz)
06. Oko Regretter Ngai Mama (T.P. O.K. Jazz)
07. Inoussa (T.P. O.K. Jazz)
08. Santa Guy Guyna (O.K. Jazz)
09. Mado Aboyi Simaro (O.K. Jazz)
10. Annie Obosani Ngai? (O.K. Jazz)
11. Odutaka Na Vie Mon Cher (T.P. O.K. Jazz)
12. Lisana Ebandaki Na Kin Malebo (Orchestre Mi)
13. Testament Ya Bowule (live TV) (T.P. O.K. Jazz)

January 02, 2018


I am well aware that it has been over a year since the last post on this blog. I hope to change this in 2018, but am making no promises. Fortunately others are still going strong or have in the last year returned to blogging.
Besides the usual subjects (the work of Franco and his O.K. Jazz, music from Mali and such) I hope to share some traditional music with you in the year which has just started.

But first a post about a cassette which has resurfaced occasionally in the last two decades since I copied it from my friend Faas. A cassette which has intrigued me because of its rare mix of traditional and modern elements. The cassette is by the Ensemble Instrumental Raoul Follereau de Bamako, an ensemble which I have been unable to trace in Mali and which none of the artists I have spoken to (in the past) have ever heard of. That is one of the intriguing elements...

It doesn't take too much imagination to figure out that there must be a link to the Fondation Raoul Follereau. This assertion is backed up by the first track on the B-side, which is about this journalist, writer and welldoer of French origin. Raoul Follereau, who died in 1977, is best known for his struggle against leprosy and poverty. He did not created the foundation which carries his name (this was founded 7 years after his death), but did inspire its foundation. The man appears to have been inspired in turn by Charles de Foucauld*, although perhaps I should write that he used Foucauld for his personal objectives. And these were - in retrospect - not as elevated and pure as the creation of a foundation in his name may suggest, - or as they may have seemed at the time. Follereau founded the Fondations Charles de Foucauld in order to rebuild the French church of the Sahara ("reconstruire l'Église française du Sahara"). The key words in this are "french" and "church", for - very much in the spirit of the 1930s - nationalism and christianity were very much part of Follereau's philosophy. In 1927 he had created "la Ligue de l’Union latine", "destinée à défendre la civilisation chrétienne contre tous les paganismes et toutes les barbaries" (to defend christian civilisation against paganism and barbarism). Of course (and like present-day nationalistic movements) the superiority of the own, national culture was not in dispute.
Follereau went as far as to join forces with all those willing to fight the "complot judéo-maçonnique", openly praising Mussolini and supporting the Vichy regime during WWII.
Although this may have nothing to do with the work of the Fondation, it does perhaps raise some questions about the motives of the organisation. The French have always had a tendency to promote their way of thinking, under the guise of 'francophonie' or 'collaboration'. And it is surprising how little this has done to really help the countries and societies which were the target of French aide.

Back to the cassette.
The cassette was released in 1993, i.e. five years after the last 'old style' Biennale. Still the music does evoke memories of these great events, which coincidentally were relaunched last week in Bamako (although apparently not everyone agreed that this was the right moment to do so).
Particularly the chorus reminds me of the great choruses I have seen and heard. What I find refreshing with these choruses is the lack of pretence. Although the girls all sings in unison, they still create the impression of being an unruly (but happy) group of individuals. Most of the instruments accompanying the girls are those one would expect with an ensemble instrumental from Mali: kora, balafon, flutes, bolon, drums.
The twist is in the addition of an electric guitar. And what a nice guitar it is. This is the kind of guitar one would occasionally hear with a djeli, or with Abdoulaye Diabaté: plenty of reverb and smooth as silk.

This is nice music to dream away, to glide smoothly into the new year.
Happy New Year.

Ensemble Instrumental Raoul Follereau de Bamako(AFR 001, 1993)

* for those who can read French: the entry in the French wikipedia is much more elaborate.

November 30, 2016

Best of Taarab updated

I am still looking for a way to get some kind of logging of the changes and updates to earlier posts. In the meantime this update seems worth a separate post.

Posts which have been updated in 2016:
- Diabate (Abdoulaye Diabaté & Le Kéné Star)
- Staying O.K. (three O.K. Jazz singles)
- Succes Zaïrois (two compilations of 1960s Congolese hits)

The update to Best of taarab was sent to me by Pauly Becquart, residing in Tanzania.
He writes: "The cassette contains tracks from 4 volumes of "Best of Taarab" published earlier by Melodica, Nairobi.
Song B6 is named "Walimwengu wanaina" and song B7 is "Khiyana"; both are from Vol. 3 (see cover).

The infos I got at Melodica while buying these cassettes more than 20 years ago is that at the base the band is Black Star Musical Club with Kibwana Saidi and Sharmila at vocals.

Black Star Musical Club is a band originating from Tanga, Tanzania. At the time of these songs it was very difficult for Tanzanian band to travel for political reasons. Many bands recording in Kenya didn't want their name published as they didn't want to get into trouble in Tanzania. For this reason many records are published under wacky names (e.g. 'Ewe Mola' and 'Karibu ramadhani' published by Melodica on 7'' single on label Halal QM 001A under the name Yahoos Band & Hafusa Abbasi and also on the Vol. 4 of Best of Taarab under 'no name' ...)
(Tanzania never got any vinyl production up to now, perhaps this last couple of years because of the uprising of music production in Tz, but I don't think so, never had heard while still in contact with Tz musicians; turntable is a very very rare tool in Tz).

Anyway all tracks on these cassette are from Tanga's original Musical Clubs who had their own taarab style.
Band members recording are rarely the original members. To credit theses cassettes to Black Star Musical Club is not an error nor a big sin.

A flac version of this great cassette can be found here, but only until June 1, 2017: CS KSS 117. The updated mp3 version can be found with the original post.

May 16, 2016


I have been plowing my way through the immense wealth of Guinean music, which is the result of Graeme Counsel's efforts to retrieve what remains of the recordings at the national radio in Conakry, Guinée. And, as some have pointed out, of course the navigation at the site of the British Library is challenging, to put it politely. But what a treasure trove it is!

Orchestre de la Garde Républicaine (later: Boiro Band)
There are updates and additions, confirming what we already knew, i.e. that the orchestras of the Sekou Touré era of Guinean music are rightly labelled as legendary. Take for example those live recordings of Balla et ses Balladins ("Keme Bourema", "Sara", - yet another - "Sara", "Soumbouyaya", "Diarabi", "Assa", "N'wato Barale" - a song which was previously only known in the version by Aboubacar Demba Camara and Bembeya Jazz -, "Autorail"), a brilliant new version of "Paulette" by the same orchestra, two fantastic versions of "Beni Barale" (here and here), of "Moi ça ma fout" (here and here) and of Rochereau's "Ruphine Missive" (serious competition to the original, if you ask me) by Aboubacar Demba Camara with Bembeya Jazz, out-of-this-world versions of "Air Guinée", "Kankan yarabi", "Bandian" and "Nadiaba" by Orchestre de la Paillote, paradigm shifters like "Commissariat" (a version of "Moi ça ma fout"), "Sabougnouma" and "Malisadio" by Orchestre de la Garde Républicaine, "Bafing bluese" (more tango than blues) and "Cherie kuma" by Bafing Jazz, and many, many atom bombs by Kebendo Jazz.
Particularly this last orchestra has, as I have written before, remained one of the hidden treasures of Guinean music for too long. I have asked Graeme to see if he could find out why this orchestra, winner of the national orchestral competitions in 1962, 1963, 1964 and again in 1970 and 1972 (i.e. in 5 of the 11 orchestral competitions held in Guinée), was never given the status of national orchestra, but unfortunately no one seems to be able to give an answer. The mystery is accentuated even more by simply unbelievable songs like "Soumba" (the longer version I referred to in this earlier post), "Keme Bourema" (or "Toubabalou kaba", as it is titled in the catalogue), "Bebe", "Kakilambe"...... I just love the voice of Mamady Traoré.

Besides confirming what we already knew, the collection offers an insight into the wealth of 'other orchestras', which were hardly or even not at all heard on the records of the Syliphone label. In the category "not at all" are Sasse Jazz, with this wonderful version of "Nankoura", Badiar Jazz, with "Air Guinée" to the tune of "El Manicero", and Fetore Jazz, with a slightly weird version of Kabasele's "Besame Mucho Jacqueline" titled "Esperanser".

Les Amazones (Formation Feminine Orchestre de la Gendarmerie Nationale)
And that brings me to a point which struck me in the catalogue: the great number of covers of songs of the African Jazz side of Congolese music. Particularly Rochereau seems to have made a great impact on Guinean orchestras; his composition "Porti Caliente" is covered by Nimba Jazz, "Mokolo Nakokufa" by Kebendo Jazz, "Tuson" and "Maria Chantal" by Normalien Jazz and "Madina" by Koloun Jazz. Docteur Nico is covered by the Dirou Band ("Motema" = "Angele Ozali Wapi"), by the Djoli Band ("Nico 'sopela'" = "Boya Kobina"), Koloun Jazz ("Nakokoma", which is the correct title) and Kélétigui et ses Tambourinis ("Sukissa" = "Sukisa"). African Jazz's version of Miguel Matamoros' "El Que Siembra Su Maiz" has even been covered three times: by Simandou Jazz, by Kebendo Jazz and by Tomine Jazz.
Franco's "Liwa Ya Wech" also gets covered a few times (by Camayenne Sofa and Orchestre de Kissidougou), but I guess this may have more to do with the fact that Miriam Makeba had a hit with it than with knowledge of the original. Kaloum Star bravely did attempt a version of "Azda".
Les Bantous were apparently also known in Guinée, going by the covers of "Comité Bantou" by Kebendo Jazz and "Makambo Mibale" by Kebaly Jazz. "Tambola Na Mokili", originally by Johnny Bokelo & Conga 68, was even covered by Bembeya Jazz (although this is a rather messy version, which has me doubting if it is by Bembeya), and the Forest Band had its own (great) version of Bokelo's "Mwambe". Finally, even Ryco Jazz has a version; "My Zainatou" was interpreted by Orchestre École Normale d'Instituteurs de Macenta.

If you have visited the collection at the website of the British Library you have probably noticed that a large part of the collection consists of recordings by artists who have never released records on the Syliphone label, - not because they were neglected, but because they were of a later date. The last albums on the Syliphone label were released in 1980, although a few recordings followed, through Diapy Diawara's Bolibana records.
Besides this 'post-Syli' category there is a remarkably large number of Fulani (or Peul) artists which have never been released on Syliphone. My guess is that the recordings in the BL collection represent less than 10 percent of all recordings of this category, and that most recordings were made and released on a local or regional (or even private) level.

I strongly suspect that the cassette I would like to share with you in this post is of the latter category. I have been combing through the BL collection trying to find these songs, but it appears they are not in there. And the artists too have remained undetected.
And that's a pity, because I have no idea who the artists are.
The makers of this cassette have perhaps optimistically assumed that the listeners would recognise the great singers featured on their cassette. And I am sure there are many that actually do, - but not me.
Fortunately the titles are mentioned, although not all. And I am not sure if I have correctly matched titles and songs. It doesn't take a great deal of study to determine that songs A1 to A4 are by the same artist; and it seems more than likely that the songs on side B are all by one, but a different, singer.

The singer in the first four songs seems so confident within his music that he must be a (nationally / regionally / locally?) well-known star. I have been searching for more music in this rare style with the BL collection, but haven't discovered it (so far).
The combination of vocal, organ and balafon in the songs on the B-side leave me with a unsettling feeling that there is something wrong with the speed. But if you listen to the elements on their own there appears to be little wrong with them. Nice....
In between these there is one song which is totally different, but seems to link the A and B side. My guess is that the singer is the same as the one on the other songs on the A-side. The accompaniment is very different from the other songs on the side. Guitar and kora have been exchanged for an obviously programmed rhythm-machine-slash-organ-slash-electronic-thingy. In this case the overall effect is quite pleasant, as it almost sounds like an accordion (and I like those..).

This brings me to one of the major negatives that has come to light in the BL collection: the great orchestras of the past have - since the demise of Syliphone - in many cases been replaced by drum machines, organs and other generally irritating electronic devices. Besides this there seems to be a relatively strong tendency towards individualisation. In Guinée this trend seem much stronger than in 'related' countries such as Mali. I realise that this is related to the disappearance of public funding. But I can't help but feel that this has been amplified as a reaction to the strong control by the collective in the Sekou Touré era.... Hopefully the great collection in the British Library can contribute to breaking this trend, and to a re-emergence of those legendary Guinean orchestras.

Sélection Musicale Guinéenne 91

PS: Please note that a link to an archive of past podcasts has been added to the list of "Also recommended" sites.

December 30, 2015

La femme se plaint

Is there an element linking this and the previous post? The answer is yes. What both artists have in common is a unique and original singing style. And that's not all: they both draw their inspiration from tradition. Although I add that the source of this tradition may not be so clearly defined - and certainly not in ethnomusicological (what?) terms - in the case of the singer who is the subject of this post.

I am sure you have already recognised him from the photo on the sleeve; the subject of this post is Josky Kiambukuta. I am sure I am not the first blogger to post this album, but there is a valid reason why I still would like to share it with you again. This is a special album. First, because it was conceived as an album, and not as a random collection of previously released songs. Secondly, because Josky was the first singer who was allowed to make his own album with the T.P. O.K. Jazz.

Josky was recruited into the O.K. Jazz (by Simaro Lutumba*) after Sam Mangwana to add a different style to the orchestra. As an ex-singer with Docteur Nico's African Fiesta Sukisa and a member of the Orchestre Continental (as was Wuta Mayi) he was firmly rooted in the African Jazz school of Congolese music. As he explained in an interview in 1991 he had been a great fan of Rochereau since his early youth. Obviously his first vocal contributions were in the style of idol (great example), but he soon started making his mark in the O.K. Jazz, and was actively encouraged to develop his own style. Like all musicians within the O.K. Jazz he was also asked to contribute as a composer, which he did with fervour ("Kebana", "Monzo", "Seli-Ja").
In the interview he pinpoints the song "Fariya" as the start of his own style. A style which he traced back to the legendary ensemble San Salvador, who dominated the recordings on the Ngoma label in the first half of the 1950s. He further developed and refined his style in songs like "Ba Pensées", "Amour Violé", "Mobali Amesana Na Ngai", "Toto", "Bisengambi", "Tokabola Sentiment", "Propriétaire" and - of course - "Bimansha" and "Nostalgie". All these songs were hits.

In the 1991 interview Josky indicated that traditional music was another source of inspiration for these songs. He named "Amour Violé" and "Limbisa Ngai" as based on a traditional rhythm from Shaba (now once more named Katanga**). This personal development culminated in the lp "Franco présente Josky Kiambukuta du T.P. O.K. Jazz", an album which he treated with considerable respect and care. This resulted in a true Classic of Congolese music.

And this is a rare feat for an O.K. Jazz album to which Franco himself has not contributed (i.e. he is not playing in these recordings...). What I personally really like in these four songs is the variation which Josky has managed to introduce both in the rhythms and in his singing. He is without a doubt the star in these songs, but none of the songs is the same, and within the songs it is like he is constantly 'feeling his way', almost exploring the right notes. Solidly backing him in all songs are Aimé Kiwakana, Lokombe Ntal and Madilu System. This harmonic backing only acts to emphasise Josky's vocal excellence in all four songs. Just listen to the ease with which he weaves through "Massini" and "Mehida"!

Josky stated in the interview that most of his songs are sung from a perspective of a woman. "La femme se plaint" (the woman complains) as he described it. Keep this in the back of your mind and listen to this album again. It will add another dimension to what is already a masterpiece.

Edipop POP 025 (1983)

* who knew him from the age of 15.
** Josky himself is from Bas-Congo.

December 29, 2015

In control

A few posts to round off this disappointing year...
In the first of these I would like to share with you a cassette by Hawa Dramé. Hopefully you have seen (and perhaps even watched) the videos I posted some time ago (here and here). More persistent fans of the classics of Malian music may have even listened to the two (1 & 2) cassettes I have shared*.
This cassette is different from those two cassettes in so far that I strongly suspect the recordings on this cassette were all made in a studio. Consequently the sound is more refined, even to the point where it can be called 'delicate'.

This cassette is linked to strong personal memories of my travels in Mali in the late 1980s. Particularly in the town and region of Ségou this cassette could be heard on almost every street corner, and even in the taxis-brousse. Listening to songs like "Tunkan Te Dambe Do" I can almost taste the red dust again...

The songs in this cassette are all deeply rooted in the bambara musical tradition. One may be tempted to call this music 'simple', - but this doesn't do justice to Hawa Dramé's brilliant performance.
Take the first song on the B-side for example, "Klawa". The song starts off with a ngoni, which is joined by a second ngoni. Hawa opens after 40 seconds, careful at first; but soon she is in total control. This is her song.
The same can be said for all the songs on this cassette.

This is one of these cassettes which can last you a lifetime. I still discover 'new' things in the songs, and find that my reaction to the music varies with age, mood, circumstances. I particularly like the dynamics in these recordings: Hawa Dramé does not go full-blast all the time, but demonstrates that she stay in control in the wonderfully delicate and subtle parts of her songs too.

SYL 8331

* and if you haven't I strongly advise you to do so...

October 15, 2015


'Tempus fugit', often translated as 'time flies', actually means 'time escapes'. This is how I experience the passing of time; it rushes on and I am running after it trying to catch up.
In this post I would like to share with you a video, which I recorded in 2011 and which I have been meaning to post on this blog ever since. But time has been escaping me, and we are now in 2015.

The recording was made in October 2011, in a bar called Le Tempo in central Bamako. And the name seems very fitting for the music which was performed by a group of clearly seasoned musicians. For walking into the bar was like walking into a time machine, and being transported to the early 1970s.
And perhaps even to a different place. For this music reminded me of legendary artists like Dexter Johnson, Laba Sosseh, Idy Diop, Papa and Mar Seck. Music with a strong Latin or Cuban flavour, hot and languid. Languid in a positive sense: with the ease that comes from an inherited understanding, and not from fanatic practice.

Unfortunately the sound is slighty distorted, but it should give you an idea of the almost unreal quality of this orchestra. The flute player would fit in easily with any top Cuban orchestra. Unfortunately I did not have time to go back and find out who he is, but this man is topnotch. The vocals in these two cleverly linked songs are superb. The harmonies in "Que Humanidad" (the first if the two) are in my opinion better than in Johnny Pacheco's original from the mid-1960s, particularly for the despondent tone. The second song, "Oriente", does not surpass the original, but this is not surprising as the original is by the immortal Cheo Marquetti* when he was singing with Chappottin y sus Estrellas, at a time when they were - rightly - at the top of their fame. But the Tempo band still manages to give the song its own feeling.

Out of character and emphasising that I am not going to be making a habit of this, I would like to add that if you like this 'genre' I can recommend the releases by Terangabeat, noteably those of Idrissa (Idy) Diop, Mar Seck and Dexter Johnson, despite the fact that I get the impression that in 'restoring' the original they may have in some cases overshot the mark.

Returning to the music of Mali: a lot has been written about the Latin influence into the music of the Malian orchestras. While I am inclined to believe that this influence is being overstated, it does not mean there was no influence. Apart from a few musicians who went to, visited or even studied in Cuba (such as Boncana Maiga, who can been seen nowadays presenting a rather unfortunate weekly magazine on modern African music on the French TV5), Mali also went through a Latin 'wave', - as did most countries in Africa, Europe and the Americas**. Often records from the GV-series on the HMV-label (from the 1950s) are cited as a major influence on West African music, but I have my doubts about this. This series contained mainly Cuban son music, and little of this music remains in the West African music of either the 1950s or 1960s. I suspect Mali went along with the worldwide craze in the 1960s.

I had heard from several musicians that there had been orchestras in the era of Modibo Keita which combined Latin with Malian, and even French music. But for decades this music seemed to have been lost in the mist of time (as is the case with far too much music in the African continent). But fortunately Florent Mazzoleni managed to dig up this cassette, which I would like to share with you here. The cassette contains no information apart from the title of the orchestra: Askia Jazz.

This orchestra was reputedly founded in 1960, in the wake of Mali's independence, by pupils of the Lycée Askia Modibo in Bamako. Several musicians claim to have started in this orchestra, but one member who has been confirmed by several sources is the legendary sax player Harouna Barry. I am not quite sure which instrument Harouna Barry played with Askia Jazz, but reports suggest it was not the saxophone, as he only took up playing this instruments years later. He only stayed with Askia Jazz for a few years before moving to Gao, where he worked as teacher. In the mid-1970s he joined Boncana Maiga in Les Maravillas. And ten years later, in the mid-1980s, he was the leader of the Ensemble Instrumental National du Mali before becoming the chef d'orchestre of National Badèma. He remained in this position until his retirement in 2001. Harouna Barry passed away in January 2008.

Other members included Mohamed Cheick Tabouré, who - according to this article - stated that the creation of Askia Jazz was made possible by using the money from the deposits which student had to pay when they joined the Lycée. This money was used to buy instruments in Abidjan. The example of the Lycée Askia Modibo was soon followed by other schools in Bamako.
Tabouré, by the way, is in the news in Mali with some regularity as a leading member and spokesperson of le Mouvement Populaire du 22 mars, which was created to support the plotters of the coup d'état of March 2012.

As per usual I am open to any suggestions with regard to the titles of the 16 songs of this cassette. I have added my suggestions, - but they are just that: suggestions.

Askia Jazz du Lycée Askia Modibo

Many thanks to Florent Mazzoleni for filling in this bit of musical history from Mali!

* but what is surprising is the fact that Marquetti, born in the Occidente of Cuba (Alquízar), should be so melancholic about the Oriente.
** even in the Netherlands we had a spell a Latin madness. I particularly remember this frisky chachacha from my youth.