November 08, 2009

Kwamy & Youlou

Within weeks after Franco's death in October 1989 Polygram Kenya released a series of ten records (and matching cassettes) which they named "In Memoriam Grand Maitre Franco". The albums contained a selection of songs from the 1960s and 1970s. Some of these were re-issues of earlier Polygram albums, - like Volume 8, which had been released five years earlier as "10 Years Ago". So far I have not found an earlier version of this album, which is the second in the series.

As with most (if not all) of the lp's the sleeve of this volume has no relevance whatsoever to the music. Judging by the costumes Franco and Simaro are wearing I assume the photo is from 1980 or 1981 (see for example this video of a performance in Abidjan in 1980), while the music is from around 1970.

So, seen from a positive angle, there is really nothing to distract us from the music. And - as with other albums of this series - there is more than enough to enjoy in that.

The lp opens with two superb tracks featuring the vocal talent of Youlou Mabiala backed by Kwamy. The latter had returned to the flock, after having insulted Franco (with African Fiesta, in "Faux Millionaire" and other songs) and after repeatedly provoking an insurgence against Franco (with Orchestre Révolution). According to Graeme Ewens (in "Congo Colossus") Simaro "prevailed on Franco to take the singer back", much to the disgust of Vicky Longomba. It is likely that Kwamy's return contributed to the split between Franco and Vicky, later in 1970.
While Kwamy may not have had the same brilliance as before, there is ample proof of his vocal qualities in his last period with the O.K. Jazz*. In both "Nakweyi Tapis" and "Celita" Kwamy's backing vocal is of an exceptional quality, fitting to Youlou's lead like a velvet glove. Youlou too adds some honey to his at times harsh vocals, and Franco contributes with a few unusual shuffles on guitar.

After these two songs there is a rather surprising experiment involving a drum kit, in "Beya". While the O.K. Jazz did use a drum kit in their live performances it was difficult to incorporate the noisy instrument in their studio recordings. In "Beya", which sounds like it was recorded in the same session as "Caisse D'Epargne" (from Volume 4), the volume of the kit is still rather 'suppressed', but nevertheless very noticeable. The interplay between Franco and the rhythm section in the sèbène is certainly interesting.

The B-side opens with "Georgette 1 & 2", a track of which only the second part has appeared on CD (CD 36572), - another example of the artistic amputations of which Sonodisc can be accused over the last decades. I am not sure about the lyrics, but I have a feeling that the staccato singing in the second part may be related to the remarks about the cold in the intro.
The song, composed by Franco, has some brilliant 'intertwined' vocals (after 3'25, and again after 5'28 and 6'58) by Franco, Youlou and Lola Chécain. To me this is one of Franco's classic masterpieces.

The lp is concluded by the 'normal' version of Celi Bitshou's "(Infidelité) Mado".


* Ewens' report that Kwamy died in 1974 is - by the way - a mistake. He in fact died in 1982.

1 comment:

Wanduni said...

Kenyan vinyl ... wow! Thanks for posting.