July 04, 2010

50 Years

Four days ago I had finally found some time to sit down (overcoming obstacles like the sweltering heat and family members claiming attention) and started writing this post when my computer without any kind of warning shut down and rebooted. After the initial stages of panic and uncontrolled swearing I discovered that another hard disk had committed suicide. Having just overcome the loss of a hard disk of exactly the same brand, type and size you can imagine that my trust in the Korean manufacturer of this hardware has come to an all-time low. I am still in the process in trying to recover the most essential files (and unfortunately in this case some irreplaceable audio...) from the disk.
Anyway, here is the post I was writing a few days ago.

It may have escaped your notice, but on June 30 it was exactly 50 years ago that Congo regained its independence. And in writing this I realise that this is a historic inaccuracy, as Congo never existed as a 'modern' state before King Leopold claimed it as his private property in the 1870s.
For the Congolese the late 1950s were a period of great expectations, and perhaps even greater promises. Musically the preparations for independence had started way back in the late 1940s, when the first recordings were made of 'native' artists. The development of a local music business in the 1950s coincided the rise of the 'évolués', i.e. the 'civilised native', who had been educated in the western ways by the Belgians colonisers.

Perhaps the best-known musical exponent of this new middle class was Joseph Kabasélé, who later became known as Le Grand Kallé. Educated by the Belgians missionaries and having set his first steps on the musical path as a choirboy, Kabasélé had ambitions to become the Congolese equivalent of a French chansonnier. In 1951 Kabasélé started hanging out at the Opika studio of the Lebanese Benetar brothers. And as he was consider something of an intellectual, having had slightly more schooling than the average pre-independence Congolese, and as he had the good looks to attract a female audience, he was soon invited to join the then leading performers of the Opika label as a singer. After some hesitant songs with Georges Doula (which I will post later), Kabasélé soon gained confidence and started delivering some of the hits which soon made him the star of the Opika label, and would lay the foundation for the African Jazz school* of Congolese music.
It is hard to pinpoint the date when the band African Jazz was founded. Some sources say that the name was used as early as 1952. Others link the name to the recordings in which Belgian sax player Fud Candrix played with the Opika musicians, including a session with Kabasélé which definitely put the turbo on Kallé's career (subject of a future post). Alternatively the foundation is linked to the recording of the song "African Jazz", - which happens to be on the lp I would like to share with you in this post.

The lp is a collection of songs from the 1950s and early 1960s, with five tracks originally recorded for the Opika label (a6 and b1 to b4) and seven recorded for the Esengo label. One of the Esengo tracks may seem out of place, not only because it doesn't feature African Jazz or Kabasélé, but also because it is sung by Rossignol (accompanied by Rock-a-Mambo), who was an exponent of the O.K. Jazz school. But Rossignol had moved to Esengo when it was founded on January 1, 1957, and recordings were made in various 'line-ups'.

You may recognise the track "African Jazz" from the 'exotic' East-German record I posted earlier.
The version of "Kay Kay" ("Kai Kai" on the sleeve), 'borrowed' by Nico** from the Cuban classic "La Galletana" (which I suspect was originally recorded by Orquesta America del 55' in 1957), is the oldest version. It was later re-recorded for the Surboum African Jazz label.
I think two of the Opika tracks, "Kele" and "Napekisi Yo Mo Nalingi Yo", are with Fud Candrix on sax, and two are clearly (he is named!) with the Rhodesian sax player Isaac Musekiwa, who had been dug up from (then) Elisabethville (Lubumbashi) to replace Candrix. In the fifth track another Belgian can be heard: Gilbert Warnant, a radio journalist, who helped out the Benetar brothers not only as a talent scout, but also as a Solovox (organ) player.

All in all this is a great collection, with a fine overview of Kallé's work in the 1950s and early 1960s. All tracks are great, but some are perhaps even greater. Charles Kibongue's "Ngai Mpe Elombe" is one of these, with its driving rhythm and almost manic guitar playing. And "Ba Nzambe" ("God's people"), with its dense orchestration. And "Napekisi Yo Mo Nalingi Yo" is one of these songs that has been sung to me by several Congolese when they - often with great nostalgia - recalled le bon vieux temps of the early African Jazz......

AJM 005

* Franco once described the difference between his O.K. Jazz school and the African Jazz school as "a matter of influences": the African Jazz school has tended to incorporate more foreign (French, latin) influences, while the O.K. Jazz has predominantly been inspired by Congolese sources.
** and which was once - with considerable pride - named as Nico's greatest composition by a man who claimed to be Nico's nephew.


Anonymous said...

bad luck, sorry to hear that...

reservatory said...

Wonderful Grand Kalle here! All existing as ones and zeros on little voodoo boxes. I've lost amazing stuff more than once, forcing me to have two and even three copies of files. Digital technology is a wonderful thing until it's not. Good luck retrieving all your treasures! PS I posted a Rock-A-Mambo comp @
in case anyone's interested. THANKS again for this one!

Anonymous said...

sorry to hear about your hdcrash.
Maybe the heat of the last days is responsible for it as well; hds don't like heat so some put a dying hd in the fridge, prior to the last recover.

Timothy said...


Commiserations on the fate that befell your hard disk. You might find it handy to keep your data on an external, removable hard disk and only connect it to the pc when you need it. This will give you the technical license to format your fixed hard disk whenever the operating system kicks up a fit. That's what I've been doing ever since my HP machine became upredictably capricious.

Thanks so much for posting this wonderful music.

Anonymous said...

love the history behind the music! even if I already have the music as in this case

Please always have backup hard drives to to backups!

wuod k