August 18, 2010

Perfect imperfection

I won't kid you: the late Laba Sosseh (he died nearly three years ago) was not the best singer of the latin-tinged repertoire. There were and are others, with better voices, a better pronounciation of spanish, a more latin feel. I remember an album he did in the late 1970s together with Monguito; Laba got vocally plastered by Monguito...

But personally I don't care. I love Laba Sosseh for his imperfection, the way in which he did not betray his roots in an attempt to be a real latin sonero, - in short: for remaining Laba Sosseh.

The album in this post is not his best. Others (like the one I posted earlier) are more likely to be awarded this label. It's also not his steamiest (this award might go to this cassette). And I am not even going to discuss the sorry state of the vinyl.

Nevertheless, it's authentic Sosseh. Recorded in 1977 for Abou Lassisi's Sacodis label, the lp features Laba accompanied by the 'Special' Liwanza Band. I am not too sure why they are special, - perhaps for the lack of horns (or even a tiny sax). But in their own uncomplicated way they are certainly not bad.

With yet two more versions of the Cuban evergreens "Guantanamera" and "El Manicero" (hooray!), a mumbled "Ay Que No", "Prepare Candela" (but I have no idea what he wants us to do after lighting the stove...), "El Guaguanco" (which I am sure he has at one point also combined with "El Manicero"): it's all great.
My favourites are the two last tracks of both sides. But can anyone explain what the title "No Quiero El Son" has to do with the song? I can understand that he would want to shut up to avoid a quarrel with a girlfriend, but Laba Sosseh not liking son...?
To me the top track of this album is "Conjura". It's got it all: great rhythm, nice instrumental bit, uncomprehensible lyrics, an intriguing title, plus Laba Sosseh: perfect!

Sacodis LS 5-77

August 16, 2010

Super Volta Jazz

When it comes to the music of Burkina Faso I am still very much in the process of discovering and learning. I was aware that infrastructurally Haute-Volta (Upper Volta) was a barren land, with no recording studios and no facilities for pressing records. Only in the 1980s, when Haute-Volta became Burkina Faso, a modest form of recording became possible. I was under the impression that this meant that most Voltaique bands went to Abidjan, Côte D'Ivoire, to record, but I recently read that bands of the Club Voltaique Du Disque (CVD) label travelled to the city of Kumasi in Ghana, - which was probably closer than Abidjan and had the added attraction of a cheaper studio.

I had been lead to believe that orchestras in the Upper Volta of the 1960s and 1970s went without the benefits of a strong cultural (state) policy (as for example in Guinea and Mali) and that financial support of artists and/or bands by the state or public institutions was unheard of. But I recently learned that the Super Volta orchestra was actually founded with sponsorship from Maurice Yaméogo, the first president of Haute-Volta. Or actually I think it was the Typic Band. This band was founded in 1964 or 1965 by a certain Zinsi Ouédraogo, who in 1966 renamed it to Super Volta de la Capitale. Before getting overthrown in a military coup and resigning (on January 3, 1966) Yaméogo provided the Typic Band with the best equipment (his or the government's?) money could buy, thus giving them a rather unique position within Voltaique music, where most orchestras used the equipment provided by the patrons of the bars where they were allowed to play (for a 'competitive' fee). Subsequently Super Volta became the leading band of the CVD label.

I still hope to learn more about this CVD label. It seems to me that some rather smart people have been in charge of this label, judging not only by the great music they have produced, but also by the fact that they managed to survive at all as a label within Haute-Volta.
And talking about great music: the greatest of all the CVD artists was - in my opinion - Traoré Amadou better known as Amadou Ballaké. Florent Mazzoleni, who recently sent me some photos of Ballaké reposing 'chez lui', has sent me another single of this master, recorded for and by the CVD label (so probably in Kumasi, Ghana!). The vinyl quality is perhaps far from optimal, but to a fan (like me) any Ballaké is highly appreciated....

"El Hadji Fasano", on the A-side, opens like a praise song. Ballaké, singing in Dioula, appears to be greeting 'Baba' Fasano. But then in the second line the El Hadji (indicating that the man has done his duty as a muslim and has been on a pilgrimage to Mecca) is linked in one breath to a strong alcoholic beverage! What does it mean? Is the El Hadji a renowned militant in the struggle against alcohol abuse? Or a local producer of moonshine?
And is it me, or is Ballaké citing from Bembeya's "Djamana bara Sabati"? And is the start borrowed from "Loi Cadré"?
So much still to discover......

The B-side again calls up memories of Guinean classics, with hints of "Wara" by Nimba Jazz. There are some lovely bits by Mangue Kondé on lead guitar, and - of course - solid vocals by Ballaké.

Club Voltaique du Disque CVD 53

Volta Jazz, from Bobo-Dioulasso, was founded at around the same time as Super Volta by Idrissa Koné. I suspect that they may have been inspired by a visit of Franco's O.K. Jazz in 1963, or perhaps by Les Bantous, who also toured West Africa in the early 1960s. Although it is hard to find any information about this orchestra I have heard reports that they toured neighbouring countries in the early 1970s. In the mid-1970s they appeared to fade away, but they mysteriously resurfaced in 1977 with a series of releases on the Disques France-Afrique label, two of which I would like to share with you in this post. They also managed (through this Abidjan-based french label?) to get some records released on Sonafric, and I may be tempted to post their lp on that label at a later date.

The first of the two singles contains two rather up-tempo tunes, with what resembles the Voltaique version of a Congolese rumba on the one side ("Tjee Gouana") and a rhythm which might be called a pachanga on the other ("Sankoura"). It seems hard to believe these tracks are from 1977; in all aspects the style seems more 1960s.

Disques France-Afrique LGVD 1.102

The same goes for the two songs on the other single. The rumba "N'Ti Toubabou Kanme" on the A-side appears to be about a conflict with the police. And before you assume that I have a more than very superficial knowledge of dioula or bambara: there is a bit of french in the song after 1'53 when the hero of this song is being addressed by a police officer. What the 'toubabou' (white person) has to do with it, I can only guess.
"Djougou Malola" is the odd one out of these four tracks, as it reminds me not of the music of the two Congo's, but of those wonderful ballads of the early Guinean bands like Orchestre de la Pailotte, Orchestre du Jardin de Guinée and Kebendo Jazz. A lovely well-dosed horn section, great guitar tottering about in the background, nicely proportioned solos: what a delight!! I could do with more of this......

Disques France-Afrique LGVD 1.110

The three singles can also be found here, bundled into one download.

P.S.: Graeme Counsel has added a discography of the CVD label to the (many) discographies on his site.

EDIT August 18, 2010: Scott Arnold was kind enough to put in some effort to clean up the Ballaké, making sure he didn't (unlike the very unfortunate Ouaga Affair CD) ruin the music. You can download the cleaned-up tracks here (sleeve etc. included). Muchas gracias, Scott!!

EDIT October 23, 2015: The front cover of LGVD 1.102 has been added.

August 14, 2010


As has happened a few times before, in the process of writing this post I found that others (in this case Global Groove) have posted the same (see below) album. In this case I am going to completely ignore this. Well perhaps not completely. But I am nevertheless going to post it.

I know I should get over it, but even with the steady process of aging and the tolerance this is supposed to bring I can still get disproportionately irritated about the indiscriminate use of the adjective "African". The World Cup in South Africa provided plenty of opportunities to congratulate/sympathise with/praise etc. the "African" people/organisers/public and what-have-you. Do these commentators, big shots and others seriously think that there is one common factor in this immense and mindboggling variety of peoples, cultures and worlds which can be found in the African continent? Can anyone explain why a Senegalese should be primarily seen as "African", while an Italian is rarely addressed as "European"?
And I could even see the logic of the latter. There is a far greater homogeny between Europeans than there is between the inhabitants of the African continent. There are plenty of reasons why Africa can not be seen as a country. For one thing, infrastructurally Africa is in parts still in the (relative) dark ages. And I could go on, elaborating on the ethnic diversity of individual countries, the vast differences between cultures within a single country etcetera.

So please, think before chucking in "African", while talking about one country in the continent....

Now that I've got that of my chest, let's get to an example of an "African" lp. A multi-country affair, with music from Congo (Zaïre) but released in Nigeria. A rather strange compilation with two part two's and a mistake which wouldn't look out of place with a African (!)/Sonodisc or a Syllart compilation.

Ntesa Dalienst is represented with two of his compositions with Les Grands Maquisards, "Biki" and "Maria Mboka" (misspelled "Mariam Mboka"). The version of "Biki" is by far the longest I know; it's more than three minutes longer than the version on African 360.014 and the one on African 360.155, and even longer than the almost eight minute version on Ngoyarto NG 034. Like "Biki", the wonderful "Maria Mboka", with Diana, Kiesse Diambu and Lokombe in the chorus, is one of the many highlights in the career of Ntesa (who sadly passed away in 1996).

The first two tracks certainly merit their selection in any compilation of Congolese music. I can think of few songs which are more typical of Johnny Bokelo's Conga 68 (Success) than "FC Dragons", and I can see how the break after 2'52 would appeal to a Nigerian dance crowd.
I can only speculate, but it appears to me that "Lisumu Lisango" by the Elegance Jazz was (also) included for the 'rootsy' feel of the song. And this may also be the reason for the selection of the two part two's. Verckys' "Mfumbwa 2" would undoubtedly get Nigerian 'booties' shaking.... The same goes for Orchestre Bella-Bella's "Sola 2" with the 'get down' break after only 50 seconds.

As a European I am strongly inclined to look up the first part of these part two's. I would like to argue that in both cases these are an essential part of the composition. The song "Mfumbwa" is just not the same without the "bolingo " after 1'11, the subsequent clucking, and - of course - the great horns.
And with "Sola", composed by Mulembu Tshibau, who apparently died this year, I get goosebumps from Pépé Kallé's backing vocal in part 1 in particular and the vocal harmonies in general, plus the horns, the bass player (!) ... and I could go on.

So, European as I am, I am adding the complete tracks as an extra to this post.

The last track, by the way, is not by Bella-Bella, but - of course - by Verckys and his orchestre Vévé (and can also be found on the African 360.014 lp I mentioned above). This song "Na komitunaka" ("I keep asking myself") has been the subject of many studies. In it Verckys asks why all the saints are white. Why is God not an African?

Soundpoint SOP 042

P.S. It appears that this lp has been released at least twice in Nigeria. This version, which I bought at least 25 years ago, is on the Soundpoint label, while the lp Global Groove posted is on a label called Deram.
Has anyone ever seen the volumes 1, 2 or 3???

August 07, 2010

Morogoro marvels

If you ask me, this is an album which should be put on the World Heritage List. All human beings should at least be made aware of the existence of this music by the immortal Mbaraka Mwinshehe and the Morogoro Jazz.

This is certainly one of my very favourite albums by Mbaraka. When it comes to Mbaraka at his Mbaraka-st, you can hardly get any better than this. From the slightly out of tune horns in the opening track "Mapenzi Ya Nitesa" to the master's pizzicato plucking in the last track "Dr. Klerruu", there is no hint of pretentiousness, no trace of conceit. I almost feel like I shouldn't be listening to it: this music wasn't made so some idiot Dutchman would listen to it. The musicians can't possibly have been thinking that they would at one point be heard by a world-wide audience.

I don't think it would be wise to write about the individual songs. I won't write about how I love the breaks in "Matusi Ya Nini?" and "Pesa No.1", or the brilliant guitar explosions in "Mitindo Yetu", the classic "Dr. Klerruu", the Franco-esque climax of "Matusi Ya Nini", the amazing.....

Words won't do justice to the extasy this music can bring. I'll leave you to listen - probably in awe - to these Morogoro marvels.....

Polydor POLP 544 or POLP 544

August 06, 2010


Pronounced "bah-bee", to be precise. A track which first appeared on the 1991 album "L'Orchestre T.P. O.K. Jazz (Héritage de Franco) avec le Commandant Josky Kiambukuta", and - like all the tracks on that album - composed by Josky himself.
More significant is the subtitle of this album: "Les Mayeno A Gogo", - where "mayeno" refers to breasts, and not the young variety, but those of a mother. While I am told that the "mayeno" is actually a traditional dance of the Bantandu, it is clear that the T.P. O.K. Jazz after Franco's death made an effort to stay "with it".

R to L: Chécain, Aimé, Josky, Ndombe, Diatho (Brussels, 1991)
With Franco still alive things were very different. His songs were always the subject of public scrutiny, and his lyrics always led to popular discussion, as they dealt with issues concerning the average Congolese, the man in the street.
Franco's death meant the end of an era and the start of a period of great unrest. Within a year of his death many musicians, including longtime members of the O.K. Jazz Isaac Musekiwa and Dessoin Bosuma, died - often under mysterious circumstances. Rumours of sorcery (never far away where Franco was concerned) and treachery were rampant. Every incident was viewed with suspicion.

With Franco gone, the remaining members of the T.P. O.K. Jazz and those who had (re)joined the band (Carlito, Ndombe) looked around and saw that the public's focus was rapidly shifting towards other, younger musicians. Franco's death also offered new possibilities: Franco had never been somewhat 'reserved' in adding synthesizers and electronic effects to his songs, stating that he wanted to make sure that the public knew it was Franco who was playing. And Franco had been quite strict when it came to moonlighting outside of the O.K. Jazz.

In this setting the regrouped T.P. O.K. Jazz introduced a new dance, the "mayeno". In retrospect I doubt whether this was a smart move. Franco's sexually explicit songs weren't sexually explicit just for the fun of it; he wanted to draw attention to the perversity in parts of Congolese society. Franco was always a 'naughty boy'; when he made sexual references in his songs, these were never out of character. With the "mayeno" Simaro's T.P. O.K. Jazz stepped out off character. They attempted to compete with bands like Zaiko Langa Langa, who in the early 1990s introduced a dance called "Etutana, Yango Na Yango" (which I gather translates into "Bang them together, this and that!"). Although the mayeno seems innocent compared to this, it just didn't seem right to see the middle-aged frontmen of a respected, 35-year old orchestra on stage pretending to juggle their tits....

Musically Josky remained more in style, continuing his line of songs in the San Salvador tradition he had started with "Fariya", - a song which he repeats in a medley on the 1991 lp. In fact, all the tracks on the 1991 lp are in this style, including "Baby".
The lp can be found, by the way, on the Global Groove blog.

Instead of the lp I would like to share with you this remarkable video of Josky performing "Baby" with Zaiko Langa Langa. Joining Josky in this song are his O.K. Jazz colleagues Madilu System and (later) Lukoki Diatho. Malage De Lugendo is also in this video, but had already moved to Zaiko. I estimate this video to be from 1991, but please correct me if I am wrong (it can't be a lot older, as I copied it in 1993).

By the way, you may have noticed that YouTube is now allowing videos with a maximum length of 15 minutes. I have therefore reposted "Testament Ya Bowule" (see here and here), Dalienst's "Munsi" (the Abidjan version, see this post) and Hawa Dramé's "Noumou Foli" to YouTube.
Hawa Dramé:

P.S.: The great photo on the right was taken by Aboubacar Siddikh during a rehearsal.

August 03, 2010

More Djata

This is the sixth post dedicated to the music of the Super Djata Band ( 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5), and certainly not the last. Although I haven't checked, I think it is safe to say that this music is increasingly hard to find in Mali, - let alone outside of Mali. So besides sharing this music with you, conserving it for posterity is a motive for this post.

This lp is the second of two volumes which were released in the early 1980s by the Musique Mondiale label in Abidjan (Côte D'Ivoire), the first of which I posted in December 2009. There are only five tracks on this album and three of these are slow, - which for those of you who only know their European releases may come as something of a surprise. The two tracks on side A, "Yacouba" and "Konadou", have been repeated on a later album, which I posted in December 2008. Both these tracks are, however, considerably longer on this lp.

The B-side contains a cover of a song made famous by Coumba Sidibé, which can be found on the cassette I posted earlier. On that cassette the track is - probably erroneously - titled "Fakoye Noumouye" (which seems to refer to "Fakoly" and "Noumou", which in turn suggests that the song is about blacksmiths). On the Djata lp the more popular title of "Yamba" ("happiness") is used. I advise you to take the time to compare the two versions. Coumba's version was recorded and released a few years later than Flani's/Djata's versions and therefore may have a 'better' or cleaner sound. And Coumba is probably the singer with the more powerful voice. But I really like the pentatonic twists in Flani's version.

The second song, "Mali den", is sung by Mamadou 'Johnny' Diabaté, who with the Djata Band was responsible for the few Malinké songs in their repertoire.
"Bimoko Magnin", the last song on the album, is a rather bizarre duet of Alou Fané and Flani, with Flani singing in a falsetto voice.

Returning to the A-side, "Yacouba" is a song which was quite a success for the Djata Band in the early 1980s. It is an emotional tribute to Yacouba, a dancer of the Ballet National, who was killed by bandits in Dakar in 1973 at the age of 45. This Yacouba was the star of a dance called "Gomba", a sacred dance of the Bambara of Djitimou. Others who have passed away (Aboubacar Demba Camara, Sory Kandia Kouyaté and Biton's Sadio 'Aw' Traoré) were also commemorated in the song. Those who have seen the Djata Band during their 1980s concerts in Europe and Japan may remember the emotional moment when the whole band knelt down during this song. Flani in 1987 recalled a performance in Bamako when large parts of the audience started crying; he himself felt the tears rolling down his cheeks...

Here is a video, of a concert recorded by Malian television in the early 1980s, of the Djata Band playing this song. The quality of this video is unfortunately very poor, but the music and the performance should amply compensate for this...

Personally I have great difficulties watching this video, with memories of Flani and Alou, who have both joined Yacouba, blurring my vision....

There is one song remaining in this album: "Konadou". This is a song which strongly reminds me of Alou Fané. Listening to the version on this album you will probably be asking why, as Flani is the lead vocalist and Alou doesn't even sing in the chorus. But if you listen to the version of this song recorded live during a concert in the Melkweg in Amsterdam, on March 20, 1987, and more specifically to Alou's 'climactic intervention' after 5'20, you will probably understand why I associate this song with this great (and sadly missed) man.

Musique Mondiale MAD 004

"Konadou" live 1987