September 13, 2010

Osadebe encore

There is always room for one more album by the consistent highlife king, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe. This one, from 1981, has all the usual ingredients (see older posts, here, here, here and here): something about a social club, including the naming of all the board members, recited steadily by Osadebe, with sung interruptions, spacious spatial guitars occasionally shifting from left to right (and back), the evolution of rhythmic patterns, gradually leading to a trancelike state, a sense of well-being*, perhaps even extasy (try dancing...), followed by blissful satisfaction.
With this in mind it is easy to understand the Chief's smile on the back of the sleeve.

Added bonus on this album is the repetition on the B-side of one of my favourite tracks from his 1970s repertoire. You may remember "Onu Kwulunjo" from "Festac Explosion 77 Vol.2". On that lp the song only lasts 4'31; here it goes on for more than 14 minutes. On the downside I have to add that the sound quality of the earlier lp is significantly better, - and not only as a result of a better state of the vinyl.

Polydor POLP 056

* I was nearly tempted to write "wellness", but luckily managed to control myself... (phew)

September 11, 2010


Where was I when the planes hit the Twin Towers? I was sitting amongst the dignitaries, watching the opening of the first new style Semaine National des Arts et de la Culture (SNAC).

As Graeme Counsel, who was there with Daouda 'Flani' Sangaré and me, put it in his thesis: "The festival commenced with a grand opening ceremony held on Avenue de l’Independence in front of an assembled crowd of dignitaries. Under a hot sun each region and district paraded along the avenue giving the audience a sample of what was in store for the competition proper. Most performers wore traditional costumes and were accompanied by a variety of ensembles performing both modern and traditional instruments. Dancers spun around, acrobats threw each other in the air, which throbbed with the sounds of each of the performance troupes. The soirée for the opening night was to be held by the region of Sikasso, the highlights of which were their orchestra and dance troupe, the latter performing with gourds covered in cowrie shells which supplied a perfect rhythmic accompaniment."

I can add little but some photos, plus a recording made of the 'chant solo' of the Troupe de Sikasso and the dance troup who performed with the cowrie covered gourds.
And the music of this chant solo is here, and the music of the dance troup can be found here.

I will post some more recordings from the 2001 SNAC later.

September 09, 2010

Sali & Alou

Some of you may recall my earlier post about the cassette "Formidable" by the great Sali Sidibé. I mentioned the denial by Alou Fané of his participation to that album. I have to add that I had heard rumours - of the usual 'radio trottoir' kind - of an 'involvement' between the two. And to add to the mystery, my question provoked not only a forceful denial, but also an argument between Alou and his friend and musical partner Daouda 'Flani' Sangaré, followed by a meaningful smile from Flani to me. Meaningful in the sense that I gathered it was probably wise to avoid pressing the issue.

I am happy to say that part of the mystery has been solved, through the aid of Michael from Switzerland, who was able to provide us with a copy of the lp which he has allowed me to share with you in this post. Presumably the second lp to be released on the "Disco Club de la Bagoué" label (the first one, featuring Alou and Flani, I have posted earlier), this album produces proof that Alou Fané has indeed played with Sali Sidibé! In fact, he is named on the sleeve as one of the two musicians accompanying Sali, - the other being guitarist Madou Traoré.
Alou Fané in 1986 [photo: Isabelle Vigier]
The album was released in 1980, which in my experience doesn't necessarily mean that it was recorded the same year (especially as the recordings were made by Boubacar Traoré at Radio Mali...). It does mean, however, that it is probably Sali Sidibé's very first album.

Alou once told me that when he went to Bamako (coming from a little village called Koungoba in the Sikasso region) at the age of 26 there were only three known kamalen n'goni players (including himself, but excluding Flani - who also played the kamalen n'goni). While Alou had been inspired primarily by the donso n'goni playing of a friend of his father, which he subsequently converted into an original kamalen n'goni style by integrating other local (mainly balafon) styles and rhythms, Sali's musical background, Alou told me, was with the sogonigou (or sogonikou), which is primarily a dance, with drums and a female chorus and a female solo singer (both Coumba Sidibé and - later - Oumou Sangaré also sang with these dances, by the way). Sali ended up with the Ensemble Instrumental National, while Alou joined the Ballet National, both as a musician and a dancer.

The combining of these two talents has resulted in a spectacular album. From the first notes of Alou's n'goni it is just bursting with energy and sheer power. And not just because of Alou's fantastic n'goni playing, but also by Sali's assertive vocal.

In the second track "Barry", a sad tale about a youngster who leaves his country in search of riches but only finds death, Alou can be heard vocally (after 1'22). How cruel is fate, given that Alou left for Europe, only to return to his own country to face death.....

I can not find any weakness in this album (except perhaps that it is only 22 minutes long). So I have no hesitation in stating that this is the best I have ever heard of Sali Sidibé!

Disco Club de la Bagoué F.T. 002

September 06, 2010


I don't know about you but I am in need of an energy boost. Here in the Netherlands the nation is on the verge of slipping into the doldrums, and I suspect it is pretty much the same where you live.

I have found over the years that in these situations it is best to draw inspiration from those musical classics of the Syliphone label. Personally I already get a good kick up the backside from reading the inspirational sleeve notes of Justin Morel Junior. Great reading! "Le souvenir c'est le ciment de l'amitié, le sel de l'amour qui ne veut oublier le passé. C'est le symbole de la fidelité" (loosely translated: "the remembrance is the cement of friendship, the salt of love that does not want to forget the past. It is the symbol of loyalty"). Wow!
Don't ask me what it means, but I already feel a lot better!

The music that goes with these scintillating sentences is even better!! This lp , titled "Mankan" (= noise) is the third on the Syliphone label by the 22 Band from Kankan, and in my opinion the best. This is quite an achievement, because the other two are brilliant. Right from the first notes of the first track there is a vitality, an energy.....

The A-side is dominated by the guitars and the frantic rhythm section. I don't know about the Unité and the Vigilance, cited in the second track "Lawosse" as being the national motto (or at least the motto of the J.R.D.A. youth movement), but on Action the 22 Band seem to be doing very well. "Tout explose de vie" ("Mankan"), "éclatement rythmique" ("Sin Kon Mina"): very true!

But the 22 Band have saved the best for the very last. The B-side is the 22 Band in its best form. With the horns which already impressed on SLP 67, with an organ surging and undulating through "Sekou N'Fa"... The bit where the organ comes back into focus after just over 3 minutes is one of those unforgettable highlights of Guinean music (and there are many!!).
The last track, "Série", is like a majestic final statement of this momentous album. I think Justin has captured it perfectly: "C'est la poésie chantée de l'amoureux heureux qui se perd consciemment dans ses vérités sentimentales. Une balade au gré de guitares cajoleuses et d'un chanteur romantique. Les souffleurs annoncent les grands moments de l'oeuvre". I am not sure what to think of the bit about the fondling guitars, but the romantic image of loosing oneself consciously in ones sentimental truths: yes, I can see that....

Syliphone SLP 68

September 03, 2010

Bossa nova

I can still get very worked up about the barefaced con-job the catholic church and its associates pulled on us when I was a young boy. In those days in the late 1950s and early 1960s we were led to believe that those poor lost souls in the Congo were running around butt naked and without a grain of rice to eat. Good little catholic boys and girls like myself were encouraged to save the aluminium tops of milk bottles, which would - in some mysterious way - help to put an end to the misery of these downtrodden children of God.
It took me almost a decade to find out that I had been the victim of a world-wide conspiracy! Instead of butt naked and starving, in the Congolese capital Léopoldville they were living it up, with bars and music on every corner, the latest fashion, and - come to think of it - all the modern comforts we enjoyed at the time. In those days it was getting fashionable for women to wear trousers (well at least lady trousers...). Ladies with slightly loose morals were seen wearing wigs (I still have a trauma over a wig one of my aunts used to wear). Folk with a bit of money could be seen driving around on a Mobylette (or little egg, as we used to call these motorbikes).

It is exactly about this world that Franco is singing in his song "Quatre Boutons". In fact, he names the Mobylette itself as a symbol of modern life in Léopoldville. Marie, the female subject of the song, has acquired this motorbike through the opening of four buttons. And the four buttons seem to be a reference to the garment this woman opened: a pair of trousers. In those days before the "Recours A L'Authenticité" of Mobutuism it was just as normal for a modern Congolese woman to wear trousers as it was for a progressive Dutch girl. The fact that she received the motorbike plus a wig from a married man, with the implication of sexual favours which had been performed as payment for these modernités caused quite a stir in the more conservative parts of post-colonial Congo (as I am sure it would have done in the Netherlands). Franco defended himself, as he did later with songs like "Paka Lowi", "Hélène" and "Jacky", by arguing that he was only singing about what was happening in daily life. Besides, he was continuing a theme which he started earlier, with tracks like "Ngai Marie Nzoto Ebeba".
"Quatre Boutons" was one of the songs that led Mobutu to appoint a censorship commission a year later....

"Quatre Boutons" is on the A-side of this record on the Pathé label, which get its EP status from the B-side. Of the two tracks on this side, "Didi" and "Jean-Jean", I don't know the story. But it seems likely that "Jean-Jean" is about Franco's friend and bodyguard, who judging by the stories told by contemporaries also acted as an intermediary in Franco's personal affairs. If you listen carefully you will hear his name mentioned in other songs.

You may have noticed that the (front) sleeve of this EP does not mention the O.K. Jazz, but instead refers to the artists as "Orchestre Franco". I remember one of the members of the O.K. Jazz talking about Franco's struggles with (especially French) record companies; if I remember correctly some records were released under this name to circumvent a clause in a contract with another record company. I have tried to recall who told me this, but so far have been unsuccessful. If anyone has more details, please let us know.

While the tracks on the first Pathé EP have been re-released on lp ("Quatre Boutons") and cd (all), those of the second have so far escaped reproduction - let alone digitisation. And that is a huge pity.

This extraordinary collection of marvels opens with Franco's interpretation of a bossa nova, and, as if this is not enough, it is a version of a song made famous by Charles Aznavour (see this great video from 1963) AND it is sung by a woman.
And that's where the mystery starts.
"Miss Bora"
Because who is this singer? It is clear that this is the same lady who sings "Mosika Okeyi Zonga Noki"(on Sonodisc CD 36553). But who is she?
Aboubacar Siddikh suspects she is Henriette Bora Uzima (or Boranzima, which is it?), but I have my doubts. Henriette, nicknamed "Miss Bora" by Rochereau, started off with the O.K. Jazz in 1963 but moved to Rochereau's African Fiesta in 1964 or 1965. I have never read or heard of her recording with the O.K. Jazz, and there is at least one recording of her with African Fiesta. Comparing the singer in this song, a version of the Cuban evergreen "Guantanamera", with the singer in the two O.K. Jazz songs I myself don't hear any similarities. I am including both "Guantanamera" and "Mosika Okeyi Zonga Noki" so you can judge for yourself. I am curious to know what you think.

Apart from the female lead the song is certainly noteworthy for Franco's lightfooted guitar flutterings. But musically it is blown away (in my opinion at least) by the second track on the A-side, "Ba Musicien Ba Mema Mgambo". To me any track with Kwamy is a treat. I think he is backed by Edo Nganga in this track. And I love this staccato singing, but it really takes off when Franco takes control after 1'44. If you liked "Dr. Klerruu" by Mbaraka Mwinshehe: here's where he got the inspiration!!

The B-side opens with a kind of Hank Marvin guitar, but soon switches into a real Franco style bolero, with both Vicky Longomba and Kwamy alternately taking the lead. I can never get enough of these boleros, but I am slightly (only slightly though) disappointed by the lack of 'intervention' by Franco.....
After "Jose Maria" there is another song in the typical rumba style of the mid-1960s O.K. Jazz. "Trouble Trouble" features Vicky singing the lead and again ends (after 2'00) with Franco demonstrating yet another technique in his guitar playing.
The only problem I have with this EP is that the music ends after only 13 minutes....

Pathé EG 926
Pathé EG 930
Guantanamera/Mosika Okeyi Zonga Noki

Alternatively you can download all the songs in one file.

P.S.: the photo on the front of the Pathé EG 926 sleeve (by Gilles Sala, as is the photo on the front of EG 930!) appears to be of the mosque in Bamako. A rather strange choice, considering the songs...

UPDATE March 11, 2014: I have found an alternative version of "Je T'Attends" which appears to credit the singer: see the label on the right.
And Marcelle Bibi is more than likely Marcelle Ebibi, who was a singer at CEFA. She sung with Bill Alexandre, who introduced the electric guitar into Congolese music in the mid-1950s. Readers of Gary Stewart's "Rumba On The River" may remember this photo of her and a very colonial looking Bill Alexandre (in shorts).

September 01, 2010


I have - again - been hit by a sudden interruption of service on the part of the network provider. The problem appears to have been solved, so I hope to get back to posting tomorrow.

These challenges are slowly getting the better of me and are increasing my desire to be off and away. But I still have four weeks to go until I can do that....

Anyway, I will see what I can do to compensate for time lost.

As an appetizer here is a single by Orchestre Poly-Rythmo. I especially like the B-side: a version of "Que No Muera El Son", another multi-covered Cuban classic. I am not sure, but I think it was first performed by Cheo Marquetti. The song was also covered by Franco in the 1960s. I just love these mumbled gobbledygook-hispano tracks...

Polydisco PD.03