December 20, 2010


Lola Djangi 'Chécain', 1974
You may remember my earlier post in which I described Lola Djangi 'Chécain' as a singer from the 'old' (1960s) O.K. Jazz style. In this post I would like to focus more closely on this singer, who sadly died in 1992.

For most listeners Chécain will not be the easiest singer to recognise. For one thing, he usually acted as backing vocalist. And, perhaps more importantly, his voice matched his personality: unobtrusive - bordering on unpretentious - with a tendency towards the melancholic. Amongst the 'heavyweights' of the Tout Puissant O.K. Jazz he was not one to elbow himself into the limelight.
On the lp "In Memoriam Grand Maître Franco Vol. 9" he sings on a remarkably high percentage of the tracks: four out of the seven tracks. And of these four, his contribution to the song "Bodutaka" (composed by Lutumba Simaro) can be described as 'typical'. The song is dominated by Sam Mangwana and Josky Kiambukuta, with a 'cameo appearance' by Michel Boyibanda, who is allowed to do the third solo part. Chécain can only be heard in the background, when the three other vocalists do their solos, and 'animating' when Franco sets off into the sebene.

Chécain with Sam Mangwana
Far less typical is the fact that of the four tracks no less than two were composed by Chécain. These are in my opinion two of the best songs he has made for the T.P. O.K. Jazz. For one thing both songs feature Chécain sings with or alongside Sam Mangwana. A combination of voices which drew Mangwana, coming from the African Jazz/Fiesta side of Congolese music, into the O.K. Jazz style. And then there is of course Franco.....

But let's start at the beginning. This ninth volume of the "In Memoriam" series, which was released by Polygram Kenya shortly after Franco's death at the end of 1989, starts of with a Part Two. I can only guess why Polygram decided to select "Assitou" again, after they had already included the full version (part 1 and part 2) in Volume 1*. Maybe they were compensating for the inclusion of only the first part on "Fifteen Years Ago Vol.4" (ASLP 1024) a year earlier?
I am not complaining, however, as there can not be enough releases of this superb example of Franco's "let's run down the Kilimandjaro" chauffage (after 3'15). "Terrible", indeed. I strongly advise you to also take note of the complex patterns of rhythm guitars and Mpudi Decca's passionate bass playing.

"Zando Ya Tipo Tipo" is not only an interesting song for its lyrics (see Aboubacar Siddikh's YouTube version), but also for the extraordinary combining of the voices of composer Michel Boyibanda and Josky Kiambukuta. Both have voices with a tendency towards a 'coppery' sound, but the effect is strenghtened because Boyibanda sings the (higher) lead part, - and Franco takes it to another level of 'copperyness' with the sharp sound of his guitar.

The third song, titled "Bano Brekete" on this lp but "Mowunbu Ya Makanisi" on Pathe 2 C006 15717, starts off as a regular duet of Franco (composer) with his pupil Youlou Mabiala, but takes a turn into another direction after 2'22, with Franco experimenting with a new style of pizzicato.

Chécain, July 9, 1991 (photo: A. Siddikh)
And this is where we get to the first of Chécain's compositions on this album. "Lukika", like "Mele", offers another opportunity to enjoy the magical combination of the voices of Sam Mangwana and Chécain, with Chécain following Sam like a shadow. As per usual Chécain is very active as an animateur, in the classic O.K. Jazz style of people like Vicky Longomba before him, i.e. as a kind of commentator in the instrumental bits of the song. Chécain himself has stated that Josky is also singing in this song. If he is, he has managed to stay inaudible; or perhaps he is duplicating the singing of Chécain. The song contains no vocal solo, the duet stays intact until Franco breaks loose after 3'49, with Chécain continuing the animation. Franco's solo, by the way, is a fantastic example of his masterful use of only a very limited amount of chords...

While the songs on the A-side are from 1974, or even earlier, I suspect the B-side was recorded later, and in blatant stereo. The side opens with my favourite from this album: "Toboyana Kaka". The name on the sleeve, "Todutaka Kaka", is clearly an error, perhaps caused by copying part of the following title. Chécain explained the context and the lyrics to Aboubacar Siddikh and me in an interview which took place in the appartment where the T.P. O.K Jazz was staying during their European tour in the summer of 1991. The audio can be found here, and a translation into english here.
Looking back now, nearly twenty years later, I am fascinated by the obvious obsession about the photos, which I have noticed with other Africans too (and also with some Latin-Americans). Especially in the modern age of digital photos any worrying about retrieving photos from someone you once loved seems futile. Perhaps it has to do with the constant threat of witchcraft, which seems especially strong in Congo? Is he afraid that she is going to use the photos to harm him? I wish now I had had the alertness to ask him this....

I think it is safe to assume that the next song, "Bodutaka", was recorded in the same session. The singers are the same, with Sam and Josky backed by Boyibanda and Chécain. Interestingly Franco's guitar is on the left, while the rhythm guitar of Lutumba Simaro is on the right. Especially in the solo from 4'10 on Simaro appears to be trying hard to balance Franco.... Again, Decca is very hyperactive on the bass.

Remarkably Chécain's voice can be best distinguished in Youlou's "Ledi", possibly also recorded in the same session. From 1'40 he can be heard loud and clear on the right, while Youlou, Sam and Josky and again Youlou (and this twice) do their solo bits.

The photo Aboubacar took (on the left) has been hanging on the wall near my computer for some time now. The man with an impressive career from Micran Jazz, via - amongst others - Kongo Jazz, the legendary Rock-a-Mambo and Bokelo's Conga Jazz to the T.P. O.K. Jazz looking up, - with indignation in his expression, but resignation in his composure.
He died too young.


* Both parts of "Assitou" have also been released on African 360.053. That album also includes "Zando Ya Tipo-Tipo" and "Lukika".

EDIT December 21, 2010: Aboubacar Siddikh points out that Chécain in fact sings on five of the tracks. He also sings on "Assitou", although this is perhaps not so clear. It can, however, be derived from the fact that he does throw in some 'animation', - and is present on percussion (which may very well be the subject of a future post....).

EDIT January, 9, 2011: After some criticism (unfortunately of the anonymous kind...) I have re-digitised the record and have uploaded this to another server. It can be found through this link.
The A-side sounds slightly better, if you ask me.


jan duinkerken said...

great info - great music.
thank you!

Anonymous said...

Almost love the commentary more than the music! i am very familiar with the LP



wuod k

Timothy said...

There is always something special in this blog whenever you post music from Congo. Thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

The audio is sad. Lola was probably the most faithful OK jazz singer.

What did he die of?

Koronya Mwambia said...

I loved this post and just as much the Interview with Lola. I've been on a Lola Checain kind of a binge the last few days and was pleasantly surprised to get this here.
You are the best.

Anonymous said...

Are these records over compressed? I find these MP3 files to be most unpleasant and almost unlistenable.

When I listen to the original vinyl the sound is much more palatable, even with pops, clicks and crackle etc.

WrldServ said...

@(the last) Anonymous: I strongly advise you to listen to the "original vinyl"!

But "compressed"? Any mp3 file is compressed, but unless you are 18 and have perfect hearing, it should be difficult to distinguish the uncompressed from the compressed.

I think you mean the rather disappointing sound of particularly the A-side (the B-side is a lot better). This is, unfortunately, a feature of the "original vinyl".

As you can see, I have re-digitised the music from the "original vinyl" and have added a link to this new file. The A-side is a little better, but I wouldn't call it spectacular.

In future, I would appreciate it if you would 'shed' your anonymity when you want me to repost a recording....