September 26, 2011


In this post I would like to share with you a rather obscure lp, produced in Nigeria but containing music from Congo. The obscurity is limited to the production. The artists, although not credited on the sleeve nor on the label (for copyright reasons?), are of the well-known variety. Of the ten tracks on this compilation four are by the O.K. Jazz, two by the Negro Band, two by Rock-a-Mambo and two by the the - perhaps less known - Dynamic Jazz.

Although I am not sure about the Dynamic Jazz songs, I estimate all the tracks to be from the late 1950s. The songs performed by the O.K. Jazz were composed by that great guitarist Antoine Armando, better known as Brazzos, and were originally released as Loningisa 189 (in 1957) and 211 (in 1958). The songs by both the Negro Band and Rock-a-Mambo* were originally released on the Esengo label as Esengo 192 ("Kumaye"), 194 ("Senhorita"), 119 ("Brigitte") and 71 ("Bakoule Bidama"). And Dynamic Jazz made records (and quite a few) for the Ngoma label. Both "Rumbita Dynamic Jazz" and "A mi amor bonita" were at one point released on the Super 45 (EP) 1005.

As a compilation this record deserves excellent marks. It features some of the Greats of the époque d'or of Congolese music. "Bakoule Bidama", for example, not only stars singer Rossignol, but also Kabasele himself, as backing vocalist (and a brilliant one, if you ask me!), plus Essous and Nino Malapet. Franco and Vicky Longomba both are prominent in the O.K. Jazz songs. But that is only to be expected.

Needless to say that my favourites are the tracks by Brazzos. I am still trying to figure out what latin original 'inspired' "Cuidado Conamallo" (which I suspect should be "cuidado con la mano"). I am inclined to believe that the O.K. Jazz copied the song (or perhaps just the name of the song) from other Congolese orchestras. I recall having heard a version by either Rock-a-Mambo or African Jazz (if I bump into it I´ll post it).

Lyric-wise there is a lot to be enjoyed, especially in that same song. With Vicky in fluent jibberish-spanish: "Venga, chiquita! Baila! Awela-wela" (or "abuela, abuela"?) ", si yo me muero muero muero de todo mi amor".
Who invented these lyrics?

ISP 101

* Actually "Brigitte" is credited in the Esengo catalogue to Lucie Yenga et l'African Rock.

September 18, 2011

"San" but really Nioro

In this post I would like to share two wonderful videos from Mali. Both are by a 'troupe' from San, a town (or village?) in the Ségou region.

Ségou may be known as the historic heart of the Bambara empire, it is also a region with a large cultural variety and diversity. A diversity that has been eminently exploited by great stars like Hawa Dramé and Safoura Denou & Seny Sangaré.

In this case I have been told that the songs are both Sarakolé traditionals. The first song, "Danama", has also been interpreted by another Malian diva, the great Mah Damba, on her very first cassette. And I am sure I have heard the second song performed by another singer, somewhere, sometime (please help me out here...).

I love the almost informal 'ambience' and the sheer fun of these two songs, and more particularly the dancing. The men take turns in showing of their skills, almost in a peacock manner. And the women in turn react (when they feel like it) by joining them. And the dance itself has absolutely nothing to do with the over the top dancing that is sometimes presented as "the" African dancing.

Although I have had this video for over twenty years I keep discovering new details. I refer to the reactions by the participants of the troupe, and not to the curtain, - which has of course seen some great acts over the years (you may remember this video, and I´m sure you´ll find more examples on Ngoni´s great Youtube channel).

The second song starts of in a much slower tempo, which reminds me of Hawa Dramé. But then it gradually gathers speed until, after 4'20, it switches into another rhythm, and a more peacocky dancing ensues. What a delight!

EDIT/CORRECTION: January 15, 2012: A comment on YouTube, plus the find of a video by "Les artistes de San" have urged me to investigate the origin of the groupe in these two videos.
This research has led to the correction posted here.

The videos in this post are in fact from a groupe from Nioro, in the Kayes region and near the Mauretanian border. As to the cultural origins of the music it seems likely the comment on YouTube may be right that group is Bella (i.e. maure).

September 08, 2011

Mbaraka on TV

I have to confess it is at times hard to keep up with all the comments that are sent to me both on posts on this weblog and on videos uploaded to Youtube. Although I don't always have the time to react to all of these I can assure you I do read them and do appreciate all the comments* you send in.

The other day a comment was sent to me by a Mr. Msomali, who is - I deduce from his writings - a Tanzanian living in the UK. He wrote about a subject which is also very close to my heart and very high on my (unfortunately extensive) wishlist:
"I want to start the discussion of where the videos of Mbaraka Mwinshehe can be found. I am sure it is in Kenya and Japan.

I will explain why.
Mbaraka took his Morogoro Jazz Band as part of a large group of cultural ensembles/artists representing Tanzania in the EXPO 70 exhibition that took place in Japan in 1970. Being good in technology as they are, I am certain the Japanese recorded every event that went on in each pavilion.

As to Kenya: a lady asks her husband to take her to a Super Volcano show (when the Band was visiting the couple's town) as she says she listens to their songs almost every single day on the Radio, and she also watches them often on the Television. All this is in Mbaraka's song called 'Nipeleke Nikashudie' (which roughly translate as "Take me, so that I can see them perfom live"). By TV here she means VOK Tv (Voice of Kenya Tv).

I believe both VOK (now called KBC Tv) and NHK Tv (Japan's National Tv) have Mbaraka's videos in their archives.

I also believe that both these institutions have a public duty to release these videos of one of the truly gifted musicians to come out of East Africa.
His country was/still is too poor to have have had Television in his lifetime, but he served Kenyans and entertained them in equal measure, and has everyone listened to his song EXPO 70, celebrating his participation there?
Mbaraka belonged to all of us, so the least these two institutions can do to world music heritage is to release his videos into the public domain.

Any ideas on how we can go about asking them to do this service to world music, anyone?

Mr. Msomali

What can I say? I support this appeal wholeheartedly. I can't wait to see a video of this giant of Tanzanian music.

If there is anyone out there who has links with either Kenyan or Japanese television, please help us out!

And should you need any encouragement I advise you to listen to this brilliant sample of the great man's repertoire, which as it happens contains both the song "Nipeleke Nikashudie" and two songs dedicated to the EXPO in Japan (including that killer "Expo No.2"!!!!). And the five other songs are all equally disarming in their unpretentious and truely authentic brilliance.

POLP 566 (or POLP 566) (December 21, 2016: update the first link to 320 kbps)

* I would like to make an exception to those sad idiots (and I am holding back here...) who try and slip a commercial link into their so-called comments.

September 01, 2011


Over the years I have come to acquire a distinct aversion against the term "crossover". It must have started in the eighties with (the highly respected and very likeable) journalist Stan Rijven, who was always on the lookout for the connection, the 'cross-fertilisation' (yuk) and the 'sameness of the other'. At the back of this inclination I couldn't help but suspect a lack of confidence in the appeal of African music.
My personal preference lay and lies in finding the 'otherness in the other', in the authenticity of the (so far) unknown. If I had wanted more of the same I wouldn't have ventured out into the realm of African music. How can I appreciate a crossover if I have no idea of the individual elements involved in the crossing?

Rochereau (r) with a very young Daouda Sangaré
Twenty-five years later my aversion is still present. Experience has shown that musicians claiming that their music is a 'crossover' between styles usually produce a watered-down blend of predominantly western music.

This doesn't mean, however, that all 'interaction' between different musical styles is uninteresting. But the real enjoyment of this can only start with the understanding and acknowledgement of the styles involved.

And that brings me to the subject of this post.

For how can anyone really enjoy Rochereau's version of "Seyni Kay Fonema" without knowing Laba Sosseh's original (here and here), and without having some knowledge of Rochereau and his background and of the music of African Fiesta (in this case National) and African Jazz?
Rochereau's version was recorded in the late 1960s and is not only interesting because it is a cover of a Senegalese song. That in itself is if not unique, at least very special. I suspect that Laba Sosseh singing a Congolese tune (Orch. Bella Bella's "Sola") is not half as special.
It is unclear why "Izeidi" is included in the title, unless Roger Izeidi is playing the (prominent) maracas in the song or is responsible for the rather abundant orchestral arrangment, as he was in the Surboum days with African Jazz. Both are possible.

The end result is very enjoyable. I doubt very much though if this song can or should be called a crossover. Not only is there no crossing going on (it's just a slightly different version of the original), but also it is not really very far from African Fiesta's style. As Franco put it in 1987, the main source of inspiration of the African Jazz school of Congolese music lies in Latin-American music. So a Latin-tinged song like "Izeidi Seyni Kai Fonema" is normal for one of the main representatives of the school.

The B-side of the single (Ngoma J 5153), "Los Probas", seems to confirm this. I haven't been able to trace the - no doubt latin - original of this song (maybe this has another title?), but it is still very much in the African Fiesta style of borrowed melodies like "Africa(n Jazz) Mokili Mobimba" and "Kayi Kayi".

The second single (Ngoma J 5156) has more of the same: an instrumental, "Négra Sanda", which could be (and I'm not saying it is) a version of "La Negra Sanda", a song composed by a certain Francia, and made famous in the early sixties by Pete Terrace (I hadn't heard of him either..) and - perhaps even earlier - by Fajardo y sus Estrellas.
The B-side, "Munequita" (and that's what he sings), certainly is not the "Muñequita" of Sonora Matancera or of Orquesta Aragón, nor Aragón's "Bella Muñequita", - but I'll be damned if the original is not Cuban.

Luckily I have traced the source of "Trembla Tiera" (Flash FL 39, the B-side of Sam Mangwana's wonderful "Bina Ringa", which has appeared on several lp's and cd's). The song was composed by a certain G. Ruiz Perez and recorded as "Tiembla Tierra" by the (still) great Orquesta Aragón.

With all these tracks I love the way in which Rochereau is trying to cover up that he has no idea what he is singing. In "Izeidi Seyni Kay Fonema" this results in a kind of melodic mumbling with a few recognisable words thrown in. In the spanish songs he is slightly more confident, but still has a tendency to drift off into gibberish.
I love it!

More Rochereau to follow soon.

Ngoma J 5153
Ngoma J 5156
Flash FL 39

or as one file.

PS± Covers of the Ngoma´s are very welcome...