December 31, 2011


I would like to round off* this (in many aspects not so happy) year with some sounds that I am almost sure will make you happy. And in the process I will try and clear up some misunderstandings and/or correct a few errors.

The subject of this post is one of my favourite ones: the music of Franco and his O.K. Jazz. More precisely I would like to focus on that fascinating period of the early 1970s, when Franco took control of the O.K. Jazz and the O.K. Jazz had not yet 'transformed' into the Tout Puissant O.K. Jazz.

Although it is easy to state this nearly forty years later, I am inclined to belief that Franco came out on top after the attempts to undermine his popularity in the late 1960s. One of the key ingredients of his success, and not just then but throughout his career, was that he had a capacity to absorb influences by others while remaining himself. Asked about the inspiration for his music Franco has replied in several interviews that he has spent his whole life listening to the music from his country. These words are not to be taken as some form of cliché. Franco really listened to all music from Congo/Zaïre and had done so since his youth. Seen in this light the call by Mobutu for a "recours à l'authenticité" seems 'tailor-made' for Franco.
The word "recours" has over the years been misinterpreted. It does not mean a return to, but rather an appeal to.
And authenticity was of course by no means an invention of Mobutu. For Mobutu it was actually more a solution to an imminent - or perhaps even urgent - problem. In that respect I think there are some parallels with the present search for a national identity and the 'recours' to a disturbing and shortsighted form of nationalism in countries like the Netherlands...

For Franco the 'recours à l'authenticité' meant a confirmation of what he was already doing. When he contacted people from the pre-independence era of Congolese music in 1971 he wasn't the first to do so. Wendo had been playing with Rochereau in the 1960s. Contrary to Rochereau legendary musicians from the Ngoma label like Manuel D'Oliveira and Camille Feruzi played with the O.K. Jazz on equal terms; they weren't used as an embellishment.

As far as I know (and please, please, please correct me if I am wrong!) Franco recorded two songs with and by Manuel D'Oliveira and a whopping five with Camille Feruzi. Of the latter I am only sharing four with you in this post. Of the last song (unconfirmed title "Tika Kolela Cherie") I have only a sadly very low-fi copy.

Three of the songs with Camille Feruzi have been released on CD (Sonodisc CD 36581), but - typical of Sonodisc - not without a slight cockup. "Kuyina" has been renamed to "Mbanda Nasali Nini?", - which happens to be the title of the track that is missing from the CD.

The songs were originally released on three singles by Franco's Editions Populaires, and according to my information in December 1972 (the first two singles) and the beginning of January 1973 (the third). Gary Stewart states that it was exactly one year earlier, and - although I am willing to believe this - I have no confirmation of this, or of the source of this dating.

The first of the three singles contains besides Franco's brilliant "Likambo Ya Ngana", featuring not only Franco and Camille Feruzi (on accordion) but also the same female chorus that can be found on "Boma L'Heure", an equally brilliant "Casier Judiciaire" (= criminal record). And this last song is a different version from the track included on the CD I mentioned before. Franco's acoustic solo after 3'20 is to me one of the absolute highlights of his career.
A small detail: on the CD "Likambo Ya Ngana" fades out a few seconds earlier than on the single. Why??

EP 78 [Fiesta 51.149]

On the second are two compositions by Camille Feruzi. On the B-side is "Siluvangi Wapi Accordeon?" which you may know from the CD. And on the A-side is the song missing from the CD, "Mbanda Nasali Nini?". Again I wonder why. Why wasn't this song included in the CD?
Coincidentally this happens to be a song with a bit of a mystery. Because who is the singer besides Youlou Mabiala? Aboubacar Siddikh suggests it might be Vicky, but I am more inclined to think it is Kwamy. Alternatively it can be a singer brought along by Camille Feruzi (Tenor Beya perhaps?).
This song is not only different because of the singer, but also because of the arrangement. In the second part (after 2'32) there is a full orchestral arrangement with the horn section sparring with Feruzi's accordion. Fascinating!

EP 79 [Fiesta 51.151]

The third single not only features the fourth track with Camille Feruzi, "Kuyina", with Franco and Feruzi competing for a place in the limelight, but also a track composed by that seminal composer duo from the early 1950s: Georges Edouard and Manuel D'Oliveira. Together with Henri Freitas and Bila Edouard they formed the group San Salvador, which can be described as the band that laid the foundation for all Congolese modern music. I will certainly be dedicating a post (or perhaps even more than one) to this group in the coming year.
The song "Ba Mipangi Ya Matadi" is in my opinion the very best example of a "recours à l'authenticité". I am not sure of the singers, but I suspect one of them is Manuel D'Oliveira, and the other could be Michel Boyibanda. The rhythm is 100% San Salvador and is accentuated by the percussion. Franco seems to have adjusted his tuning to the tuning of San Salvador, but remains clearly and recognisably Franco.
Again I can not understand why this song has never been included on one of the many Sonodisc CD's.

EP 80 [Fiesta 51.181]

The three singles plus the second track of Manuel D'Oliveira with the O.K. Jazz ("Na Mokili Mibale Na Mibale" - see this post) can also be downloaded in one file and in the FLAC format (alternative links - 2 files: here and here).
I will be posting more from this fascinating period very soon.

I wish you all a happy, healthy and successful 2012!

* and I am well aware that you may already be in the new year.

December 30, 2011

Update on "Disaster"

John Collins has sent me an update on the situation with his house and archive (see my post of November 20). Unfortunately his mails have been marked as "spam" (probably as a result of the links he included), so I have not spotted these until a few days ago.

He writes:
"As mentioned in my previous email letter - due to a number of factors that include climate change unplanned development and blocking of natural waterways Accra was severely flooded on 26th Oct and my own Bokoor House and the BAPMAF Music archives its hosts were severely affected. After this I spent a frantic months trying to save the damaged materials and at a guess I roughly estimate that about 10% of the BAPMAF archives was destroyed . Please see the following blogspots of the American Public Radio program Afropop for pictures and more details of the disaster - and also the BBC and Batuki Music of Toronto

Also see youtube video clip:

In my previous email letter I also mentioned some of the things I have to do - which include
· Storing all the BAPMAF archives temporarily upstairs in the BAPMAF Exhibition Room.
· Repairing flood damage and build circa 200 feet of reinforced concrete wall with gravel embankment to immediately protect the Bokoor/BAPMAF property from flooding.
· Replacing thousands of dollars of lost equipment, computers, car, scanners, cameras, record player, stabilizers, 4-track recorder, chargers and 12 volt battery backup system, power point and slide projector etc..
· Finding means and funds to temporarily relocate both my residence and the exhibition section of BAPMAF (either together or separately) elsewhere.
· Salvaging and restoring the BAPMAF holdings and make its exhibition section available again to the public.

In just one month I have already done some of the above. I have saved all the materials that could be saved, dried them and stored them with other BAPMAF materials safely upstairs. I have built about 80 feet of wall and embankment. And right now I am making arrangements with a Ghanaian national cultural institution to loan the exhibition section of BAPMAF and have it relocated at somewhere in Accra (possibly the National Museum) - so that it can remain open to the public whilst I am salvaging, re-organising and re-building the BAPMAF archives.

I will also relocate myself my family and the BAPMAF library, research documents and archival holdings elsewhere for the meantime. During this time I will repair flood damage to my Bokoor property and also convert the upstairs property into an area suitable for both accommodation and BAPMAF activities (other than its public exhibitions facilities). It may also be possible later - if a sensible system of drainage is introduced to the area and people are prevented from blocking the river with sawdust and other materials - for my downstairs property to become the location for the BAPMAF Exhibitions space. However, as mentioned, for the meantime, the BAPMAF exhibitions and photo gallery might be located at a suitable national public space in Accra.

Those who wish to contribute to getting BAPMAF back on its feet should either send donations (especially larger ones) to my bank account (bank transfer) in the UK (see below) - or to a paypal account that has been set up with the help by American colleagues and well wishers. Anyone who already has a PayPal account can simply make a donation through PayPal to at . People who don't have a PayPal account should click on the donate button (marking these as a "gift") on either of the two following blogspots.

[BANK DETAILS :NATWEST, Tottenham Court Rd Branch, P.O.BOX 2EA 45 Tottenham Court Rd. London WIT 2EA ,Reward Reserve Account of E .J. Collins, Account number 26592258, Sort Code 56-00-31, Swift code NWBK GB 2L, IBAN number GB16 NWBK 56003126 5922 58]

All the best, John Collins

I am a Ghanaian-British national, a musician, musicologist and music lecturer at the University of Ghana - and I have been operating the BAPMAF music archives in Ghana since 1990. BAPMAF (the Bokoor African Popular Music Archives Foundation) is an NGO established in 1990 by myself with the assistance and encouragment of some leading Ghanaian musicians and musicologists (like E.T. Mensah, King Bruce, Kwaa Mensah, Beattie Casely-Hayford, Oscarmore Ofori, Koo Nimo and T.O. Jazz, etc), to preserve, research, promote and disseminate Ghanaian/African performing arts, with the focus on popular performing arts. BAPMAF was first opended to the public in 1996 and then after extensive re-building at Bokoor House BAPMAF was re-opened in 2007 during Ghana‘s 50th anniversary Independence Day celebrations. The BAPMAF and its Highlife-Music Institute exhibited the ‘Golden Years of Highlife Exhibition’ through literally 100’s of photos, diagrams, maps, captions and posters as well a instuments and memoribilia connected with Ghanaian, African and Black Diasporic music. The BAPMAF complex also included of a large seminar/work-shop space, digital documentation room, audio-video laboratory and library. The BAPMAF Highlife Institute archival holdings prior to the October 2011 floods consisted of 1,200 photographs/slides, 700 publications, hundreds of rare and old documents and 1,500 hours of recorded music; including almost a thousand old highlife songs on shellac and vinyl records. It provideds materials for teaching and research purposes and has collaborated over the years with many local and foreign agencies: the Goethe Institute, the University of Ghana, the Alliance Francaise, the Dubois Centre, the Swizz Embassy, The Muscians Union of Ghana (MUSIGA), Ghanaba’s African Heritage Library, the US Embassy Public Affairs Section (Black History Month) and Rocky Dawuni’s Africa Live Project. BAPMAF is also a member of the UNESCO Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity and has provided materials too both local and foreign media agencies: the BBC, Joy FM, Ghana Broadcasting, TV3, Citi FM, ETV, American Public Radio, Radio France International, Mietzer-keiner-filmproduktion, Cinecon Africa, Creative Storm, the Soul to Soul project, Archiafrika, Analysis Lost Productions and Panafricas/Instituto Midia Etnica."

I have little to add, apart from an encouragement to donate generously to this very worthy cause.