December 31, 2012


A short post to finish the year in style. And what better way to round off a year* than with two records by Franco and the O.K. Jazz.

I assure you music does not get a lot better than this. These four tracks, composed by Franco himself and recorded on February 18, 1960 for Editions Loningisa, are among my absolute favourites, - and not just of the early work by Franco.
The songs stand out for several reasons. First the line-up is unique, with the departure of Vicky Longomba (first to join Kabasélé at the Table Ronde and then to start his own orchestra: Négro Succès). To replace him Mulamba Joseph a.k.a. Mujos had joined the O.K. Jazz and he is the Vicky-like voice in these songs. Isaac Musekiwa too had defected in July the year before, after Franco had been imprisoned for a traffic offence; he had joined Orchestre Vedette Jazz but returned to the O.K. Jazz at the end of 1961. He proved difficult to replace, and I am not sure who is playing the sax in these songs. The O.K. Jazz did engage others such as trumpet player Dominique Kuntima, better known as Willy (who is perhaps best known for his time with African Jazz and African Fiesta), and clarinetist Edo Lutula a.k.a. Edo Clari, and in 1961 Albino Kalombo (who had gathered fame alongside the great Léon Bukasa at Ngoma).
On guitar Franco was joined by Bombolo Léon a.k.a. Bholen, who had been recruited by Vicky, as had been singer Hubert 'Djeskin' Dihunga. Both were later persuaded by Vicky to join him at Négro Succès.

But the most impressive new recruits to the O.K. Jazz were two singers. First a singer of considerable repute: Gérard Madiata (whom you may remember from his songs with Kongo Jazz). He is the star of that immortal cha cha cha "Cuando Paradi", - and this while only singing backing vocal!
The second is Jean Munsi, better known as Kwamy or - in those days - Coimy. As Gérard Madiata in "Cuando Paradi" he adds that very special something to the equally immortal boléro "Caro Simon Mabanzo", even though he is not the lead singer. His velvet voice is the secret ingredient to one of Franco's most exciting boleros.

But star of these four tracks is of course Franco himself. In "Mobembo Ya Franco Na Wele" he is tiptoeing, in "Cuando Paradi" he is cheekily doing pirouettes. In "Mobali Asundoli Ngai Na Mwana" he is in charge and leading the orchestra, dictating breaks and turns. But "Caro Simon Mabanzo" sees the master in his natural environment: the boléro. He adds an extra dimension to the song, adding tension, joking, coaxing, provoking, in short: being Franco.
It doesn't get better than this........

Loningisa 267
Loningisa 268

For a limited period these tracks can also be downloaded in FLAC-format: Lon 267+268

I wish you all a very happy and successful 2013!

* or for those in more eastern time zones: to start the new year!

Boy scout

This post is about an artist who has - in retrospect - been relegated to the ranks of dated 'popular music' and 'entertainment'. But Louis Vera Da Fonseca, or just Fonseca, was up there with the Big Names, in his days.

The sleeve notes on this Dutch lp are almost ecstatic: "Fonseca is the son of a Senegalese mother while his father is from Cape Verde. Hence the Portugese sounding name: Louis Vera Da Fonseca. From his early youth the theatre, ballet and - especially - music have held an irresistable attraction for Fonseca. For his friends in the boy scouts he wrote and performed little sketches and in secondary school he with exceptional energy devoted himself to a variety of artistic activities. Armed with a letter of recommendation from Radio Dakar he travelled to Paris to continue his studies. He wrote a ballet titled "Black incantation". The opening night in the Casino in Deauville was attended by a score of celebrities. His Highness the Aga Khan was thrilled by the spectacle to such a degree that he, as an encouragement, presented Fonseca with the considerable sum of 500.000 french francs. Fonseca felt the credit shouldn't go to him alone and promptly shared the gift with all his colleagues. In August 1949 Fonseca made his first records. From this moment on matters accelerated. His songs are widely successful. His records fly over the counter in both Europe and Africa. His composition "Couri Couri" is chosen as the theme of the film "Les Héros Sont Fatigués". He tours the whole of Europe with his ensemble. Eighteen months go by before he returns to his home base in Paris. As it happens, just in time to cooperate in the film "Il Est Minuit Docteur Schweitzer". More and more films and contracts follow. Fonseca opens his own Club. And he makes "Sans Chemise Et Sans Pantalon" and "O El Cha Cha", which prove bestsellers. And so we arrive to his first Long Play record: 12 exciting tracks - nine composed by himself. A total of forty-one minutes and thirty-six seconds permeated with a sparkling temperament. A excellent sample of the musical capabilities of Fonseca Et Ses Anges Noirs!"

This may all sound very boy scouty to the modern cynical blog reader. But the paradigm of the perception may shift when one considers that the artists originally scheduled to perform at the Table Ronde in Brussels (the round table conference about the independence of the Belgian Congo) were nót Joseph Kabasélé and his African Jazz, but Fonseca with his Anges Noirs! Only at the last moment the Congolese delegation insisted on a Congolese alternative.

This sheds a different light on this lp, don't you agree?

Artone BRO S-1525
or BRO S-1525

December 29, 2012


Recently the owner of the (highly recommended) Malian Divas channel on YouTube asked me why I have never posted any music by the third (see below) of those magic Malian divas of the 1980s: Ami Koita.
I admit I did not have a good answer, apart from that I just haven't got round to her.

But perhaps there is another, subconscious reason for my omission. I have met Ami Koita, when she visited the Netherlands in 1991.
On the LolaRadio blog you can find recordings made during this trip by VPRO Radio (and a few days later she also performed in "Reiziger in de muziek" on VPRO TV).
Both Ami Koita and her daughter, who backed her mother in the chorus, were very friendly. But it was impossible to talk to Ami more than a minute as her husband (on the left, holding a camera with which he videoed his wife's every move) was constantly making his presence known. And not only by standing in the background, but also by answering questions for his wife and physically putting himself between his wife and whoever wanted to talk to her.
I later found out that this was the result of an extreme case of jealousy, and several rumours have gone 'round in Mali as to the (possible) grounds for this jealousy.
One way or another, this has perhaps played a role in my apprecation of Ms. Koita.

Getting back to her being the third: the other two of what was like the 'holy trinity' in Malian divaness in the 1980s were of course Kandia Kouyaté and Tata Bambo Kouyaté. And that reminds me that I should be digging up some more of those two in the near future.

Anyway, I would like to share with you this cassette recorded in the late 1970s. The quality of the cassette is dubious, to say the least. And I have tried to remove the extreme hiss*.
But I love the music. Ami Koita's rendition of the classic "Tara" is up there with the very best. And Nene Daou and Lassana Sacko have probably donated their life savings after being immortalised by Ami.

S4307 cassette
or S4307 (speed adjusted - see below)

And as a further illustration of Ami Koita's talent I would like to share with you this first part of a programme entitled "L'Artiste et Sa Musique" featuring Ami Koita "& son ensemble". And this ensemble consists of two great accompagnateurs: Moriba Koita and Bouba Sacko (see my earlier post). The show is presented by Zoumana Yoro Traoré, whom you may remember from the videos I posted by Kandia Kouyaté and Coumba Sidibé. I will post the remaining part of this programme at a later date. Ami is interpreting "Djeliya", a kind of metadata song, a song about griotism. Compared to Tata Bambo's song with the same title, which I have posted four years ago, you will have to agree that Ami's song is more delicate. Both her interpretation and appearance do justice to her reputation as the djeli with finesse.

P.S.: More to follow before the end of the year....

EDIT December 30, 2012: Ngoni has pointed out (see comments) that there may be a problem with the speed of this cassette. I have slowed down the recording to the speed he suggests, and it does sound better. So I have added a link to the slower version.

* And in case there is any demand for the 'raw' sound of the untampered original, send me an email.

December 12, 2012


On the brink of the festive season (or the end of the world) I think it is time for some seasonal music. And what could be more seasonal than four "rumbas corvées"?


I admit I had never heard of that crazy rhythm called "rumba corvée" before listening to these four songs. And I am still not convinced I have now...
"Corvée" seems to indicate a certain level of exertion, of a type which may be getting more popular in these regions going by the rigorous measures proposed by our respective governments. I.e. unpaid! Do I see the shadows of slave labour and pre-industrial revolution labour conditions looming up through the mist of time?

Luckily these gloomy visions are not reflected in the music. On the contrary, the music is better typified by the name of the orchestra: Festival des Maquisards, where "maquisards" is about rebellion and resistance against oppression by the common people. That's more like it!

And it gets better.
For the star of this orchestra is a young Sam Mangwana, here still presented under the name of Sam Moreno. Co-leader of the group is another ex-member of Rochereau's African Fiesta 66 and a contemporary of Mangwana (also born in 1945): lead guitarist Paul Vangu better known as Guvano.

The first track features Mangwana in splendid form, with vocals clearly based on or inspired by his time alongside Rochereau. As in some of the songs with African Fiesta he demonstrates that he can compete with Rochereau on equal terms (within R's own singing style), while at the same time adding his own magical 'je ne sais quoi'. Sam has always had a 'real' quality in his singing, a quality which he shares with great singers like (for example) Josky Kiambukuta and Celia Cruz. No belcanto, no pretentiousness, very much 'de la rue'.

I'm not sure who is accompanying him in "Ligenda Obosani?", composed by himself. My first guess would be Lokombe (who at the time was called Camille Lokombe, but later became Lokombe Nkalulu), a very talented singer with a career lasting right on to this very day. In fact, if you are very quick you can see him performing with a former colleague from Les Maquisards, Dizzy Mandjeku, and his Odemba OK All Stars (also starring that superb singer Malage de Lugendo!) at the Tropentheater in Amsterdam this Saturday (December 15).
But alternatively it is possible that Diana Nsimba, also ex-African Fiesta, is backing Sam.

There is no doubt whatsoever about the second singer on the B-side. Ntesa Dalienst is very much present in this version of Celia Cruz's "Sopa en Botella". And for those who don't recognise his voice, he's the singer doing the 'chorus' starting at 1'15. This song seems tailormade for Mangwana and Ntesa. Mangwana does the best impression of Celia Cruz I have ever heard, and Ntesa adds a subtle touch of sophistication. A sheer delight!

The second single, while significantly worse for wear when it comes to the physical state of the vinyl, delivers the same high musical standard. The A-side, "Catho Nakozonga", is composed and wonderfully sung by Lokombe, with Sam doing the backing vocals. The flipside is composed by a Gérard, and I am not sure who this is supposed to be. Ntesa once mentioned guitarist Gérard Biyéla, but as far as I know he was with Les Bantous, and I haven't heard his name in connection with Les Maquisards. I am not sure if this is the start of Mangwana's career as a polyglot, but if I am not mistaken this "Tabu Wangu" contains some lines in swahili.

It remains a mystery why these treasures have never been reissued.

Negro Festival NF 3503
Negro Festival NF 3507

November 24, 2012


A very short post.
I was really going to post something else.
But in bed with a nasty cold, sweating and feverish, I was haunted by this tune: "Mory", by Number One de Dakar.

The best cure for any disease: good music.

Eddy'Son 1156

November 09, 2012


Continuing my personal countermeasures against the against the lunatic proposal by those so-called islamic groups in northern Mali to ban music, I am bringing in the big guns. And when it comes to rock-hard Malian culture the guns don't get much bigger than Hawa Dramé.

You may remember my earlier post, plus the fantastic video featuring this great - but unfortunately also late - singer. If you have missed those, please do yourself a favour and at least watch those two videos.

The cassette I am sharing with you is one to digest slowly. Take your time. This is music which will last you a lifetime, and will be in your blood forever. As in the cassette I posted earlier, Hawa Dramé pulls out all the stops. The control she has over the 'accompagnement' is, again, brilliant. As is the control over her own vocal contribution. She can go full-out, but she can also subtly understate, - and in doing so move the coldest of those deepfrozen misguided souls in the north of her country .

There is not a weaker song in this collection.
You may recognise "So danso"; this was covered by Super Biton (see this post). "Demeba", with its majestically striding rhythm and Hawa's superb long phrasing. The meticulous "Diamandjo" where she is competing with the ngoni, twisting and turning. And "Mayebe Diyabo", just as intentional, with Hawa demonstrating the full dynamics of her unique voice.
Side B again has two longer songs. "Namabile" is one of those epic songs, which Hawa Dramé takes to another level. The same goes for "Niongomari" (covered by others, like Bazoumana Sissoko's daughter Tenignini Damba, as "Mariso"), although this unfortunately has a few wobbles.

SYL 8391

More countermeasures to follow...

*And in case you are wondering: this is a reference to the present date, plus a reference to what would be September 11 in countries like the USA. And in a way it is a reference to the excessive (verging in the ridiculous) coverage of first the impact of tropical storm Sandy on the eastern US (while the enormous damage of the hurricane Sandy on Cuba was covered in a single sentence!!) and then the painstakingly detailed and minute-to-minute coverage of the US presidential elections in this country (the Netherlands). Already Dutch media don't bother to convert 9-11 to the customary 11-9, so my guess is that in a few decades we will officially hand over sovereignty to 'our good friends on the other side of the Atlantic'.

November 01, 2012

Some updates

A few updates on earlier posts.

You may remember those great videos by that majestic Malian diva Kandia Kouyaté (here, here and here). When I met her in Bamako last year Lucy Duran pointed out to me that it was unlikely, if not completely incorrect, that Kandia was 18 when these videos were recorded. I told her I was inclined to agree with her but was hesitant to correct this, as the 'grand dame' herself was the source of this information. She had told me this when I interviewed her in 1990 (photo - by the great Ton Verhees - on the right). Lucy has since reminded me in an email. She wrote: "Mali TV opened in 1983 and Kandia was born in 1958. I first met her in 1986 which is around the time that she did songs like Moussolou. Bouba Sacko only joined her group in 1985, before that she had a 12 string guitarist from Kita called Kissima Diabate who was living in Abidjan, and with whom she recorded Amary Daou présente Kandia Kouyate. So Actually Kandia will have been around 27 or 28 when she filmed those clips. The presenter was Zoumana Yoro Traoré and the programme was probably 'Artiste et sa musique'."

Then some updates from Guinea.
Graeme Counsel (website!!) is in Conakry at the moment continuing his work digitising and preserving the archives of the RTG. He has tumbled upon the original reel containing the first track of side B of that superb album "Boum à Conakry". According to the notes and label of the album this is a track called "El Checheré" by the Orchestre de la Paillote. It turns out that this information is incorrect. In fact the song is by l'Orchestre Honoré Coppet, and was recorded either on February 2 or March 24, 1963 at the Bonne Auberge by a certain Katty using a Nagra III reel-to-reel recorder! And this "Katty", Graeme adds, is probably Emmanuel Kathy, a director of the Voix de la Révolution studios.
Honoré Coppet was born in Martinique and traveled to Senegal and Guinea in the late 1950s. He played alto saxophone in the Syli Orchestre Nationale.

And yesterday he reported that he has found a reel containing recordings by that amazing accordeon player Petit Moussa (you may remember the mind boggling cassette sleeve). Apparently the man is called Moussa Diawara. Graeme has added a photo of this amazing find. Let's hope (or if you like you may pray) that these recordings are as spectacular as the ones on the cassette!

That's all for now. More music to follow soon.

October 31, 2012

More Bukasa

As an intermission in my countermeasures, I would like to share with you some songs by one of my - in my opinion immortal - heroes of Congolese music: Léon Bukasa (see my earlier posts here and here).

Translation of the notes on the inner sleeve (on the right):
"Léon Bukasa, originating from Kasaï, as a young boy was enticed by the sound of a phonograph in a neighbouring village. Entranced by what he had just heard, he built a guitar with only three chords and started practising.

A year later, in 1950, he buys a real guitar and joins Editions Ngoma, where he soon makes his mark as a musician and a talented composer.

Among his numerous hit compositions are the Ngoma 78 rpm records: 1552 - 1657 - 1716 and 1778. These compositions were a huge success, both in the former Belgian Congo and in bordering countries, and especially the song "Congo ya biso basi bayebi kolata", meaning "In our Congo the women know how to dress (well)", - with the composer praising the elegance and the beauty of the congolese women.

Léon Bukasa also was the first singer to introduce into congolese music the usage of the clarinet, and subsequently, on the advice of Editions Ngoma, that of the double bass.

While getting better every day, he remains one of the top stars of congolese music

The songs I am sharing with you are actually not from the EP of which I am adding prints of the sleeve. And to the four tracks mentioned on the sleeve I am adding two more, "Bakimi na mbongo" and "Sabine ndeko", to complete the series of three subsequent 78s from the Ngoma label.

My favourite, and an overall favourite in the whole of Congolese music (and that is a lot of fantastic music!), is "Mokengele Honoré", which from my biased (I admit it freely) point of view is one of the few songs that can compete on equal terms with those merveilles du passé of the O.K. Jazz on Loningisa. The other five songs follow closely behind, - but nevertheless behind.
All six tracks were composed by Bukasa himself and were originally released in 1961. As far as I know these were the last three 78s released by Bukasa on the Ngoma label (but I am still hoping I am horribly wrong...).

Ngoma 2160-2161-2162 (mp3) and (as long as it lasts) a flac-version.

PS 1:
Ngoma 1552 = "Na mokolo mwa lelo" / "Mwana mwasi Adolphine" by Bukasa and Albino Kalombo
Ngoma 1657 = "Congo ya biso basi bayebi kolata" / "Mantar mwasi kitoko" by Bukasa
Ngoma 1716 = "E! E! E! Se liwa" / "Nakumbuka kimanda wangu" by Bukasa and A. Luango"
Ngoma 1778 = "Clara Badimwene" / "Nalembi makango" by Bukasa and Papa Noel (Papa Noel's very first hit)

PS 2:
Note the two extracts from the Ngoma Super 45 catalogue which are on the back sleeve and on the back of the inner sleeve. Mouth watering!

October 30, 2012


While it appears my worst fears with regards to the outcome of the elections here in the Netherlands are slowly becoming reality, with both a continuation of the growing intolerance (of the kind which in the 1970s we used to call "repressive tolerance"), of the so-called 'joys & benefits' of privatisation and/or the deification of The Economy, it appears that elsewhere in the world people are facing even greater and more anti-human challenges.

I read a few days ago (here) that those so-called rebels in northern Mali are considering banning music. That certainly will help their cause and create acceptance with the local population.

How dumb can one get? In a country that has music, storytelling and rhythm in both its soil and in the blood of every single individual of its population!

So I think it is time for some serious countermeasures.

I will start off with a cunningly devious weapon, seemingly innocent but potentially lethal. A sweet looking woman, a girl even. Lovely smile, modest expression. But a voice like a dagger! Kankou Demba not only has a powerful voice, but matching lyrics. She has a strong social message and doesn't believe in sweet-talk.
"Don't stick your nose in my business, young bambara who doesn't work the land
don't interfere with my affairs for he who has no respect for his people is like a roaming dog
Don't stick your nose in my business, young blacksmith who doesn't fire up the forge
don't interfere with my affairs for he who does not respect his country is like a roaming dog
Don't stick your nose in my business, young Sarakolé who doesn't work as a trader
don't interfere with my affairs for he who has no respect for his people is like a roaming dog
Don't stick your nose in my business, young Peul who doesn't herd cattle on the land
don't interfere with my affairs for he who does not respect his country is like a roaming dog
Don't stick your nose in my business, young griot who doesn't play the guitar
don't interfere with my affairs for he who has no respect for his people is like a roaming dog"*, 
sings Kankou in "I Dabo N'ga Kouma Na" ("You don't have the right to speak"). And with this she refers to a crucial concept in Malian culture and society: fasiya. I suppose this can best described as a mix of legacy, role in society and lineage. Perhaps not a concept which is very 'now' in western society, but one that has a tendency to be a essential element in the understanding of Malian culture. And of Malian griotisme, for that matter.

Kankou Demba's own lineage is apparent from her singing style. She follows in the footsteps of Fanta Damba and Koni Coumaré, with a definite Ségou bambara base.

I have had this great cassette for well over twenty years and it has not tired me. The conviction, the straight-from-the-heart honesty of Kankou's singing should, no must do something to start the process of corroding the iron resolve of those misguided 'fundamentalist rebels'.

SS-34 or SS-34

*translated from the translation (into french) by Cheikh M. Chérif Keïta in "Massa Makan Diabaté, Un Griot mandingue à la rencontre de l écriture".

October 12, 2012

23 Years

It is 23 years ago today that I, like many other mélomanes, was shocked to receive the news of Franco's death in Namur, Belgium. And in writing I am tempted to add "only". For in many ways it seems like no time at all has passed since the tragic day of October 12, 1989.

I am referring (once again) to the lack of progress in 'uncovering' Franco's legacy, in making available the treasures that so far have not been re-issued since their first (analog) release. Still the majority of the HMV/Loningisa catalogue remains hidden from the global audience, only a fraction of the Epanza Makita recordings have been reproduced, and less than half the wonderful tracks released on the Surboum OK and CEFA labels. And I could go on...

On this EP from 1964 alone there are - at least* - three songs that have so far escaped digitisation. Three songs which on their own would amply merit a release on CD. And not just for the fact that no less than two of the three are in the musical style which seems to fit Franco like a glove: the bolero.

The A-side contains two songs composed (and of course sung) by Vicky Longomba, while those on the B-side are composed by Franco lui-même. Needless to say that the two boleros are hot favourites on this record, with Franco at his dramatic best on guitar in Vicky's composition and addressing the Congolese/lingalaphone masses in the intriguing "Biloko Bihati Ntalona". This song is especially intriguing as it follows "On A Osé Le Dire", which can be translated (rather badly, I admit) as "They have dared to say it". Apparently the person who is being addressed in the song has been accused of using sorcery ("fétiches") against the singer, or rather the person represented by the singer. And the singer is gradually starting to believe that these rumours are true.

To add to the intrigue, I have the impression that "biloko" may refer to malignant dwarf-like creatures, which the Mongo people believe roam the dense forests and are considered to be the spirits of ancestors of the people living there, - according to this article in the wikipedia.

Perhaps someone who does understand lingala can help us out...?

Pathé EG 763

*I am not sure if "On A Osé Le Dire" has appeared on CD. I can't find it right now, but it is possible I have overlooked it...

September 10, 2012


If you are living outside of the Netherlands you may be (blissfully) unaware of this, but we are experiencing stress. This Wednesday there will parliamentary elections, and things are heating up the last few days.
At least, in the media....

I'm not sure what your image is of this country, but until a decade ago the mere mention of my country of origin would in large parts of the world raise a smile, - or at least a grin. Apparently Holland was associated with a range of 'civil liberties' which were seen by many as desirable, if not - in some occasions - craved for. Besides these liberties we Dutch were praised for our tolerance, and particularly of other cultures.
I am sorry to have to report this, but we Dutch have thrown all this out of the window. Instead we have adopted the narrowmindedness (if not 'closedmindness') and xenophobia of which until recently we were prone to accuse other countries.

Politically this has gone hand in hand with parties with "freedom" somewhere in their name. And with these it is like mobile phones: a "smart" phone does not refer to what it gives, but what it takes away. Subsequent governments have over the last decade done little for many and a lot for few. Key word in this reverse Robin Hood campaign has been "The Economy". Numbers, statistics, predictions and self-proclaimed experts have conjured up an entity bigger and more powerful than any pagan idol in history.
And the 'few'? One only has to look at what has happened to those who left politics, - often under the pretense of withdrawing from the hectic rush of 'public life'. Cushy jobs with large accountancy firms, in international banking. Member of this board, or advisor to that. And not just one of these, but preferably a few ... nothing too arduous though.

I am sure this phenomenon is not limited to this country. In the age of networking the 'old boys' have found their niche. And what used to be blatantly "our thing" has now been cunningly relabelled to "economic necessity" and similar compelling catchwords.

With the help of the media the electorate is soporificated, sedated into accepting the choice between 'old boys A' and 'old boys B'. Brainwashed, the voters will again vote for the parties that will rescue The Economy, - and in doing so will continue relieving them of their liberties. It will take a few years for the voters to emerge from this state of amnesia, but when they do there will be new elections. And the cycle will begin again.....

As a tribute to the tolerant past of this country, I would like to share this album by the late (he died in 2008 - see this article and this wiki) Nigerian highlife star Orlando Owoh. The "Part II" would suggest a part one, but I have personally never seen it (but this discography assures me that it does exist).

Although I have to admit that Owoh's voice may lead to a state of soporification, in my experience this has only had a beneficial result. I would even go as far as to recommend this album as an acute remedy against any form of amnesia!

SOS 126

September 05, 2012


This is a short post about yet another Malian legend who has passed away. Although a virtuoso ngoni and guitar player, Bouba Sacko was perhaps not so well known as others, like Djelimady Tounkara. His career, however, is at least as impressive. In Mali he was well known as an accompagnateur of Malian divas. He played with them all. Rising stars knew they could boost their career by calling in the help of Bouba. For being accompanied by Bouba Sacko almost was a guarantee for success. You can read more about his musical career in this article by Banning Eyre on the Afropop blog.

Bouba Sacko was less fortunate in his private life. I remember rumours went in the late 1990s that he had turned mad. Luckily he resurfaced and picked up his career. Just a few years ago, on October 11, 2008, his wife Djessira Koné, herself a jeli muso of great repute (certainly largely as a consequence of her marriage with Bouba), died. The loss - once more (according to some) - threw Bouba into a deep depression.
Even in death Bouba Sacko appears to be unlucky. According to reports he was quickly buried by the hospital after his demise. He didn't get the burial, with all the ceremonies which are a part of Malian culture, which he should have deserved given his status as vedette de la musique Malienne.

We have his music to remember him by. As an example I would like to share with you this video from the early 1990s. After seeing this I am sure you will recognise him again and again in all those wonderful Malian videos which can now be found on YouTube, - and particularly on Ngoni's great channel.

May he rest in peace.

P.S.: After uploading the video I saw that Ngoni too has uploaded a more recent version to his channel. I have the impression that the sound of my copy is slightly better, while perhaps the image of Ngoni's copy is better than mine. But I leave you to be the judge of this....

August 29, 2012


The two singles I would like to share with you appear to be rather ordinary. But on closer study they are nothing of the sort.

The first of these was given to me in the late 1980s by a brother of my ex-wife. I suppose he felt sorry for me after I had lost a huge pile of records travelling from Bamako via Moscow with Aeroflot (a trauma that haunts me until this very day...). He gave me some singles, including a dramatically sanded down copy of "Whisky Magnin" by Amadou Balaké and this single by Orquesta Broadway.
To be honest the quality of these singles was such that I didn't really listen to them, and they were soon lost in my archive.

As often happens, they resurfaced after moving to our present home. But only recently have I been able to digitise the single by Broadway, and only then did I realise the 'rarity' of it. And I don't mean that the songs on the single are very rare or very special. They should be available either through some online service or through the album "Como Me Gusta". What makes this special is the combination of the B-side "Pa'Africa" with the place where this single was sold. For the single was bought - as can be seen on the back of the sleeve - in Ségou, Mali.

Several Malian musicians of the older generation have told me that Orquesta Broadway visited Mali in the early 1970s. I can find no record of this, only of their visits to Côte D'Ivoire (1973) and Senegal (1974) (more about their history here). But one way or another they had a huge impact on the Malian music scene. As far as I can ascertain these two songs were recorded before their visits to Africa, in 1972. This makes the insertions of the phrases in bambara even more remarkable. In perfect bambara after 1'44: "Let's go to Africa", and "let's go to sleep"(??). And this goes on till 2'24.

As mentioned before, the quality of the vinyl is poor, and if you prefer listening to a cleaner version you can find "Pa'Africa" here or you can buy the A-side "Como Me Gusta" and the album with the same title in several online stores.

SP 10046

The second single of this post was also bought in Africa; to be precise in Gagnoa, Côte D'Ivoire. Again it is by an orchestra that toured West-Africa, although almost a decade earlier. Cuban maestro Enrique Jorrín (wikipedia and a much more detailed biografia in spanish, which shows the intricate web of connections between a great number of Cuban legends) apparently was inspired by the music he heard to such an extent that he actually decided to interpret a song, "Sute Monebo", which he labelled "Folklore guineo".
I have personally never seen a version of this song on CD, - but given the enormous quantity of re-releases of Cuban classics it is possible that it does exist...

This song has had me digging deep in my archives to find an original. An original, which I am sure I have heard at some point in the past, but have been so far unable to retrieve. I have found versions by artists from neighbouring countries, like Ivorian Aïcha Koné (with her the title is "Soutemonebo") and by Malian Toumani Diabaté (Ketama), but these are from a much later date. Perhaps if you know of a version you can let us know. I'm almost certain that when I do find the missing original (or at least the older version I am sure I've heard), I'll go "oh, of course!".

The A-side of this single is very nice too. A simply superb version of that all-time classic and probably most interpreted song ever by Moisés Simons, "El Manicero". Together with the delightful B-side, a single well worth sharing.....


August 27, 2012

Kill them

I can imagine that a lot of followers and fans of the music of Franco and his O.K. Jazz get confused about the chronology of this impressive oeuvre. Unfortunately the CD's that have been released in the decades since Franco's untimely death in 1989 have done little to take away this confusion.

I admit, it is not easy to retrieve this chronology. And this is especially difficult in the recordings of the second half of the 1960s. In this period Franco was releasing records through different labels. The main labels were Epanza Makita (which according to Gary Stewart means "the rain that disperses gatherings", which should be a reference to the effect the recordings would have on the competition) and Boma Bango (which simply means "kill them"). To complicate matters other orchestras, like Négro Succès (see for example this single) and Cercul Jazz, were also allowed to publish their songs via these labels.
And to add to the confusion, O.K. Jazz songs were also published through the Likembe, the Tcheza and the Ngoma label.

In a (perhaps futile) attempt to create a beginning of order, I would like to share with you the first four singles released on the Boma Bango label.

I hasten to add that almost all of these eight songs have been released on lp or CD (and in some cases more than once). And the quality of these releases is certainly better than that of these scratchy old singles from 1966*.

It is clear that the O.K. Jazz was in control of what tracks were to be released on what single. The first single on Boma Bango features two songs composed by Franco himself. Both songs (which have been perfectly reproduced on Sonodisc CD 36521) are in every aspect typical Franco songs. Side A, "Bondoki Na Boniama", a bolero dealing with witchcraft (bondoki) and bestiality or cruelty (boniama). And side B a rumba about a (to me, unknown) topical event in Congolese politics. Franco is emphatically present, vocally, jokingly, brilliantly laid back (side A) or aggressive and biting (side B) on guitar....

Boma Bango BB 1 (African 90.020) or BB 1

BB 2 is as typical of Vicky Longomba as BB 1 of Franco. This single featured on "L'Afrique Danse", the first lp on the African label**, with songs released in 1966. It was later somewhat confusingly added, almost as an afterthought, to Sonodisc CD 36588.
"Tonton" is a Vicky and an O.K. Jazz classic, and features, besides Vicky on lead, Michel Boyibanda on backing vocal. The B-side, "Quand le film est triste", is clearly a cover of a sentimental (lyrics!) French ballad. My guess is that Vicky had heard Sylvie Vartan's 1963 (or 1962?) version of this song. This in turn is credited by some to Georges Aber (France), John D. Loudermilk (US) and Lucien Morisse (France), or to Sylvie Vartan herself with lyrics by a Canadian singer called Michelle Richard, while others claim it is a copy of a 1961 song called "Sad movies make me cry" by Sue Thompson. In any case, it seems very unlikely that - as the label claims - Vicky is the composer...
But both Vicky and Franco make the most of it (and I certainly prefer it to Ms. Vartan's version).

Note, by the way, the trumpet in "Quand le film..". Does anyone have a clue as to the identity of this musician?

Boma Bango BB 2 (African 90.008) or BB 2

The third of these singles features two songs composed by Michel Boyibanda. Both of these were digitised for Sonodisc CD 36533, although the A-side "Ata Na Yebi" was renamed to "Valenta Yoka" and the B-side "OK Asuanaka Te Mpo Na Muasi" lost the "muasi" (= woman). The second, a cha cha cha, can certainly be characterised as a typical Boyibanda tune, if only because he had - at the time at least - a certain reputation for singing Cuban songs. But I am personally more inclined to favour the first, a very delicate rumba, with a fine balance of voices and a superb support by Franco, which lift the song to another level. Notable too is the lovely understated sax, probably by Verckys, but very much in the style of that master of saxes, Isaac Musekiwa.

Boma Bango BB 3 or BB 3

The fourth and final of these four singles contains two songs attributed to Verckys. Side A, "Oh Madame De La Maison", has a history for getting misplaced. It was included on the lp Authenticité Vol.3 (African 360.072), a collection of songs released in 1963 and 1964 on the CEFA label, and subsequently in digital form on Sonodisc CD 36586, a rather incomprehensible collection of songs from different labels and years. Besides this, the track is also interesting musically, and more particularly vocally. As far as I can distinguish Mujos is singing with Michel Boyibanda, but both are singing the lead part (so no lead and backing roles). This lack of harmony leads to a very tight song, which helps to accentuate Franco's neat guitar playing. Verckys hovers in the background for a long time, but when he finally does move to the foreground he does not challenge Franco (as he does for example in "Course Au Pouvoir" and other later tracks on the Boma Bango label).
When I mentioned that both sides of this single are attributed to Verckys, I was referring to the B-side, "El Cuini". As far as I known this is a composition by Cuban legend Richard Egües and was made famous by his Orquesta Aragón (still going strong!). As with the other song which the O.K. Jazz borrowed from Aragón, "Chaleco", I am amazed at the idea of copying a song which relies heavily on the presence of a violin section and the flute of Egües. It must have taken quite a bit of inventiveness to 'translate' this to guitars and saxes, and just for this the O.K. Jazz deserve a credit. I particularly like the use of multiple saxes in this version, and I suppose this was Verckys' contribution.
A slight different form of inventiveness seems to have been applied to the lyrics, - but that just adds to the attraction of these songs....

Boma Bango BB 4 (African 90.023) or BB 4

The combined four singles can also be downloaded here.
And more Boma Bango tracks are on this lp I posted earlier.

* Although there are good reasons for preserving these vinyl treasures. Compare, for example, the tragically compressed "Tonton" of CD 36588 to the open sounding version of the single....
** On this lp you can also find BB 5, "Finga Mama Munu"/ "Revolver" both by Mujos.

August 25, 2012

More mayonnaise

A short post, to be followed by another one very soon. It is just that I have a craving for some solid vocals. And in that respect Mory Djeli 'Deen' Kouyaté will always deliver.

You may remember the cassettes and recordings of this star from Guinea I shared earlier (here and here). If so I am sure you also remember the weak spot in his cassettes: the accompagnement. And this cassette, which again appears to have been recorded in some Parisian studio, unfortunately has the same flaw.
Despite the arrangements by Jean-Philippe Rykiel, Mory Djeli again manages to survive all the attempts to drown him in 'la mayonnaise musicale' originating from the interventions of Rykiel.

Again, if you can mentally block out the superfluous synthesiser (and I know this is not easy!), this cassette is quite enjoyable. Mory Djeli is a great singer, but should - in my opinion - get rid of this Rykiel who is ruining perfectly good, classic songs like "Nanfoule" (yes another version), "Wara", "Moriba Kaba" (a notable victim of Rykiel destructive arrangements) and "Djeliya" (please don't compare this to Tata Bambo's version...).
What a voice....

CK 447

August 20, 2012


I have been very hesitant about posting this absolute marvel. Hesitant, mainly because of my appreciation for this masterpiece, and because of my high esteem for the genius who made these recordings. That I have persuaded myself to post it primarily has to do with the lack of recognition these recordings appear to be getting. And they certainly deserve to be honoured as a milestone in the publication of local and authentic music.

Contributing to my posting has been the posting of other, earlier recordings made by the same Belgian musical explorer, Tony Van der Eecken, by my good friend Gerrit at Lola Vandaag. That cassette with recordings made in Burkina Faso should in itself be enough evidence of Tony's fine musical taste (I am particularly crazy about Les Trembleuses, those over the top bala players from Banfora).

The recordings which Tony Van der Eecken made during trips to Congo (then Zaïre) in 1988 and 1990/1991 can be seen as a starting point for the '(re)discovery' of groups like Konono No.1 (see this earlier post). At the time of the first broadcast of these songs, on May 31, 1991 in a (four hours!) edition of VPRO's "De Wandelende Tak", they hit me right between the eyes. It was like the discovery of a missing link in the evolution of mankind. In retrospect this may sound somewhat exaggerated, but up to that point there had not been a lot of material from so-called folkloric music, which had NOT been recorded by (ethno-)musicologists.
Besides, it was clear that this music was not some kind of static phenomenon, a culture frozen in time (and space), but a living music which incorporated influences both from traditional and modern styles.

Listen for example to the opening track by the group SASA Tshokwe ("Sauvons l'Authenticité Suivant l'Art Tshokwe" - see also this site). The guitarist, a certain Mutshi, clearly is trying to do some Franco-like chords. Despite the use of what may be described as 'primitive' instruments (two cassette boxes, a bottle, a cooking pot) I certainly would not call the music primitive. Inventive, yes. Original, certainly. Even authentic and unique.

The CD contains a fantastic and paradigm shifting collection of musical marvels. Songs that will move and will get even the most reluctant misanthrope moving.
Who ever thought that it would be possible to dance to what sounds like a (mechanical) typewriter (track 3) or to the sound of someone blowing through a plastic tube into an oil drum (track 7)?

As can be expected, the lyrics of the songs are as relevant as the music. Topics are usual of a social nature, like "eat together with others, for they will help you if you have a problem" or "those who drink a lot shouldn't forget they have a wife and children to feed" and similar globally valid themes.

The booklet gives the lyrics of track 5. Translated (from the Dutch translation):
"The sun rises, everyone starts work, I am worried about my wife.
[Chorus:] Where is my wife?
I have woken up, everyone is at work, I stayed. Where is my wife?
I agreed when she told me the other day: 'I am going to buy products on the market. Watch the house, I will come back. I am going to Kinshasa'.
She died there, she did not return. I am worried, I remember her last words: 'Watch the house, I will come back, I promise'.
I accept death, but my wife told me before she left 'See you later'. But she has gone (is dead). She has left clothes and shoes, but who is going to wear them? She has left the house full of money.
I told her: 'Stay here, there is money'. But she replied: 'I have business to settle in Kinshasa'.
[Chorus:] You have left me behind with many worries. What should I do?
[Spoken:] No suffering.
We shall tire them, we'll let them eat mushrooms (i.e. poison them). The young girls are numerous, we'll take them for free. You are numerous, we'll take you if you're not married.
My wife, come, come, come. Come and eat beignets (i.e. the fritters which can be bought on any street corner).
I have lost my wife. The family will hand out all the food I have ever eaten (during the funeral). When the beans were prepared (at the funeral), I wasn't there. Father Eugène, don't follow our music, go inside while we continue here. Sister Louise. don't follow this, prepare fufu for us to eat.


Luckily these "Mundenge" recordings have proved to be only the start of a stream of memorable masterpieces. And in case you are wondering: yes, Tony Van der Eecken is a friend of Vincent Kenis. They travelled together through Congo. Vincent has subsequently introduced the world to Konono No.1, the Kasai Allstars and Staff Benda Bilili, besides being involved in a very interesting project to 'uncover' the remains of the Tango Ya Ba Wendo (1950s musical scene) in Kinshasa/Léopoldville*.

Personally I am very impressed by The Karindula Sessions, which have been release as a CD plus a DVD. This video gives an impression of the mind boggling performances.

The Karindula Sessions from Crammed Discs on Vimeo.

*After seeing a preview of the documentary in Bamako last October I am very very eager to see the final version. (...please?)

August 11, 2012


For the past week and a half I have been living in a state of severe and toe-curling irritation. Of course the London Olympics came with the usual nationalistic sentiments, and with the customary hypocrisy with regards to the winners (of course no one begrudges those Chinese or US sportsmen and women winning all those medals). And I didn't even mind the hosts gloating excessively about their achievements.

What really got me was "Team GB" (pronounced "Geebee").

It's like nails on a blackboard. "Team GB". They should shoot the idiot who started this.
I realise the British have been 'matey' with the US for some decades now. The embarrassing encounters between Thatcher and Reagan immediately spring to mind. And I am aware of the uncomfortable and slightly bizarre relationship of Tony and George W (just thinking about this dynamic duo I get shivers running down my spine....).
But "Team GB": it seems like a turning point in history. Finally the British have given up their own culture in favour of that rich culture that gave us...

Well you tell me.

When it comes to cultural integrity, I am not as worried about Mali as I am about the UK. The country has survived colonialism with its culture intact. The islam in Mali is not the islam of Arabian Peninsula or the islam of the expatriates in Europe. What I have experienced of Malian islam suggests that the balance between islam and traditional culture is still in favour of the latter. So I am not convinced Mali will be an African Afghanistan.

And evidence for this can be found in the music. There is so much authenticity in this music and such strength of culture.
Listen , for example, to this cassette by Molobali Keita.
This is volume 5, - and there are more (besides the ones I have already posted - Vol.4, Vol.3, Vol.2).

Samassa S 4457

No hint of "Team GB" there, don't you agree?
And as an extra, this fantastic video by the same artist, from Ngoni's superior YouTube offerings:

July 06, 2012

July 6, 1938

He would have been 74 today. And although he has been dead for over 20 years now, and even the circumstances surrounding his death (such as where he died, and his last concert in Amsterdam) are getting blurred* in the mist of time, he remains a legend, a source of inspiration both for musicians and for the many, many, many passionate lovers of his music and of the passion and assertiveness of his guitar playing.
And I count myself amongst those.

Of course I don't need an excuse to post another album by Franco and his orchestre O.K. Jazz.
And especially when it concerns this one. Volume 4 is from the In Memoriam series released by Polygram, Kenya in 1989, shortly after Franco's death. This album contains a truly varied selection of songs from the early 1970s/late 1960s. Four of the eight songs are composed by Franco himself, and one each by Kwamy, Youlou, Celi Bitshou and Vicky.

Franco is at it from the start, with some trademark shuffles in the opening track "Claude" and over 2 minutes of unadulterated 'mipanza' (or 'knitting'), as Franco would call his guitar style.
Franco's second composition "Tembe Na Tembe" may at first seem like more of the same, but after listening to it a few times you will notice the totally different approach: it is like Franco is on tiptoes, with almost casual notes from his guitar, - until he just flutters off after 1'51....

More ecstacy in the third track "Caisse D'Epargne". I suspect the song is about a savings bank, but the music can certainly not be labelled as 'frugal', let alone dull. This is one of the very few songs in this period featuring a drum kit. The O.K. Jazz used a drum kit in their live performances but found it hard to use in the studio. The reason is quite obvious, given that recordings were done in one take. The - skipping - result in this song is quite satisfactory, but only because Franco's contribution on guitar is minimal. Chécain's voice seems to act as a counterpoise for the jubilant horns.

After the jubilation of "Caisse D'Epargne" the contrast with the following "Lola" only adds to the dramatic impact of this superb bolero by one of my favourite bolero singers with the O.K. Jazz: Kwamy. I have asked several musicians of the O.K. Jazz about the guitarists in this song, and the general opinion appears to be that in fact two guitarists are playing the lead: Franco and Brazzos. In my opinion there is no doubt that Franco is the one responsible for that 'stab to the heart' at 3'41.....
Please note, by the way, that Kwamy's last whispers at the very end of the song are missing in the CD version (Sonodisc CD 36603).

Like "Lola" the tracks on side B can be found on CD's. In the case of Youlou Mabiala's "Celina" this is actually an improvement as the version on CD 36586 is in stereo and (subsequently) sounds more open. "Patience" was released on CD 36581 as "Mwasi Tata Abali Sika".
In the case of "Mokili Matata" the CD version is even harder to trace, as it is credited on the CD (the same as the previous track) to Franco. This is incorrect.

It is wise to take good note of all tracks composed by Celi Bitshou. His best known composition is of course "(Infidelité) Mado", but other tracks like "Mokolo Ya Pasi" and "Nazali Kitoko Mingi" (on that great CD 36514) show his incredible talent for arranging and for the dramatic. And the same goes for this "Mokili Matata". Franco's rhythmic interaction with the percussion and the rhythm guitar is - again - brilliant.

The last track is really an 'odd one out'. The song was recorded as the very first song of Vicky's Viclong label. As such it was the first step on the way to the separation between Franco and Vicky, with as you may remember from this earlier post a B-side entitled "J'ai trompé mon amour". An indication of things to come, one might say.


And as an extra celebrational bonus I am adding this incredible video, posted by Aboubacar Siddikh.

*and talking about blurred: the writer of this article appears to be the last in a word-of-mouth line with several deaf people in it....

July 04, 2012


Off-topic: I am getting a bit annoyed with the - unfortunately numerous - pathetic attempts to 'slip in' commercial or otherwise completely irritating links into comments. I do not want to introduce a form of moderation, but I am also not going to accept any links not related to either the posts or the comments. So please try and control these urges....
And while I am on the subject of irritating mails: it is absolutely useless and a waste of time to ask me if I am interested in 'partnerships' or other commercial 'liaisons'. So do yourself (and me) a favour....

On-topic: You may remember my earlier post dedicate to the legendary Siramori Diabaté. In this post I would like to share with you some recordings made by her eldest daughter, Sanoudie (or Sanungwe or Sanougue) Kouyaté.

Perhaps you know her 1990 "Balendala Djibe" album (cassette/lp/CD) which was produced by Salif Keita and recorded in Paris. As far as I know she has not brought out another record since, although I think I saw the title song of the Paris recording on one of the many CD compilation of Malian divas.
I am not sure about her present role in Malian music, but I gather from a book entitled "Relaties smeden: de rol van een jelimuso (griotte) in Mali" (i.e. "Forging relationships: the role of a jelimuso [female griot] in Mali") written by Dutch antropologist Nienke Muurling (and released in 2003), in which the writer submerges into the jeli scene of Bamako & Paris, that Sanoudie was very much active in the lucrative sumu (soirées, weddings, baptisms and such) scene at the turn of the century.

Apparently (I read in this same book) she wasn't able to follow in the footsteps of her mother until in the second part of the 1980s, not because of lack of talent or of 'griot training' (the practical side of tradition), but because of her marriage to a Diawara. Her husband's family did not allow her to get mixed up in 'jeli doings'.... It wasn't until she divorced Diawara and married Madusilla Kouyaté that she was able to start a career as a djeli mousso (jelimuso).

Personally I am not a great fan of "Balendala Djibe". Like many of Salif Keita's albums it is too overproduced for my liking and - as a result - the music loses a lot of its power. Although Sanoudie manages - and with some ease - to overcome the treaclelike production, she has had to make some adjustments to do so. Especially the more subtle nuances of her voice are lost.

These subtleties are very audible in this cassette, which is not dated but which I assume was recorded in the late 1980s. On this cassette she is very much her mother's daughter, and not just by the choice of songs. For all the songs are from Siramori Diabaté's repertoire, which is the repertoire of the griots of Kangaba/Kela (I gladly refer you to Jan Jansen's great CD's on the PAN label, no. 2015, 2059 and 2104). The accompaniment is simple and inobtrusive, especially on side B, where it consists of just a guitar (her husband Madusilla?).

On side A there are brilliant renditions of Malinké classics like "Sadiona Magni" and "Yasoumouka" (which you perhaps know from the version by Les Ambassadeurs du Motel), but as great as these are, the killer tracks are, in my opinion, on the B-side. "Bani" (elsewhere interpreted under the title of "Baninde" - see this post and - of course - this one) is one of the best versions I have heard. And that classic of classics "Wara" is sung in a disturblingly casual but brilliant manner, - and hits me right between the eyes.

Syllart SYL 83107

There are several videos on YouTube by Sanoudie (don't look for Sanoudie, but try Sanungwe instead). My favourite of these is the one Ngoni posted on his great channel. It is roughly from the same period as the recordings on the cassette, and (also??) features her husband on guitar.

June 20, 2012

Peacock comfort

I am aware that Moos at Global Groove has posted an album by this very same group a few days ago. But in this case I can't resist adding my contribution to a well-deserved eulogy of the fantastic Peacocks International.

According to the inimitable John B. of the matching Likembe blog in the notes to the discography of this band on Professor Toshiya Endo website, the liner notes of the lp-version of this cassette claim: "..yet only very few of the millions of fans within 150,000 family units in Nigeria and Ghana really know who the Peacocks are. Some call them Ghanaians and are ready to stake anything to argue their claims, but call them what you like, the boys are Nigerians."

As an outsider I am truly amazed. I have never been in any doubt as to their nigerianess. And, it may be my total ignorance of efik, ewe, igbo or any of the other languages they may sing in, or call it intuition if you like, I had a nasty suspicion they might be from the igbo-side of Nigerian music.
Whether it is the music of that late Consistent King of Highlife, Stephen Osita Osadebe, or these Peacocks, there is a definite comforting feel about this music. I have had plenty of time to analyse this, as I have had this cassette for a few decades and have listened to it hundreds of times.

There is magic in those guitars, the passionate harmonies and meticulous percussion. And this is amply demonstrated in the songs on this cassette. You just haven't lived if you haven't listened to that opening of "Sambiro", or have joined in* the chorus of "Sambola Mama" or "Isuola Me" while driving at top speed on the motorway. And my head has an irresistible tendency to start wobbling listening to "Kinkana Special". And I could go on, but it might get embarrassing...

If you want to know more about the group I am afraid I will have to direct you to John's Likembe blog. I am still hopeful that he will share some more Peacock music with us.

EMI HNLX 5096(cassette)

* well, just the sounds and not really the words....

June 05, 2012


Another of the big men of Congolese music has gone. Paul Ndombe, better known as Pépé Ndombe or Ndombe Opetum has died on May 24, 2012 in Kinshasa.

The first rumours of his death reached me on the very same day. As it was impossible to verify this tragic news, and as rumours have often been found to travel faster than the truth, it seemed wise to wait a little before posting it in this blog.
Unfortunately, the rumours were soon confirmed by several sources. Apparently Ndombe had been taken ill a few days earlier; it appears this illness was to be his last...

I have never had the fortune to interview Ndombe. So with regards to his biography I have to rely on other sources.
Born on February 21, 1944 in the Bandundu province, Paul Ndombe moved to the capital Leopoldville at the age of five, where his father had found work as a teacher. Having succesfully finished his schooling, Paul was sent to the town of Kikwit in the Kwilu province to start work as a civil servant. There, at the age of seventeen (and far from the watchful eyes of his parents?), he gave in to his passion for 'the arts' and joined a group called Select Jazz. A few years later, with some friends and with the help of a local sponsor, he started a band called Super Fiesta.

In 1965, as a result of the unrest in the Kwilu province, his job was 'relocated' to the capital. Although this meant leaving his band behind, it appears the urge for music did not diminish. According to some reports Paul Ndombe in 1967 attempted to join Vox Africa, after Sam Mangwana left the group. But Jeannot Bombenga turned him down.

single by Ndombe Opetum & African Fiesta Nationale
A single by Ndombe with African Fiesta Nationale
on the Isa label (link to this single)
A year later he was encouraged to audition for an even greater star of Congolese music: Rochereau. According Gary Stewart (in his "Rumba On The River") and others he again was to replace Sam Mangwana, who had left after the orchestra had been suspended for showing up late for a gala concert set up by President Mobutu. He managed to impress Rochereau with an immaculate rendering of the song "Baboka" (a.k.a. "Michelina"), according to this interview (which unfortunately is in lingala, but which I still recommend very strongly, - if only for the bits of singing by Ndombe!).

Ndombe, nicknamed "Pepe" by Rochereau, settled in great with African Fiesta National (or African Fiesta 'Le Peuple'). His voice combined perfectly with Rochereau's. In fact, both voices were similar to a point where fans even confused Ndombe's vocal with that of Rochereau.
As a composer too Ndombe soon started to make a name for himself, with hits like "Hortense", "Nakoli Kotika Yo Te! Papa" and - my favourite - "Longo". And in 1970 he accompanied Rochereau, who by then had adopted the title of "Le Seigneur", during his prestigious concerts at the Olympia in Paris. Concerts which - by the way - Rochereau has described in several interviews as a highlight in his career.

In the following year, things turned slightly sour for African Fiesta. Some musicians and dancers left after they had not been paid for nine months. Rochereau himself was even jailed after a dispute about money.
The exodus was completed in 1972, when Pierre 'Attel' Mbumba (who had joined African Fiesta shortly before Ndombe) and Empompo Loway 'Deyesse', together with Ndombe (who had been renamed Ndombe Opetum in the Mobutu's Authenticité campaign), were lured out of the orchestra to form Orchestre Afrizam.

Sam Mangwana joined for a short while, but after he had left Ndombe was the star of the show. He composed a great number of songs and sang in most, if not all.

My impression is that things did not go as smoothly as Ndombe would have like with Afrizam. Some point out that the ghost of Tabu Ley Rochereau's Afrisa/African Fiesta kept pursuing Afrizam and that this was only strengthened by the use of Afrisa's rhythms. Ndombe decided to team up with guitarist Dino Vangu and change the name of the orchestra into Makina Loka. Here he recorded - amongst others - this single "Zongisa Bolingo 1 & 2" (which was re-released on CD as "Mpongo").

Ndombe 1975My guess is that it did not take a lot of persuading to get Ndombe to join the Tout Puissant O.K. Jazz in 1975. He fitted perfectly into Franco's strategy to merge the styles of the two schools of Congolese music into one.
Again he served as a replacement for Sam Mangwana, although I assume that Franco saw the 'added value' which Ndombe could bring, and which he very soon demonstrated in songs like "Yo Seli-Ja" (video) and - especially - "Salima" (highly recommended video).

Besides being a great addition as a vocalist Ndombe also proved his relevance as a composer. Best known in this early stage of his career with the T.P. O.K. Jazz is his song "Voyage Na Bandundu". Although others see this song as a continuation of his repertoire with Tabu Ley, I don't agree. My impression is that Ndombe tried to emulate the success of Lutumba Simaro's classic "Ebale Ya Zaïre", which had been so brilliantly interpreted by his 'predecessor' Sam Mangwana.

In later years Ndombe produced many hits with the T.P. O.K. Jazz, the biggest of which were the 1982 "Mawe" and "Na Yebi Ndenge Bokolela Ngai" (video) from 1983 (also known as "Masha Masha" or "Mashata"). And perhaps I should add this song, originally from 1979:

Ndombe Opetum with his son (Delft, 1991-08-03)
Ndombe and son (Delft 1991)
In 1983 Ndombe left the T.P. O.K. Jazz*, for reasons which so far I have not been able to uncover. Perhaps they had to do with Franco's lengthy stay in Europe, and with Ndombe's ownership of a bar dancing, called "Lal Abiy Santamaria", which was his pride until it was burned down (in 1994?).
He teamed up with Sam Mangwana and Empompo Loway in a group ambitiously called "Tiers Monde Cooperation" ("third world cooperation"). The Tiers Monde 'project' delivered - as far as I am aware - three lp's, and four if you count the lp featuring "Fatimata" which is credited to Sam Mangwana (who is only on one of the Tiers Monde Cooperation lp's) and orchestre Tiers-Monde.

Ndombe returned to the O.K. Jazz flock in 1986, and joined Franco on the tour of Kenya that year, and during the concerts in Brussels in April 1987. But later the same year he had another row with Franco and left the band to rejoin Tabu Ley's Afrisa International.
Fortunately Franco and Ndombe put aside their differences and reconciled before Franco's death on October 12, 1989. Ndombe rejoined the T.P. O.K. Jazz and became one of the leading forces of the band after Franco's demise. In 1993, when the band was forced to abandon the name of T.P. O.K. Jazz as a result of dispute with Franco's family, Ndombe was one of the initiators of the new orchestra Bana O.K.. He played a crucial role in the continuation of Franco's legacy until his untimely death.

Ndombe leaves a wife and 9 children.
May he rest in peace.

Ndombe with African Fiesta National and Afrizam
Ndombe with T.P. O.K. Jazz

photo: Aboubacar Siddikh [copyright]
Madilu System, Ndombe Opetum, Lola Djangi Chécain, Aimé Kiwakana (Delft 1991)  

* according to some sources. Other sources claim that he never left the T.P. O.K. Jazz, but was allowed to 'moonlight' with Tiers Monde.