July 29, 2013


In the past few days I have been in the precise mood for this classic album from 1984. I hasten to add that I am not a fan of this orchestra, Super Diamono (or Jamano) de Dakar, but I do love this lp.

The lp itself was given to me on April 11, 1986 by Donald 'Jumbo' Vanrenen, who at the time was still living in London and very much in charge of the Earthworks label. I interviewed him about his relation to music in general and to artists like Thomas Mapfumo. In re-listening the 3-hour interview I have not been able to discover what triggered this gift, but until this very day I am truely grateful.

Purely coincidentally I interviewed both Moussa Ngom and Omar Pene that same year. The interview with Moussa Ngom, after a concert in the legendary African Feeling series organised by Oko Drammeh at the Paradiso in Amsterdam (see the flyer below), was very strenuous, with Moussa answering in platitudes which seemed to be inspired by reggae lyrics. Omar Pene, who I interviewed at the WOMAD festival, was - by contrast - extremely businesslike in his answers. One answer in particular stuck with me. Asked if it didn't bother him that European audiences had no idea what he was singing about, he said that to him the voice was primarily an instrument; changing the language would mean changing the instrument.

Listening to this album I have to agree that the songs would sound ridiculous if they were sung, for example, in french. Omar Pene's voice is in perfect harmony with the instrumentation, almost to a point where voice and instruments amalgamate.
In general I thoroughly dislike anything even vaguely resembling a synthesizer, and I think the introduction of this demon child of organ parentage has played a major role in the degradation and impoverishment of musical cultures. Nevertheless, given that the damage has been done, the milk has been spilt and the child has disappeared with the bath water, I can think of far worse examples of the use of synthetic instruments than that by Papa Basse in these tracks.
It is like Super Diamono was attempting to invent a new vocabulary with this album. A vocabulary where the synthesizer would not sound out of place, totally superfluous and an economic alternative to something much better (i.e. usually a horn section).

In the opening track "Yamatée Née Law" the guitar, the voice of Omar Pene, even the well-tempered sax (after 2'07), they are all held together by the organ and synthesizer. The song is languid, moody almost, and the synthesizer and organ are major contributors to this feeling.
The effect is slightly different in the second song, "Indu Waad", also a ballad. The synth sauce is counterbalanced by the subtle guitar, which only just manages to save Omar Pene's voice from tipping over into the dramatic. Drama does prevail in the title song of the album, "Geedy Dayaan". In this song Omar Pene is the star of the show. His voice brilliantly goes from desperate to consoling, from tragic to loving. Please note too Bob Sène's careful guitar playing.

Of the three other (more mbalax style) songs on this album I particularly like "Muugn". Not so much for the synthesizer, which I find more irritating than on the other songs, but for the fact that Super Diamono demonstrates that the band can also make good songs without or with just a little bit of synth.

GR 7604

July 15, 2013

On sort O.K.

In this second commemorative post I am going back to the start of Franco's O.K. Jazz. The three EP's I would like to share were released in the early 1960s, but the songs on these were recorded between late November 1956 and August 1957.

All of these songs have been - at some time - released on CD, so you may wonder why I am posting them. The answer is actually quite simple: I think the sound on these EP's is better. And I don't mean that these EP's are flawless. On the contrary, I would described the state of the vinyl as mediocre*. There is a steady crackle on all these three Extended Play records. Nevertheless, the definition of the music, of the instruments and the singers, is - in my opinion - better than on the CD's.

Essous & Rossignol in 1957
This 'definition' is immediately noticeable in the first song of the EP with the title "O.K. Jazz No.2". This song, "La Fiesta" (here "La Fiesta-Tcha-Tcha-Tcha", probably copied from the labelling on the HMV shellac), features singer Vicky Longomba backed by Philippe Landot a.k.a. "Rossignol". Just on the voices there is clearly more definition: Rossignol's voice can be distinguished far better and is positioned behind Vicky's in the sound image. But an even greater difference can be heard in the sound of the maracas. This instrument no longer sounds muffled. Also that wonderful clarinet, played by Jean-Serge Essous (see this post), is more more '3-D' than on the CD, which even further enhances the part of this song after 1'24 which I see as one of the climaxes in the Essous' work with the O.K. Jazz.
Unfortunately there are very few of those. And this is not so much due to the lack of talent on the part of Essous, but entirely to the fact that on January 1, 1957 he (and Rossignol, plus drummer Saturnin 'Ben' Pandi and Paul Ebengo better known as Dewayon) left the O.K. Jazz and Editions Loningisa for the new created Esengo label. So this was exactly 5 weeks after recording "La Fiesta" and the A-side of this 78 (Loningisa 160), "On Entre O.K., On Sort K.O.", which by many - and in my opinion erroneously - is considered to be the first track by the O.K. Jazz. My guess is that this has to do with the HMV catalogue, in which "On Entre O.K., On Sort K.O."/"La Fiesta" is the first record (HMV 1001). The tracks recorded at the Loningisa studio were sold on to His Master's Voice. There are even a few tracks which were only released on HMV.
Going by the recording dates the first record by the O.K. Jazz (founded June 6, 1956) is Loningisa 154 "Makambo Mayiza Mazono" (recorded June 20, 1956), with the tell-tale B-side "La Rumba O.K." (recorded on June 21, 1956). Both these songs, composed by Franco, are on Crammed Disc CRAW 7, which also contains Loningisa 157: "Tika Kondima Na Zolo"/"Meya Te, Kaka Elamba". And, in case you are still convinced that Loningisa 160 was the first release by the O.K. Jazz: Loningisa 158, recorded in July 1956, features another Franco song entitled "Bana O.K. Jazz".

To me the best tracks of Essous with the O.K. Jazz must be the two on the A-side of the second EP, which carries the rather anonymous title of "Congo Rhythm". These two tracks, "Alliance Mode Succès" and "Tongo Se Elangisa" (both composed by Dewayon), were recorded just days before Essous and Rossignol departed, on December 24 and 27. The interplay between Franco and Essous in these songs is just brilliant, and makes me wish the cooperation between these two Greats would have continued for much longer. It is clear that this interplay was the basis for the - almost hallmark - interaction between Franco and Isaac Musekiwa, the sax player who in the early part of 1957 came over from Kabasellé's African Jazz to fill the gap Essous had left.
I assume the song "Alliance Mode Succès" is one of many paying tribute to a female association (and I suppose this must have been "La Mode"**). Rossignol encourages the members of the association to show their dancing skills, calling them one by one.
"Tongo Se Elangisa" is my favourite song of Vicky singing with Rossignol. Rossignol is singing lead, with a touch of the dramatic (it is a bolero); and Vicky shows great control in backing him in an understated manner.

More songs from 1956 can be found on the third of these EP's. Something appears to have gone terribly wrong with the title of this EP, as the trademark slogan "On entre O.K., on sort K.O." has been 'corrected' into "On Entre O.K., On Sort O.K.". It is unlikely that the correction was intentional, as even the opening track of this EP, the A-side of "La Fiesta" (see above), has been changed.
The two songs on the B-side of this EP were composed by Essous. As with the songs on the other EP's, both "Lina" and "Se Pamba" sound more open than the CD-versions, which also makes it easier to distinguish Franco's antics in the background.

After the departure of Essous, Rossignol and Pandi new members were recruited. Vocalists Edo Nganga and Célestin Kouka joined the young orchestra, and Nicolas Bosuma a.k.a "Dessoin" was attracted to replace Pandi. No doubt provoked by the serious competition from the new orchestras and temporary groupings on the Esengo label, the O.K. Jazz progressed at an incredible rate.
Also new with the O.K. Jazz was Antoine 'Brazzos' Armando. He had played with Vicky at Editions CEFA in the mid-1950s. There he worked with Belgian (jazz-)guitarist Bill Alexandre, who in 1955 introduced the electric guitar into Congolese music. Bill Alexandre named Brazzos, in an interview in 1992, as the best guitarist of the era. I am not sure what the precise grounds were for this qualification, or if this was in any way influenced by the fact that they cooperated at the CEFA label. Nor do I have any idea if Mr. Alexandre was aware of the full extent of the competition. Fact is, however, that Brazzos played a crucial role in the evolution of the O.K. Jazz, - if only for his compositions.
For, to be honest, Brazzos' role as an instrumentalist within the O.K. Jazz is still a bit of a mystery to me. As I mentioned, he joined the O.K. Jazz in 1957 as a rhythm guitarist, left the orchestra at the end of 1959 to join Kabasellé (and Vicky) as a bass player at the Table Ronde. And when he returned a few years later (again with Vicky), his place as an accompagnateur was taken by Lutumba Simarro and Franco was well on his way to establish himself as the undisputed star of the orchestra.

In the time between his arrival at the O.K. Jazz and his departure for African Jazz Brazzos composed 20 songs for the orchestra, and all of these are veritable gems. His first record was "Na Banzaki Angelu"/"Nde Okobanza" (Loningisa 181 / HMV 1027) and his second was "Tcha Tcha Tcha De Mi Amor"/"Yaka Nakoki Te" (Loningisa 189 / HMV 1045). These last two songs can be found on these EP's. "Tcha Tcha Tcha De Mi Amor" is the first in a line of killer cha-cha-cha's, which with the O.K. Jazz were usually not very far from a boléro. Franco is at it and restless like a caged animal, while the rest of the orchestra remains relatively sedate and seemingly undisturbed. In "Yaka Nakoki Te" Franco seems more controlled, but this control is deceptive.
I am sure I'll get back to Brazzos and his contribution to the early O.K. Jazz at a later date.

I leave you to evaluate the remaining four tracks from these three EP's by yourself. The two most 'recent' of these, "Nakolela Mama Azonga" and "Ah Bolingo Pasi", were composed by Vicky and were recorded on August 21, 1957 and released as Loningisa 198 (HMV 1054). Edo Nganga's "Taxi Avalon" was released on Loningisa 192 (HMV 1048). And I am sure you recognise "Aya La Mode" (Loningisa 194 / HMV 1050) from the compilations in which this compositon by Franco has been included, - unfortunately in most cases out of context and seriously compressed and/or otherwise mangled. In the version on the EP you can still hear Brazzos' understated rhythm guitar, which Franco uses as a line to set his exclamation marks.

Pathé 7 EMF 218 - 7 EMF 291 - 7 EMF 302 (or in one file)

*this the equivalent of what those online sellers of vinyl label "NM", - which I, naively, believed to mean "near mint", but should be interpreted as either "slightly worse than anything in your own collection" or "exposed to a pre-school playgroup"....
** and that reminds me: I am still waiting, with considerable anticipation, for the documentary which Vincent Kenis, Césarine Sinatu Bolya and others have made about the 1950s Congolese music scene, in which these associations play an important role.

July 12, 2013


I had intended to finish this post last Saturday, July 6, as it was the date on which Franco would have celebrated his 75th birthday. But both the warm weather here in the low countries, plus work and (especially) social obligations have prevented me from completing this task.
So almost a week late, I would like to commemorate this true giant of African music, a giant who despite his huge influence on African and - through this - world music in many respects remains completely unknown to the general public in large parts of the world, by sharing two selections from his work.

The first of these is the album "Chez Fabrice à Bruxelles" which was released on the Edipop label in 1983.

In my experience this is an album that not many people will mention when summing up their favourite works by Franco and his T.P. O.K. Jazz. This is a pity, but not for the most obvious reason.
The most obvious reason being that this is the album that contains the first (almost 19 minutes) track combining the vocals of Franco and Madilu System: "Non". This combination would prove hugely successful in the following years, with the albums "Très Impoli" (POP 028, 1984 - with "Tu Vois?", which is probably better known as "Mamou") and, of course, "Mario" (CHOC 004 and CHOC 005, both from 1985).

To be honest, I am not a great fan of the (also late) Madilu. While I understand the reasons for his popularity, my preferences are with other singers.
But, as Ntesa Dalienst put it in an interview in 1990 (parts of which have been posted by Aboubacar Siddikh on his YouTube channel), in the last years of his life Franco composed songs for the voice of Madilu. According to Ntesa, this choice must be seen in the light of Franco's continual endeavour to incorporate other popular Congolese styles into the music of the T.P. O.K. Jazz. From 1973 onwards he had (no doubt helped by the position he had obtained both within the music 'business' and in relation to the political powers of - then - Zaïre) attracted singers from the African Jazz school of Congolese music (Sam Mangwana, Josky Kiambukuta, Ntesa Dalienst and others). Ntesa names "Non" specifically as a song intended to integrate the style of Pepe Kallé.
While Ntesa stated that the love for this music style was Franco's main motive, I suspect that commercial motives must have played a role. And especially as Franco was trying, in 1983, to gain access to the American and European market and wanted to use the broadest possible scope of Congolese music to do so.

At the same time Franco did not want to lose any of his popularity with his Congolese/Zairean public. So he continued to address them on issues which can best be described as 'everyday issues'. "Non" is a mix between a love song and a song about a social topic. In short, the song is about a girl's refusal to marry a married man. Seen from a current, western perspective the lyrics are blatantly sexist, even verging on misogynistic. Whether this means that Franco can be described a misogynist is, however, not as obvious as it may seem. A lot of Franco's songs describe opinions held by (a larger or smaller part of) the Zairean public. In many cases they do not necessarily always represent Franco's personal view.

Getting back to the album, I find the A-side musically more interesting than the B-side. This side contains two tracks, "Frein à main" and "5 Ans ya Fabrice". I don't know the lyrical content of the first song, apart from what appears to emanate from the title (a "frein à main" is a handbrake, and I assume Franco is not referring to the handbrake in a car).
The second song is a sequel to a song from 1980, simply called "Fabrice". It is a continued ode to the tailor in Ixelles, Brussels frequented by Franco and some of his musicians and staff.
There is a third ode to the same craftsman, "Fabrice Akende Sango", which was released after Franco's death on Sonodisc CD 6981, and which also features Ntesa, but this time with Sam Mangwana, - and not with Josky (as in this version). Sadly the Franco's absence in the post-production of that last version is very noticeable....

I like the A-side not just for the solid chorus, but also for the complex arrangement. Perhaps not as classic as "A l'Ancienne Belgique" from 1984, but well en route to that peak in the 1980s repertoire of the T.P. O.K. Jazz.
Over the years I have found that a lot of listeners have problems distinguishing Franco's guitar in the melee (or - if you like - mêlée) of guitars. In "Frein à main" and "5 Ans ya Fabrice" his guitar is on the far right of the stereo image (e.g. 7'15 into "Frein" or 10'36 into "Fabrice").

Edipop POP 027