December 28, 2014

My joy is so great...

I have never been a great believer. When it comes to belief I have always been on the side of caution. It may have been my catholic upbringing and the deeprooted hypocrisy that comes with this religion that has led to a profound mistrust of firm believers. I would even go as far as to state that I am convinced there should always be room for doubt.

I won't come as a surprise that my attitude towards religion is somewhere between serious suspicion and extreme wariness. And certainly I draw the line at religious groups claiming to be superior or better than others, and firmly oppose any sects, extremists or religious nuts claiming to belong to the "only acceptable religion". I mean, if you are going to be religiously inclined that's fine, but don't bully others into involuntary partaking in your convictions.

In my opinion too much is made of the differences between religions. The fundamental difference between christianity and islam, of example, may be the belief in the human god, but apart from this the similarities far outweigh the differences. The emphasis on differences usually has its roots in culture and politics, or in the interpretation of the principles of the specific belief. The scope of interpretation within one religion is usually greater than the root difference between 'rivalling' religions. Strict interpretations and a strict imposing of one interpretation have over the centuries only resulted in greater variety. New varieties have had to accentuate their differences in order to survive, thus creating rivalry, hardline interpretation, oppression and finally new religions...
And I don't mean I am immune to the reasons that lay at the basis for belief and religion: fear of the unknown, lack of control of one's destiny and fate, uncertainty, insecurity and the sense of insignificance within the enormity of all.

A country that has been at the forefront of the rivalry between religions for quite a while now is Nigeria. As far as I know (and I realise I am very much limited by the minimal coverage of Nigerian affairs in western media!) this has only led to a violent struggle in the last few years. In music we have come to know both strong believers of the Christian faith, like juju-stars King Sunny Ade and (the reformed) Chief Ebenezer Obey, and devout Muslims, such as that hero of apala music Alhadji Haruna Ishola.

In this post I would like to share with you exponents of both Christianity and Islam. And in both cases with an explicit focus on their respective religion.
Islam is represented by an album by the Muslim Carol Singers, led by brother Latifu Fagbayi Oloto. I bought this record in the mid-1980s at Stern's, and I gather they were glad to get rid of it, as there was an overcrowding of similar albums in their shelves. It has been an album that has raised eyebrows, evoked some curiosity, but one that has not been copied a lot.
The music is in a style that at times borrows from fuji and at times from apala. While I like the choruses, I am not too impressed by brother Latifu's contribution. The best track, if you ask me, is the title track (B1). In apala style, but not in the same league as the great Alhadji Haruna Ishola. The music never gets off the ground, never really flows.

Leader LRCLS 52

Representing Christian faith is a group with some mystery attached to it. The CD is credited to the Brotherhood Youth Fellowship Choir, but the publisher leaves some doubt if this is indeed the gospel choir which can be heard in these 21 songs. The songs are copied from cassettes bought in 2000, but probably recorded in the 1970s.
This is a capella music in the strictest sense of the word, so no instruments and as in a church (i.e. "a capella"). The titles are largely unknown or have been added by the publisher.

I can only agree with the producers of this CD that this is music worth preserving. The chorusses are simply wonderful, if not heavenly. I just love the harmonies in these songs and the great variation in combining the very individual voices. There is a lot to be discovered, even after repeated listening. While the joy of these great singers oozes out of music, this is a compilation that rises above the religious content or the religiousness of its lyrics.
"Music from heaven"? If there is such a place I wouldn't mind hearing this music there!

Sound Museum SOMU 5

PS: I hope you have noticed there is an extra festive soundstream at the bottom of the blog page....

December 24, 2014

Rise of the machine

The other day I was reading about the potential threat of robots. Apparently even respected scientists like Stephen Hawking are warning against the rise of the machine. Here in the Netherlands there seem
to be opposing points of view, albeit by the same persons. Our present Dutch government, for example, sees technology as the main driving force behind the economy, while at the same warning against loss of jobs as a result of increased automation and computerisation. In the meantime millions (and more) are lost on computerisation projects failing.
I can imaging how this would lead to economic gain, in the same way that bombs and ammunition are a economically very profitable venture, - from the purely capitalistic point of view of the manufacturer at least (boom!! - and it's gone).

In my experience automation projects have a strong tendency to fail for one reason: the human factor. On the one hand suppliers of the automated solution are inclined to impose their wonderful 'technical advancements' on the future users, while on the other hand users are simply unable to visualise the end-result. Unfortunately this often leaves the suppliers to do whatever they want or see as "the best solution for the customer". The idea that the final product requires an intricate knowledge of technology does not occur to the supplier, while the user doesn't want to be caught out as a digital dunce. The balance between supplier and user is disturbed even further by present-day managers, for whom staff is mostly seen as a negative influence on profits and automation as the best way to correct this.

In music we have seen a similar move towards automation. The extreme exponents of this musical rise of the machine are the Tiësto's, Armin van Buurens and Afrojacks* of today. Skilled artists have been replaced by a single person mixing their music using machines.
The rise of the machine in music started way before the rise of computers. The relative innocent Solovox organ, introduced into African music in the mid-1950s, at least added a new sound. The same can be said for the organs used in the 1970s and 1980s. Generally they were used as an adornment and not as a replacement for other instruments and their players. That is: not until this was demanded by western producers.
Several musicians I talked to in the 1980s told me that there was always a limit to the number of persons they could take on a tour. So at a time when many musicians travelled outside Africa for the first time and became known to a western public, they often performed with reduced formations. This became more of an issue in the second half of the 1980s. Groups were more than often 'completed' by local artists or musicians; at first by countrymen of the imported performers, but later on by (at best) native professionals or (even) native amateurs.
This trend coincided with cuts on another level: the often impressive horn sections were replaced completely - you guessed - by machines.
One may argue that we were lucky to see artists in the first place. But let me refute this with this question: how would you feel if the horn section in a concerto by Mozart was replaced by a synthesizer?

Personally I have objected to the replacement of those lucious horn sections by the constipated sound of synthesizers since the late-1970s. And we were lucky to see the O.K. Jazz when they were still "Tout Puissant", to see Fela's Egypt '80 blowing us straight to heaven and back, to hear the suave harmonies of the horns of Super Biton, Les Ambassadeurs, Bembeya Jazz and all those orchestras that would be and are left amputated without the horns.
And the worst is: there is plenty of evidence that it must have been even better before! Listen to those marvels by the likes of E.T. Mensah, the Black Beats, Victor Olaiya, Balladins, Tambourinis... Listen to the uncontroled lunacy (but one that never stops bringing a huge grin to my face) of that trumpet player with Mbaraka Mwinshehe, to those blaring horns of Etoile de Dakar, to immortals like Dexter Johnson...
And I could go on.
I don't even want to start about the horn sections in other parts of the world. The two minutes of the horn section in this video just bring tears to my eyes.....

I am sure you are wondering where this is leading to. Perhaps you expect me to post the best horn sections in African music ever, much in the vein of the top 100 (or top 10, 2000 or any other number) lists that are prevalent at this time of the year**. If so, you are going to be disappointed.
For it is actually the machine I would like to focus on. The single man and his machine.

The decline of the one can precipitate the rise of the other. For as the large orchestras became too complicated to bring over, too expensive to maintain on tour, and subsequently - when horns were replaced by synths - too unlike their former selves, the appeal of the lone artist grew. Initially more for the tour organisers, who saw the single musician as less of a financial risk. And gradually also for the public, often with the aid of clever marketing. When the artist was actually supported by or part of a band or group, like for example Oumou Sangaré, Salif Keita, (perhaps to a lesser extent) Zani Diabaté or you name it, the name presented to the public would still be that of the artist, making the musicians supporting the artist interchangeable (and therefore less of an economic liability). This setup, although certainly beneficial for the 'stars' involved, at times led to frustration with the more conscientious artists. I remember Ali Farka Touré (an artist with a strong feeling of cultural inheritance) expressing his annoyance about not being able to bring a larger ensemble on tour. Having seen larger (and even large) ensembles in Mali I understand his frustration.

One group of musicians also benefited from this individualisation: the ones that already - and traditionally - were able to perform alone. For there was already a group of 'men with their machine'. Kora players like the great Batourou Sekou Kouyaté already were self-employed entrepreneurs, while at the same time being involved in large, medium-sized or petits ensembles. This flexibility came from their machine: the kora.

To accentuate the machine-like quality of the instrument I am not sharing a recording of the aforementioned Batourou Sekou, but one by the man who more than any other kora player managed to bring out the metal sound in the kora (and in his singing too, as you can hear in the album I posted before): Lalo Keba Dramé.

This album, released on the N'Dardisc label, has Dramé's versions of some of the Mandinka classics covered by many of his colleagues. Typically his versions are less laid-back, more energetic, if not at times even frantic. I haven't heard any recordings of Lalo Keba Dramé accompanying a female griot, and given the imposing style of his kora playing I can understand why.
This is a very individual album, in a very individual style.

N'Dardisc 33-13

As a special festive bonus I am adding this great video by Malian kora legend Sidiki Diabaté and his son Toumani. The son has become more famous than his father, particularly outside of Mali, but if you ask me not for the right reasons. Personally I am not a great fan of the cross-over, and least of all of kora players 'battling it out' with fading western instrumentalists in an attempt to enter into 'arty', commercially lucrative new-age circles. I do like his more modest, less pretentious work, both as a solo performer and with ensembles. But his father is of a different league and of a very different era in Malian music. An era in which the competition was fierce, and in which the influence of tradition was predominant.
As far as I can gather Sidiki is explaining - to host and presenter Zoumana Yoro Traoré and to the Malian public - the origin of his machine. A truely historic document.
Unfortunately I don't have the whole video, and it breaks off after 17'30.

* and the fact that I only know these Dutch dj's is only because they are presented in shows on Dutch TV as Dutch celebrities.
** I have no intention at all of ever contributing to this sort of madness. And not just because it is almost impossible to compare artists, performances and recordings, but also because my preferences vary immensely with my mood, with my environment, the time of day, the weather, the season, - and I could go on...

December 13, 2014

Sullen charm

I am hoping to share more memorable music with you before the end of this year. A year which has gone by too fast, and with too little focus on the good things in life. There is so much to catch up...

You may remember that lovely cassette by Malian singer Molobaly Traoré which I posted some five years ago. If you've missed it, please do yourself a favour and go back and listen to it. Listening to it again the other day I was immediately taken back to the dusty streets of Mali and particularly those of the Ségou region. Real music can do that.

That cassette is from the early days of Molobaly's career. A career that ended far too early, with her death in 2009.
The cassette I would like to share with you in this post is from a few years later. It is clear that some of the innocence which marked her earlier cassette - and which certainly added to its charm - has gone. But other elements have remained: the slight tendency towards sullenness, the faint air of gloom, the strong Bambara repertoire, - now even more accentuated by the use of the sokou (violin). There are no credits on the cassettes, but my guess is that it may well be Zoumana Tereta.

You may recognise the second track, "Laban Kasi". This is a version of a song from Ségou, also performed by 'Tasidoni' Karamoko Keita. "Diandjo", however, is not a version of the song with the same title by Hawa Dramé, although the subject of the song may be the same.

The title of the song "Dely Magnin" confuses me. I may be wrong, but I was under the impression that "dely" is "to pray". But a title "praying is wrong" seems somehow unlikely in a country like Mali. So perhaps it can also mean something else...

If you ask me this is a cassette has not lost its power over the last twenty-two years. In fact, in my personal ratings it has only grown in stature, - as Molobaly Traoré has grown with it. More of this late but great artist in a future post.

IK 010

November 10, 2014


Roitelet is the bass player (second from the right)
Yet another Congolese musical hero has gone. Augustin Moniania better known as Roitelet has died on November 8 in Kinshasa. Born in 1934, he was one of the very last survivors from the Tango Ya Ba Wendo (the era of Wendo's people).

He started his career in the mid-1950s with the CEFA-label, at a time when Belgian guitarist Bill Alexandre introduced the electric guitar into the budding Congolese music scene. There he played with Roger Izeidi, who later played a crucial role in the development of Congolese music (and not only with African Jazz and African Fiesta), and with Victor 'Vicky' Longomba (see a dozen or so other posts on this blog).
He went on to play at the Loningisa label (both before and with the O.K. Jazz), with Esengo (with Rock-A-Mambo, African Jazz, and the various combinations) and with the Ngoma label (with the Beguen Band).

Roitelet was one of those musicians who constantly popped up over the years, but also a musician who never seems to have committed to one orchestra. Predominantly a bass player, I am told he also played other instruments. I must admit I am not sure which.
Despite his longevity in the Congolese music scene I think a lot of people may have problems naming Roitelet's songs. A quick search on the internet confirms this. Some websites appear to credit him for songs like "Tika Kondima Na Zolo" (Loningisa 156, composed by Franco). They may have overlooked spectacular songs such as "Anduku Lutshuma" and "Houlala Mopanze", both composed by Roitelet.

To compensate for this lack of respect for this great musician I would like to share with you nine of my favourite Roitelet compositions:
Roitelet with Rock-A-Mambo
01. Antoinette - Moniana Augustin [CEFA]
02. Banzanza - Roitelet & Bana Loningisa [Loningisa 153B]
03. Nzungu Ya Loso - 'Roitelet et son ensemble' [Esengo 123A].
04. Imana Ya Daring - "Monian A. MA. Mulumba" [CEFA]
05. Sala Mbongo Kudia Mbongo - Roitelet avec le Beguen Band [Ngoma 1863]
06. Cherie Margot - Roitelet et Bana Loningisa [Loningisa 144A]
07. Tozo Na Bozo - Moniania Augustin [CEFA]
08. Le 4 Janvier 1959 - Roitelet et l'O.K. Jazz [Loningisa 277A]
09. Bakala Nyonso Luvumu (Roitelet avec le Rock-A-Mambo) [Esengo 80A]

These songs should give you an idea of the loss...

May his soul rest in peace.

EDIT November 11, 2014: In my haste to get this post online I added a song twice, with different titles (tracks 8 and 9 of the original upload). This has now been corrected.
EDIT November 14, 2014: It still wasn't right. To make up for this messing about I have now also uploaded a flac-version of the nine tracks (besides correcting the mp3-version). The flac-version is available until January 1, 2015.

October 12, 2014


Today it is exactly 25 years ago that Franco passed away in Namur, Belgium. To commemorate this tragedy, and as a tribute to this giant of Congolese, African and global music, I would like to share with you some of the songs of his early career. Songs which earned him the appellation "Franco de mi amor".

These songs by the O.K. Jazz were recorded between August 28, 1957 and March 10, 1959; so at a time when Franco (born July 6, 1938) was 19 and 20 years old. All songs fall in that unfortunate category of 'inédits', i.e. songs which - as far as I know (and please correct me if I'm wrong!) - were never rereleased. They were originally recorded for the Loningisa label owned by the cousins Basile and Athanase Papadimitriou, and released both on the Loningisa label and on His Master's Voice. The full catalogue of the Loningisa label can be found here, and more detailled catalogues of the HMV releases of Loningisa recordings and of the O.K. Jazz songs on Loningisa can be found on Flemming Harrev's excellent

As I have written before, it is a mystery to me why these songs have not been reissued, either on vinyl or in digital form. These recordings are in my opinion of the quality which should deserve them the protected status of the Unesco's World Heritage List or such.
I have to add that a number of songs of this era have been released, both on vinyl (African 360.1441 and 360.158, Discostock DS 7950) and on CD (Sonodisc 36502 and the first 10 songs on 36505, RetroAfric Retro 2XCD). But still a lot risk being forgotten in the dense mist of time.....

Let me stress that the quality of (the copies of) these records leaves a lot to be desired. Although this is not always a bad thing.
A good example of this is the song originally released as Lon 199: "Linga Ngai Tolinga Ye". Despite its obvious shortcomings I prefer this version to the remastered (?) version on Discostock DS 7950. The instruments, the vocals, they are much clearer in this version, far more defined. Vicky Longomba's heavenly velvet voice, backed by the subtly understated Edo Nganga, Franco adding touches, colour, filling in sentiment in the background, caressing Isaac Musekiwa's sax play (in one of his very first recordings with the O.K. Jazz!), Brazzos providing the stable base on rhythm guitar: what a sheer delight is this song! A boléro, but one that seduces the listener into movement, - if not dance.

The second song in this collection is the A-side of Lon 203: "Oboyi Ngai Likambo Te", composed by Celestin Kouka. The B-side, "Tika Na Bala Ye", can be found on Sonodisc 36505. A typical rumba, with Franco and Musekiwa side-by-side providing the base of the song, sung by Vicky and Kouka. I particularly like the decorations added by Musekiwa. Ordinary as these may sound now, they were completely new at the time. Musekiwa had come over from African Jazz just a few months before, so he and Franco were busy inventing a new style in these songs.

In the A-side of Lon 205, "Obebisi Chance Stephanie", the interplay between Franco and Musekiwa is very different. Instead of joining they are complimenting each other. Isaac plays the chorus2, with Franco doing the decorating. And in the refrains Isaac does the decorating, while Franco signals the breaks.
The B-side of Lon 205 is equally interesting. Both "Tokomi Na Bonne Année" and the A-side are composed by Vicky, but he does not sing the lead vocal on the B-side. Instead he modestly backs Edo. Franco is very active in the refrain and the first chorus is another combined effort with Isaac. But from halfway into the song Isaac takes over from Franco in the refrain, and he and Franco play an extended version of the chorus.

Lon 206 has two songs composed by Edo. The A-side, "Christine Yo Nde Boye", is particularly interesting as the bass player, De la Lune, plays an unusual role. Musekiwa only appears after two minutes, so Franco seems to chose De la Lune for some interaction. The B-side, "Bonne Année To Sepeli" starts off with Isaac colouring in the refrain, only to be joined by Franco for an extended chorus. Unfortunately the song is incomplete; it breaks off after 2'50.

The next two songs (Lon 217), both composed by Franco, are of a muffled sound quality, but it is still clear that there is quite a bit going on in the songs. "O.K. Jazz Bana Mike" has Franco really sweating, pushing the rhythm, with Dessoin on congas vaguely audible in the background. A lovely steamy song, of which I would love to have a better copy (hint..).
In the B-side "Ah! Mi Espana" too there is an important role for Dessoin. Vicky is dishing out the rubbish spanish with the usual unperturbed conviction and cool. It seems the country of Spain itself was not known to the members of the band, as they consistently pronounce it as "Espana" (instead of "España"). But who cares?

One of my favourite songs of this collection is Vicky's "Olongi Na Yo Mama" (Lon 221). Despite the poor quality of this copy it isn't hard to hear that Franco is dying a thousands deaths in the background. What pathos!
The killer in the chorus is Vicky's "Boyoki Mama" (1'13) followed by "Ah .. bolingo". This just is the icing on the cake for me. Vicky had a rare gift for adding these spoken comments at exactly the right moment, but this is one of the very best. In an inexplicable way it lifts the whole song to another level.
In the second refrain Franco is more subdued but certainly not more intense. In the following chorus he throws out all the emotion. What a gem!
The B-side, the rumba "Nayebi Bolingo", is (relatively) less exciting, with Musekiwa playing a very active part throughout the song.

The emotion is certainly present in "Ah! Pauvre De Moi" (Lon 227), composed by Edo, but is a different one than the extreme one of "Olongi Na Yo Mama". Here Franco is Franco de Mi Amor: more loving, almost seducing his audience. The vocal harmony between Edo and Vicky is simply heavenly. Another song which just cries out for a rerelease...
In this case the B-side, "Bokokana Se Pamba", is equally interesting, particularly because of the delightfully lightfooted rhythm, which all contribute to accentuate. Again De la Lune plays a crucial role on bass in keeping the song flowing.

The next two songs in this selection were composed by Brazzos. Along with Edo Nganga he is one of the few survivors3 of this golden era of the O.K. Jazz (and of Congolese music in general). "Cuando Yo Te Dico" (Lon 231) is in a lot of ways a typical Brazzos composition, with its pseudo-spanish lyrics and a rhythm which is a cross between a boléro and a cha-cha-cha. The interplay between Franco and Musekiwa in this song sounds very casual and easy. It is not clear what the role of Brazzos is in this song. Perhaps he is playing bass in this?
The B-side, "Boni Na Ngai?", is a rumba with a rather unusual rhythm. Dessoin's conga gives it an galopping pace, with Franco dancing on top. As on the A-side the quality of the 78rpm record is quite bad, but the music still shines through.

"Hey John, here's your heisty time for the calypso, fine" are the cryptic opening words of "Timing Hole", a composition by Rhodesian Isaac Musekiwa. Released as Lon 241 and recorded on December 3, 1958, the song is labelled as a calypso, but I personally don't hear the similarity with any other calypso, be it of African or of West Indian origin. The rhythm is pleasantly slow and stretched out, leaving plenty of space for Franco to fill in with his inimitable riffs. This song and its at times incomprehensible lyrics (in English) remind me of the songs Musekiwa composed with African Jazz ("Flowers of Luckyness" and "While She's Away"), and leave me with the same puzzled feeling. What are these songs about?
The A-side "Ondimi Sik'Oyo" is a straightforward rumba, with Isaac in a leading role.

Lon 244 features another composition by Vicky in a local version of spanish, - as the title "Eschucha Mia Demanda" already suggests. My guess is the song is intended to be about a man (Vicky) begging a woman (?) to listen to his plea and not let him suffer. And I guess a large part of the Leopoldville audience understood the gist of the song, if only on the basis of the few french words strategically thrown in. Harmonies again are superb, and Isaac is clearly in his element.
Unfortunately I don't have the B-side.

The next record, Lon 245, contained two more songs composed by Brazzos. The A-side is a rumba: "Naboyi Bilubu Ya Bandumba". A compact and powerful song with a strong contribution by Franco, including a very tight interplay with Isaac.
The B-side has a more relaxed, loose rhythm; a cha-cha-cha with boléro touches: "Naci Para Bailar". In this song the contribution of the composer seems more pronounced, assuming he plays rhythm guitar. The interplay of Musekiwa and Franco has reached a tightness where Franco is almost hidden behind Isaac's notes. The break or shift at 1'14 is a stroke of sheer genius of the composer. Wonderful song!

The next song is one of those very special compositions by Franco lui-même. The A-side of "Masumbuku" (see this post), "Yimbi" (Lon 246) is Franco's personal take on traditional music. These songs are usually very personal songs, sung by Franco himself. Franco is hyper and hyper-present from the start. In case there was still any doubt about Franco's vocal agility, this song is a great example of his talent in this field. He may not have the belcanto of Vicky, or of Kabasele, Kwamy or Rochereau, but he does have character and personality in his singing. And if that is not enough there is that hard-hitting guitar. The omission of this song in any collection of his work is almost criminal, if you ask me...

"Pantchika Es Mi Cancion" (Lon 249) offers a unique opportunity to distinguish its composer, Celestin Kouka. Unfortunately it is only for a few seconds, from 1'18 to 1'30 and from 2'41 to 2'55, - and then barely audible in this somewhat dull sounding copy. In the rest of the song he is hidden behind Vicky. Star of this track is Musekiwa. He is clearly getting the hang of things within the O.K. Jazz.
The B-side is much clearer sounding. "Na Tikali Ngai Moko", is a rumba in the style of "Naboyi Bilubu Ya Bandumba" and others. Notable is the subtle variation in the interplay between Franco and Musekiwa. Here Franco is clearly 'in the lead'.

The songs on Lon 251 were composed by a new talent: Jean Bokelo. I have no idea what Bokelo's contribution to "Elongi Nayo Ya Bomwana" involves. It seems unlikely he was playing guitar, with the likes of Franco and Brazzos around. The guitar certainly sounds like Franco, with the usual addition of bonus chords. Bokelo, who of course is better known as the leader of Conga Succès (and later Mbonda Africa), recorded two more compositions with Loningisa, "Likambo Soki Ya Koloka" and "Pobre Don Pierro" (Lon 299). He has also recorded for the Esengo label with his brother Dewayon's Conga Jazz, and I am not sure which came first.
The B-side, "Makanisi Makondisi Ngai", is a marvelous boléro, of the type patented by Franco. Again it is not clear what Bokelo's role is in this. Perhaps he is playing an extra guitar?

The final song in the compilation is "La Muyer" (Lon 253). Composed by Franco, it is a cha-cha-cha "espagnol" with a tight rhythm. The gimmick in this song is obviously the upward chord on the sax, executed with verve by Isaac.

This collection of 25 songs on the 25th anniversary of Franco's death proves that there is still a lot of work to do to preserve the legacy of this monument of African music. There are still countless songs to discover, and to uncover even...

The collection can also be downloaded here as one file.

1 Recommended
2 I.e. the instrumental bits between the sung refrains.
3 At least as far as I know.

August 26, 2014


I have added the last of the three songs I have of Fanta Damba No.2, recorded at the R.T.M. in Bamako in 1983 for the series "L'artiste et sa musique" presented by Zoumana Yoro Traoré (see the earlier post). Accompanying her were Bouba Sacko (guitar - also see here) and Moctar Koné. This song, "Macki", is really the first of the three.

Zoumana Yoro Traoré was a well-known presenter at the RTM. You may have seen him with the videos of Coumba Sidibé, Kandia Kouyaté, Ami Koita and others. Some ten years ago I heard he had moved to France; this was later confirmed by an article on MaliWeb, and by an article in which he was said to be living in bad conditions (little or no work, separated from his children/family). I am not sure if he has returned to Mali since.

So the order is:
1. "Macki", better known as "Maki" or "Maki-Tara".

2. "Duga" (or "Douga")

3. "Jajiri"

August 24, 2014


Salif Keita, Hertme July 6, 2014 (photo: Ineke Hardeman)
I was listening to some recordings of the performance of Les Ambassadeurs at the Afrika Festival in Hertme. I can't say I was very disappointed about missing that particular concert. I have never been a great fan of Salif Keita's European oeuvre, but it struck me that the gap between the recordings which made him famous in Africa and the almost parody in Hertme was getting too great.

So this short post is really about reinforcing my belief in Salif.

Stern's have recently released a compilation of tracks by Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako. Despite the fact that it adds little to what has been released before (notably on the two lp's on Sonafric), it is a pleasant release. It shows respect for the artists, which has been missing in many of the earlier re-releases. And it is just good to have these tracks together on two CD's.

The album I would like to share is from the beginning of the Abidjan 'episode' of Les Ambassadeurs. In 1979, a year after the release of "Mandjou", Salif and Manfila recorded two lp's, which nowadays would be labelled as "unplugged". I.e. the music is mainly acoustic. I have always thought that these were albums were inspired by the Épopée du Mandingue series released six years earlier on the Guinean Syliphone label. Salif himself has declared many times that he was a great admirer of Sory Kandia Kouyaté. This he already demonstrated on the albums with Les Ambassadeurs du Motel, by the choice of songs like "N'na", directly borrowed from Sory Kandia.
Salif lacks the 'belcanto' (and - luckily for him - the pompousness) of Sory Kandia, but adds a touch of street-wise popularity which his example lacked.

I love this album, and I love Salif Keita for making this album into a classic. In it Salif shows many shades (even more than 50...) of his vocal range. But I must add that it takes many hearings for the beauty of these songs to really open up. The expressiveness of "Djandjon" is balanced by the almost painful shyness of "Finzamba". What is lacking from the present-day Salif is best demonstrated in the last song "Wara-Mana": the intense, deep felt passion of his singing.

Please forgive the quality of the record.

BLP 5013 -- plus flac (until Oct 1!).

April 26, 2014

Lemon or lime

A few days ago I stumbled upon the video by Karamoko Keita which you can find at the bottom of this post. Although I was looking for something else I couldn't help but watch the whole video. The thing is, this man has got certain 'je-ne-sais-quoi' which really appeals to me. I like his singing style, which is old-school Bambara (pentatonic) without being mouldy. The quality of the video is slightly below poor to hopeless, but just watching the movement, both of Karamoko himself and the chorus in the background, makes me irrationally happy.

I first heard his music during one of my first visits to Mali in the 1980s. To be honest, it was very difficult not to hear it because everybody was playing it, in the streets of Bamako and in every town and village I visited. The children were singing Karamoko's songs and their parents knew every single word of the lyrics.
They were playing this cassette, recorded for Malian radio, and here in the release of the Super Sound label of Monrovia, Liberia. You can see the first song, "Diama", in a video which I posted earlier.

This cassette just oozes old-style Malian music. And if you ask me it even oozes old-style Mali. I can't help but thinking of that friendly and hospitable people I encountered all over the country. People were curious without being nosey, warm without being pushy... They shared the little they had and demanded nothing in return. It was, in short, a country that was easy to fall in love with.
I know a lot has changed since those days, but I am sure these qualities are still there, perhaps hidden under a layer of cautiousness. A defence which may be the result of the invasion from neighbouring countries over the last decades, - or of the opening up to the modern world in general.

This is one of those cassettes with shifting favourites. All tracks are great, so it depends on moods, susceptability and environment which I prefer. When I first heard it it was "Lemourou". In hindsight I think this may have had to do with hearing this in the villages, where little girls were chanting it. I asked them what it meant and they contorted their faces. Later on someone told me it meant "citron" (lemon), but then I saw someone selling limes shouting "lemourou". My guess is it means both lemon and lime.

Super Sound SS-36

And, as mentioned above, here is another song from the same concert as the video I posted before. Karamoko with a somewhat larger ensemble and dancing, which adds an extra element of joy to his songs, if you ask me.

April 20, 2014

Dots on the i's

This short post is really about just one song. And about a survivor.

For as far as I am aware he is one of the few survivors from the brilliant orchestra which rocketed Congolese music to an altitude where it subsequently influenced the whole of a continent. I was reminded of this the other day when I saw him on a photo (on the right - and Edo is the second from the right) uploaded by Dizzy Mandjeku. Born on October 27, 1933, Edo Nganga has left enough traces in the musical history of the two Congos to warrant a prominent place in the hall of fame of African music. Contrary to some reports, he was not present at the founding of the O.K. Jazz. But he did arrive only a few months later, when Rossignol (Philippe Landot) and others left for the new Esengo label.

Edo has contributed many memorable compositions to the 'grand oeuvre' of the O.K. Jazz (and I am tempted to post a selection of these). But he is perhaps best known for his songs based on traditionals. I am referring to tracks like "Semba Mbwa Semba Dibou", "Tsia Koi Bon Tchele"(both on African 360.156*), "Ba O.K. Batele Wo" (Sonodisc CD 36553) and "Bazonzele Mama Ana" (Sonodisc CD 36555). I am still not quite sure on which tradition these are based. I have been told that Edo was inspired by the folklore of the Kongo people, but that seems to refer to many rather distinct traditions.

I am assuming there must be more songs by Edo Nganga with the O.K. Jazz which have only been released on a 45 r.p.m. record (i.e. never been reissued).
And one of these is the gem on side B of this EP: "Veronica". A beautiful bolero, offering Franco the opportunity to do what he does best: decorate and dress a song. He is at it right from the start, putting the dots on the i's, the cream on the cake, the frills on the wedding dress... The effect is accentuated even more because of the rather 'normal' (well at least compared to the Vicky's and the Kwamy's of those days) vocal of Edo Nganga. What never ceases to amaze me is the timing with which Franco adds his decorations. Take the dramatic 'interlude' starting at 1'04 and ending 20 seconds later: just perfect!

As the two other songs on this EP: the second song on the B-side, "Ba O.K. Batele Wo", is probably from the same recordings session, while the song on the A-side, Franco's "Timothée Abangi Makambo" (which as appeared on several lp's and CD's), is from a totally different recording session.

Pathé 45 EG 958

* "Semba Mbwa Semba Dibou" was later reissued on Sonodisc CD 36521, but the brilliantly arranged "Tsia Koi Bon Tchele" has never made it to a digital release, as far as I know. Why?

March 03, 2014

Mbaraka's twist

As a counterweight to any kind of cynicism I would like to suggest an artist whom I least suspect of possessing this state of mind: Tanzanian superstar Mbaraka Mwinshehe Mwaruka. He is - to me at least - a shining example of a joyful mix of naivety, amateurism and innocence. And he manages to combine this with a positive attitude, a potent dose of originality and fine sense for good music.
He is one of the many artists whom I wish I would have had the chance to meet, if only to confirm what I hear in his music.

In certain aspects he reminds me of the late Remmy Ongala, whom I did have the fortune to meet (several times even), and who convinced me of his sincerity when he claimed he was singing for the poor people. The vigour with which he claimed this, the body language, the open attitude: the cynic in me was unable to resist this. It was hard not to like the man.

Mbaraka died at a time when my African music collection consisted of no more than a dozen cassettes. I first heard his music in the mid-1980s when through the contacts with the Dutch management of Polygram (then still owned by Philips) a local record store started importing albums directly from Kenya. I was sold to Mbaraka's disarming sound right from the start. The start being the confusingly named "Ukumbusho Volume Pesa No. 1".
My curiosity aroused, supply through the local store could not keep up with my demand. So I persuaded a friend, who was working in Kenya at the time, to bring me back all he could find of this series commemorating Mbaraka's greatness. I recently discovered that I still haven't collected all of these*....

This volume contains songs of Mbaraka Mwinshehe with his orchestra Super Volcano. The orchestra is not credited on the sleeve, but Mbaraka himself cites the name of the orchestra in the songs.
This lack of info on the sleeve in itself is not unusual, given the state of literacy of the target audience. But it does suggest that the marketing department never imagined a European listener would ever be interested in this product of 'native culture'.

Most of the songs are in the typical Mbaraka style, with the usual references to Congolese sources of inspiration, such as Franco and Docteur Nico. But there is always an authentic twist. While Franco would go full-blast after a carefully constructed build-up like the one in the first track, "Bibi Wa Watu", Mbaraka instead (after 3'34) opts for a subtle, understated and very elegant 'mipanza' (see this post). I love it.
Every song comes with such a 'twist'.
In "Dina Uliapa" he clearly uses Nico's style, but ends with a typical Mbaraka touch, with the solo guitar strumming and the rhythm guitar moving to the forefront.
I realise this may be a bit of paradigm shift for some of the readers, but the first song on the B-side seems inspired by Tabu Ley's Afrisa of the early 1970s. If you imagine Rochereau singing instead of Mbaraka, I am sure you'll hear it. Of course, Mbaraka lacks the pretence and the intellectual air, and this is not only reflected in the singing, but also in the down-to-earth sax.

The song which stands out on this lp is, however, very much an original. "Masika Mtindo Mpya" is one of those songs that will force its way into your long-term memory. Despite the rather monotonous rhythm, that trumpet (!), Mbaraka's guitar: who can forget this song?

Polydor POLP 550

There is more.
As a bonus I would like to share with you these five alternative takes, which were sent to me by Mr. Msomali, who you may remember (from this earlier post) suggested there must be televised recordings of Mbaraka. We are, by the way, still looking - and I hope you are too!
He sent me these five songs, recorded at Radio Tanzania Dar Es Salaam (RTD), adding: "These 5 songs are authentic/original songs Mbaraka recorded at RTD,and please listen at the way he plays the guitar from minute 4'05 in "Waache Waseme", and that is vintage Mbaraka."

Of these five tracks three (tracks 2, 3 and 4) have been included in Ukumbusho Vol. 3 (POLP 542), one (track 1) in Vol. 7 (POLP 566) and one (track 5) in POLP 502. Most names you'll recognise, and "Suniasa unipoze moyo" is called "Nirudie Mama" on Vol. 3.

I subsequently asked him how these songs compare to the versions released by Polydor (Polygram). His answer typifies the attitude of the African listener: lyrics first, melody later.

"The lyrics of the the five songs are almost the same, with only some words here and there being different. For example in the first song, "Watalii" (tourist), he is asking/telling prospective tourist that by visiting Tanzania they will be visiting majestic/magnificent game parks like Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti, Manyara (the only place in the world where you can see lions climb trees) and Mikumi park (please note that he forgot Selous game reserve, one of the biggest and most beautiful game reserves). He also mentions Kilimanjaro,the highest mountain in Africa,and also says the country has beautiful almost untouched beaches.
The only difference between the Polydor/RTD versions is the animals he mentions in the song.
In this original RTD version he mentions only 4 animals: elephants, lions (climbing trees), giraffes and zebras. Whereas in the latter Polydor version he mentions 5: elephants, lions, giraffes, does not mentions zebras but then mentions 2 new ones, buffalo and leopards (if singing the song today he could be asked to drop the poor giraffe and put rhino instead, thus mentioning the so-called Big five).
And the other difference of course being the quality of the music, being much better in the RTD original."

Morogoro Jazz Band
"Your favorite, "Vijana sikilizeni"(Teenagers/students listen [to my advice]), is a song with a timely and important message to students (mostly those attending boarding secondary schools) not to engage in and waste their time into forming boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, instead of studying hard to better their future, reminding them that their parents spend a lot of their hard earned money to send them to those expensive boarding schools, only for their offspring to risk being expelled from their studies for engaging into those illicit love affairs. He warns them that they risk losing both their studies and also their so-called lovers, as when they are expelled they will both normally returns to their parents`s homes, which usually are in different regions. Lastly, he sings of the pain these youngsters inflict on their parents, who not only lose all the money they had invested into their children`s education, but also see their kids throw away the chance to get proper education and have a chance of a better life in their future.
It was a meaningful song that was really warmly welcomed by parents and all governments in the region, as it had a very important message for the young people in education.
It did not hurt also as it really was as you say a very good song musically, and especially this original RTD song."

Mr. Msomali estimates the songs were recorded in either 1970 or 1971.

So with a very warm thank you to Mr. Msomali: 5 songs recorded at RTD

* Going by the volumes - up to 13 (!) - on offer on various websites, including i-Tunes (a site which I simply refuse to visit..).

February 01, 2014


Since the beginning of this year we are being bombarded with news that the Economic Crisis is over. And even it is not completely over, we are economically on the 'up'.

I have my doubts.

The former public, and now very much private, utility companies are still busy raking in the money. Water, electricity, health insurance, public transport, cable companies: we were led to believe that privatisation was necessary, if not crucial. The free market should, no would lead to lower rates, lower tariffs, lower premiums, lower charges. Instead, these have gone up and up. Excuses were sought - or made up. In the last few years the crisis and the falling revenue on investments was a good and much used excuse. In 2013 local bus fares went up by 15%. "Catching up with the increase in the cost of living" was the excuse. This year they are up again, "to be able to guarantee a good service to our customers" is the excuse this time. In the meantime salaries have not followed suit. After years of 0% increase a miserable 1% was graciously granted, - which was amply compensated by the abolition of privileges and benefits.

Meanwhile the banks, the main perpetrators in the economy scam, are humbly offering apologies for the prolonged extortion of their customers, and have spent the whole of last year proclaiming that their main concern from now on will be the service to these same customers.
Words. And words alone.
The actions show another picture: interest rates on saving accounts are lower than the rate of inflation, on loans (if indeed the customer can demonstrate that he or she is worthy of such a great honour) they are still as high as ever. Here in the low countries the banks are almost all under the control of the state, but this public control has not led to a more public friendly approach. When it comes to the security of online banking - for example - we, the customers, are more than ever seen as incompetent idiots; and I am convinced the next step will be that we as customers will have to prove that a sudden cleaning-out of our account was not due to our own stupidity.

To those who think I am exaggerating I would like to say "NSA". For which hardcore addict of conspiracy theories would have conjured up what has now come to light about the big-brother activities of this American public organisation? And if you ask me, we have only scratched the surface.

On the other hand, maybe I am turning into a sad old cynic. Maybe I should nurture my more naive side, encourage my 'inner child'.

And that brings us to the music of this post. Isn't it tempting to romanticise about an unspoilt, 'primitive' life in the wild? Living off the earth, being one with nature. The simple existence of the hunter-gatherer.

The music captured on this brilliant cassette and recorded in the central Kalahari by Arthur Krasnilnikoff in 1987 (all tracks except B1) and 1992 (B1) does everything to coax the listener into the idyll. The delicate plucking of the mouthbow and all the other out-of-this-world, magical instruments, the innocence of the singing, but above all the unedited, untouched, uninterfered and intimate character of these great recordings: they all combine to make you want to believe the fairytale. Even the bleating of the goats and the bumping into the microphone contribute to a miraculous feeling of well-being, of paradise, where life is simple and easy.

N!oakwe - Music of the Central Kalahari

But of course life is neither simple nor easy. The hunter-gatherer has been under attack for generations, and the music on this fantastic cassette is just a relic, from another age, another world, as is demonstrated in this documentary from 1980...

N!ai, the story of a !Kung woman
(this video was available until March 15 only!).

EDIT February 15, 2014: The video has been replaced by a version with a different sound codec (mp3), as several people indicated they were having problems with the AAC codec I used in the initial version.

January 10, 2014


Perhaps you have been wondering why I haven't posted a eulogy to the late Taby Ley Rochereau. Or why I haven't commented on the death of Nelson Mandela. And what are my feelings at the death of prolific producer Ibrahima Sylla?
I certainly have opinions about all of these, but in the case of the first and the last this is not the time to express these. And in the case of Madiba: what can I add that has not already been written, by persons far more qualified, far more knowledgeable than me? I simply have nothing new to contribute to the overwhelming sorrow at the death of this inspirational human being.

And those who wondered if this blog had come to an untimely end, or if inspiration or motivation had run out, can rest assured that this is certainly not the case. I was merely getting overworked and simply had neither the time or the physical energy to sit down and spend time sharing the wonderful and ever amazing music of the African and latin continents. Inspiration, passion even - just listening to the music you will know that there is very little chance that this will go away.

In this post I would like to share a cassette by an artist who has featured in this blog before (here and here): Sali Sidibé.
Many of Sali's cassettes are among my favourites from Mali, and this is certainly one of those. It is a somewhat exceptional cassette in that Sali is accompanied not by a 'traditional' ensemble but by a modern orchestra. According to the guitarist Boubacar Diallo the orchestra consisted of members of National Badema (do yourself a favour and listen to their cassette if you have - erroneously - overlooked it). Going by the sound of the orchestra this seems very likely, although I have heard others claim that members of the Rail Band are actually accompanying this great singer from the Wassoulou district in the Sikasso region of Mali.

What makes this cassette really special is the authority with which Sali addresses the people of Mali. She does so talking, and this in itself is part of a long and very respected and respectable tradition in Mali. Ms. Sidibé is dishing out advice on all kinds of issues, and particularly issues which would concern those living in the more rural areas of Mali.
I particularly like her warnings against tasuma , i.e. fire, in the longest track on this cassette, "Anw Ka Jiri Turu". The song starts of with the sokou (probably Zoumana Tereta) imitating the sound of a fire-engine. In the opening line of her (spoken) message to the public Sali gets straight to the heart of the matter: "tasuma magninde" ("fire is no good"). She continues to point out the places where fire can present a serious risk.
In any other country this may sound like kicking in a space where no door has ever been. And I suppose to a lot of Malians too it does sound like she is stating the obvious. But this is also part of her role as a musician. She is confirming the obvious. Fire cán burn you, bush fires cán ruin lifes. So "tasuma maginde". Be careful with fire, think of the risk.

But even you have no idea where Sali Sidibé is talking and singing about this is simply a superb cassette with great music.

ASF 320