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?