January 07, 2015

Je veux danser

Another new year. Of course I wish all of you a very good 2015, with only good things.

To get this year off to splendid start I would like to share with you this wonderful cassette with sixteen songs from the late 1950s/early 1960s Congo. You may remember those five cassettes of classic South African songs I posted some time ago (here, here and here). This cassette is from the same source, and - judging by the artwork - released by the same people.

This has been a truely eye-opening cassette for me. After hearing it for the first time, some thirty years ago, I knew I want more. That has proven to be quite a bit of a task...
Of the sixteen tracks on the cassette six were recorded for the Loningisa label. The other ten were originally released on the Esengo label. And while to me it was more than obvious that this was music of an exceptional quality, the likes of which will be hard to find on this entire planet, I was disappointed to find that the music of these Congolese labels is extremely hard to find.
And that is true to this day.
Especially the tracks from the extensive Esengo catalogue remain obscure and very hard to find. Luckily some have survived through Pathé re-releases (particularly songs by African Jazz and Rock-a-Mambo), and recently some have popped up on the two (recommended) releases on Planet Ilunga. But the bulk of the releases on this label remains hidden, and is perhaps even lost (aaarghh!!).

Of the ten Esengo tracks three are by De Wayon (or Dewayon) and his Conga Jazz, four are by the Negro Band (from Brazzaville), one is by orchestre Bantou (still without an "s" at the end), and two are by Rochereau with African Rock. African Rock is one of the many combinations of musicians from Rock-a-Mambo and African Jazz. To be honest I find the two Rochereau compositions the least interesting on this cassette, despite the contribution by Jean-Serge Essous. But that may be due to the level of competition.

The one who does stand out is De Wayon, with three absolute scorchers. I love the joy and playfulness of "Josephine", the cheeky staccato in "E Champrau" (and the little cries just kill me) and boyish singing and almost subversive interplay between the guitars in "Merengue Conga Jazz". Lovely naughty music!
Competing on equal terms is the Negro Band. "Bambanda Bayini Negro", composed by guitarist Baguin, with its almost absurd guitars, "Bolingo Rosalie" with the subtly off-key harmonies (by composer Demon Kasanaut and?) which oddly only add to its attraction and the apparent insanity of "Paresse Bobo", another staccato cha-cha-cha. Again contributions from other musicians at Esengo appeared to be more of a rule than an exception, although it is not always clear who is who in these recordings. The fourth Negro Band track ("Los Amor Mary-Clary"), for example, is credited in the Esengo catalogue to Nezy with the Negro Succes. While Vicky Longomba's Negro Succes were recording for Esengo at the time, it seems very unlikely that a singer who spent a large part, if not all his career, with the Negro Band would contribute a composition to another, rivalling orchestra.

Of the six Loningisa tracks four are by the O.K. Jazz, and the other two are credited on the cassette sleeve to the O.K. Jazz. The tracks which áre by the O.K. Jazz are by Vicky ("Nakolela Mama Azonga", a rumba also featured on Sonodisc CD 36502 and African 360.144), by Franco (the iconic bolero "Maladi Ya Bolingo") and by Daniel Lubelo, better known as De la Lune.
Especially the two tracks composed by De la Lune are ver special. The first, "Ozali Se Wa Ngai", is a wonderfully languid song which is just made for warm summer evening and romantic dancing. The second, "Ntsay Ya Bala Ba O.K.", a song which clearly borrows from traditional rhythms, was performed by the O.K. Jazz 'till well in the 1980s, as a warm-up song and to remind the public of the long line of classics the orchestra had and has produced.
The two remaining songs are incorrectly credited on the sleeve to "Tuka Floriant w. O.K. Jazz", and so far I have not been able to trace the origin of this mistake. I mean, who would invent a name like "Tuka Floriant"? It is however a name that has not been recognised by any of the (O.K. Jazz and other) musicians I have talked to. What's more, in the Loningisa catalogue the songs are credited to Tchade Mpiana. And to clinch it: the O.K. Jazz had left Loningisa in August 1961 and the two tracks were recorded in January 1962. Tchade was a singer with the Beguen Band, the band who rose to glory with the Ngoma label, but were contracted by Papadimitriou to fill the void left by the O.K. Jazz. My guess is the song "Bisengo Ya Bana Ya Loningisa" is either intended to claim the position of Loningisa's number one band, or to flatter the people at or owners of Loningisa. The Beguen Band have recorded quite a few songs at Loningisa, but these are all in the category "extremely-rare-and-very-hard-to-find". But please prove me wrong!
The two Beguen Band songs are in my humble opinion the whipped cream on the birthday cake, the brandy on the christmas pudding or (the bit of) chilly in the perfect curry dish. Modest in their conception, they shine and have remain firm classics in my household for multiple decades now.

"Je veux danser"... toute l'année!!

Music of Zaire 1 - Catalina (cassette)