From the Archives of Audio Productions, Nairobi, Kenya (No Wahala Sounds NWS3)

Hot on the heels of the Urgent Jumping set from Stern's and Soundway's Kenya Special Volume 2 we have a third reissue compilation of classic East African oldies to celebrate. I coined the term "Congo in Kenya" a decade ago to describe the expatriate bands from Zaire who played in Kenya and Tanzania in the 70s and 80s when I launched muzikifan, and this site is certainly the only place online where you will find so much information about the genre. No Wahala (their name is Hausa for "no difficulty," I suppose Disney has copyrighted "Hakuna matata") have accessed a great lost 1983 LP from the Hit Parade label, Muziki Mix, via Doug Paterson, the acknowledged expert in the field. That album contains four tracks: "Solongo" by Bana Sambo, "Mkamba's day" by Kilimambogo Brothers, "Massa" by orchestre Shika Shika and "Bolingo ya lokuto" also by Bana Sambo. This new album contains part one of "Solongo" and "Mkamba" and both parts of "Massa." This is one of the limitations of vinyl, since the producers decided to include a few other tracks they also opted for A-sides only. A reproduction of the original album would have been welcome. But I am glad to see my favorite genre of African music get so much attention lately. The producers have managed to cram some other tracks on here also: "Mado Zaina pt 1" by Bana Likasi which you probably have on the Nairobi Beat album -- one of the first great (wonderfully sequenced) Kenyan comps which Doug Paterson put together for Rounder Records in 1989 while he was still working in Kenya. The Kalambya Sisters were also on that Rounder comp and are present here with "Wavinya." Two other A sides make the cut, both by Issa Juma and Super Wanyika who were based in Tanzania. Wanyika give us "Nifanye nini" which might be a remake of a Cuban Marimba Jazz number, and "Wafanyi kazi." These are both rarities which fans will want to hear. But fans want the full track, both parts: as one Colombian fan said, "part two is the climax of the song." So maybe No Wahala can be persuaded to offer the full versions as download or in a CD format, or if they keep making vinyl albums, consider a double album, since 40 minutes seems quite constrained when you have a lot of music to get to.

CONGOTRONICS 6 (Crammed Disc CRAM261P)

After the disastrous Mbongwana Star album I approached this new release from Konono Numero Un with trepidation, after all it has that subtitle "Meets Batida," and who is this Batida whose name means to beat, rap, knock or slam? -- A deejay and producer on the Lisbon scene, so I feared another clash of cultures and a clutter of drum programs and samples over some pure likembe riffs. But I am relieved and happy to report the result is a delight. Batida is the stage name of an Angolan, Pedro Coquenão, who adds tasteful touches of electronica and brings in a couple of his Lisboan pals to toast and sing, but is fully connected to the Angolan-Congolese bridge evident in the Bazombo music they share. Angola borders the Namibian deserts and swamps to the South, Congo to the East and Brazil to the West. The borders of course were erected in Colonial times regardless of the peoples who might be divided by them. The Bakongo lived on both sides but during the Angolan war of independence and subsequent civil war many fled to Congo and then after peace many fled back when the Congo started falling apart. Then of course there's a tradition of migrant workers so we have famous Congolese musicians like Sam Mangwana and Ricardo Lemvo who are of Angolan extraction. But Konono have upset conventional notions of what Congolese music sounds like: critics can't decide whether to compare them to German bands like Can, Einstürzende Neubauten or Kraftwerk, to acid house or to Lee Perry. Whatever it is they have, they have it aplenty, even if critics may call it "sophisticated brutality." They have also recorded with Björk ("Earth Intruders"), Juana Molina and Herbie Hancock. Vincent Kenis the guiding force behind the essential Congotronics series is a Belgian musician who heard them on the famous double cassette put out by OCORA in 1986, Musiques urbains à Kinshasa (It was too long for an LP so appeared on two cassettes; even when OCORA put it on CD they had to edit it, unfortunately). When he arrived in Kinshasa in 1989, Kenis was invited to play keyboards in Koffi Olomide's Quartier Latin, which was the most in-demand band of the day. He has also performed on Papa Wemba and even Franco & OK Jazz albums. Kenis spent his spare time trying to track down the electrified folk music, or musique tradi-moderne that he loved. It took him two years but he found them, and then presented Staff Benda Bilili, Kasai All Stars and the Karindula Sessions to our music collections, much to our collective delight. After a European tour, Batida invited the band to his garage-turned-studio in Lisbon. He started playing dikanza, a big Angolan guiro, and after half an hour of repetition keeled over on the floor, as the band cracked up. After a few rehearsals they did a couple of live shows then returned to the garage studio to record this loose and lively session. It is not over-produced, but captures the direct trancelike mood of great likembe music.


Everyone can spell Mississippi but not everyone can spell Siama Matuzungidi's last name, so he is proud bearer of a single name -- like Adele, Bono or Cher! In the history of Congolese guitar there is a distinguished line of mi-solo players: this is a style of guitar that alternates between lead and rhythm and can be the engine room of a good song. The inventor was unquestionably Mwamba Déchaud whose younger brother Docteur Nico became one of the greatest exponents of African guitar. Then there was Vata Mombasa who led Orchestre Lipua Lipua. Just as Vata Mombasa was known as "the Professor," his colleagues dubbed Siama "Mualimu" which means "the teacher," because of his intelligence on the guitar. Among the legendary Congolese bands he was part of, Siama started out in the Cavacha band of Dona Mobeti (the cavacha was a wildly popular dance in the 70s). After that band split, one faction was led by Mopero wa Maloba who created Shama Shama, but groups often fell apart on tour and Siama was asked by his friend Koko Zigo Mike to come to Kampala, Uganda, where they formed Kombe Kombe. That band got a contract at the Garden Square in Nairobi where they regrouped as Viva Makale. Further splits led to Bwambe Bwambe, Pepelepe, Shika Shika of Jimmy Monimambo, then to Moja One of Moreno, and to Lovy Longomba's brilliant work before Super Mazembe, and then to Virunga, led by Samba Mapangala. After seeing Virunga at the Starlight Club in Nairobi in 1983 I became obsessed with this sound of the expatriate Congolese bands in Kenya, and started to retroactively collect information and recordings by them. Siama's career -- as he was in many of the key bands -- is central to my research. This is his first album in many years; he is now based in Minnesota so has a cosmopolitan band featuring Indian singers and even an Indian veena, Tibetan flute, country pedal steel guitar, jazz piano, and pan-African percussion, so maybe "By Way of the Ganges" could be a subtitle to the album. His acoustic guitar is strong and the instrumentation neatly complements it without drowning him out. There's a palm wine-style song, "Yele Yele," and other West African touches. One thing about musicians like Siama is they cannot stop making music and even out of Africa he finds some sympathetic souls to join him. When the trumpet comes in on "Mpevo," I thought of Hugh Masekela -- he came from South Africa to the US but also created an Afro-beat sound when he teamed up with Hedzoleh Sounds. Among several songs Siama wrote for Shika Shika, "Sisili" is reprised here, as well as "Kueya" which he originally performed with Samba Mapangala and Virunga. This is a welcome return to the studio for one of Congo's unsung legends.


There is no doubt that "Papa" Shungu Wemba was one of the most important African artists in the 1970s and 80s, even the 1990s. That he was largely ignored in the West is of no consequence. He created a youth movement called "La Sape," giving young poor Kinshasans the ability to look sharp without spending a fortune, though once he moved to Paris, he started buying suits at Gian Franco Ferre and other high-end fashion designers. Then, ironically, he would wear them inside out to show the label -- and the stitching. His oversize suits were "borrowed" by David Byrne for his own Talking Heads shows. But the stylish look was only part of the story. Wemba was part of the revolutionary movement spearheaded by college kids who created Zaiko Langa Langa in 1968: they went for a rawer sound than the big rumba bands (like OK Jazz & Conga Succès) that preceded them, abandoning saxes and going for repetition and crowd-stirring frenzy in guitars and also in the shout-outs of the "Atalaku" or animateurs -- wild dancers who exhorted the crowd and urged the singers on. But far from raw, Wemba had the angelic voice of a choirboy and the passion adopted from listening to his mother, a professional mourner, who sang at funerals. Zaiko also had six singers -- instead of just one -- and he took the stage name Jules Presley. Dancing and singing alongside him were Dindo Yogo, Nyoka Longo, Bimi Ombale, Bozi Boziana, Evoloko Jocker and later Koffi Olomide. His first hits were "Chouchouna" and "C'est la Verité." But egos swelled and in 1974 he split with several members to form Isifi Lokole, and a further split to Yoka Lokole, groups that employed the traditional slit log drum -- the lokole -- as part of its signature sound. His music was popular from Paris to Tokyo. His Nippon Banzai concert brought soukous to Japan in a big way, and he thrilled the crowd by addressing them in Japanese. But then the band dumped him after two years and he decided to start his own band, taking the name Viva la Musica from a Johnny Pacheco album. It was with this group that he would rise to fame.

I don't think you could have found a bigger Papa Wemba fan in the 1980s than yours truly. I eagerly awaited his every release and, as my disillusionment slowly and reluctantly built, I kept buying his records in the hope he would see the light and get back to the great sound that he started from. Every now and then he would throw me a bone: like the album L'Esclave (Gitta productions, 1986), one of his mid-period masterpieces, or La Guerre des Stars, where he was challenged to come up with the goods in a friendly duel with Lita Bembo, Esperant and Boziana. In fact the song "L'Esclave" is probably his greatest work and had he sung it in English it would be as big as Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." He still had Awilo Longomba on drums and Ikonola on lokole but the guitarists were all newcomers: Nguando Milos, Matianga Stella and Mukoka on bass. And I fervently hoped to see him live. Wemba did finally come on tour as opening act for Peter Gabriel at the Oakland Coliseum. I BARTed over there and bought a ticket from a scalper for $25. Wemba's show was pathetic: he was completely ignored by the fans who were hyped about seeing Gabriel so talked and milled about during his set. I had been to a few smaller Gabriel shows before "Biko" or whatever put him into the stratosphere of pop, but this one was like the Nuremberg rally. Wemba had traded in Viva la Musica for some French rockers who were awful, and I barely recognized his sound. The next Viva la Musica concert was to be a year later at Slim's in San Francisco, a perfect venue, and I hoped it would be the real band. However the show was canceled. What happened was the band showed up at SFO at 11 p.m. and called the club to say, Tell the opening act to keep going, we'll be there and ready to go on at 12. --Don't bother, we decided you were not showing, replied the promoters.
All I had to sustain my interest was the video of LA VIE EST BELLE, the 1988 film by Benoit Lamy, starring Wemba as a down-and-out village kid who (eventually, after many picaresque adventures) makes it as a singer in Kinshasa and finally gets to appear alongside his idol Pépé Kallé.

In the '80s I was in Paris and there were posters everywhere advertising a big night with Viva la Musica, but as I got deeper into the African neighborhoods I saw the posters had cancelation stickers glued over them. Every new album had one good song but it was 75% filler. Then each member of the group, even the drummer, did a solo album using the name. I began to feel I was supporting a huge extended family with my weekly cash investments. When they started singing "Get up! Stand up!" in every song, I sat down. Eventually, I culled my collection down to the essential 22 LPs & 8 CDs. I blamed the managers who try to make a crossover hit out of a fiercely original artist and lose sight of his originality in the process. When Wemba returned in triumph to tout his "crossover" album on the RealWorld label and appeared at the Fillmore doing a feeble version of Otis Redding's "Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)," I was horrified. That was the second show and the second disappointment, I felt I had really missed the boat. I refused to buy the RealWorld albums and felt betrayed by my idol. However as his popularity grew, his earlier material appeared on Ngoyarto, P-Vine (in Japan), and a set where he teamed up with Franco surfaced. So there were moments: Foridoles (Eds Esperance 1994), a return to the Viva la Musica lineup, featured a guest shot from Sam Mangwana and had a great Latin track; Nouvelle Ecriture (Eds Esperance 1997) packed the dancefloor. He returned to the Bay Area to play Ashkenaz in Berkeley in July 2001, and this time it was a reunion of his original Viva la Musica line-up, not the leather-pant Frenchmen. So I did get to experience it as it was meant to be: a small crowded dancefloor, overmodulated mikes, lots of yelling, people jumping on stage to dance, shout-outs to Bongo Wende, Awilo Longombo and there I was surrounded by happy Congolese experiencing their youth again and for me, experiencing it along with them. Now he is gone back to the idealized village he called "Molokai": Rest in Peace, Papa.

FROM KINSHASA (World Circuit)

I should have expected to be disappointed by this release because I was so hyped about it before it showed up. When I saw Staff Benda Bilili in concert I felt theirs was a fragile scene and couldn't last. The documentary about the band confirmed this: the volatile young genius Roger who played their lead instrument barely seemed anchored to the earth, while the others were firmly grounded in their wheelchairs and you knew it was a massive effort to tour and even to function day to day. After two albums and a triumphant tour the band did fall apart, but two of the key songwriters, Théo Nsutuvuidi and Coco Ngambali formed a new band, Mbongwana Star (originally called Staff Mbongwana International), adding younger musicians on bass and drums. Raw footage on youtube of them jamming looked very promising. But they also decided to try a new direction and hooked up with "Doctor L, a producer on the Paris hip-hop and electro scenes." The resulting mix (the Guardian called it an "angular hodgepodge," and I don't think they were being flattering) has elements of their songs but the drumming has been turned into trip-hop or whatever you call it when things get looped and then overflubbed, layered and buried and exposed and reburied. There's even a kind of Afrobeat guitar going on in here (in "Masobélé" and hints elsewhere), so it's just a mash-up. I don't know how it will work in concert: maybe deep-sea divers wandering around out of their depth, like on the cover, will amuse the audience while preprogrammed techno beats blare from speakers. All elements of the old homespun rumba Kinois that colored their material for SBB have been stripped away and though Coco & Théo have great mournful voices there's not enough of the raw and ragged production that made their earlier band work so well. At the midpoint of the disc there is a guest shot from Konono Numero Un (who have the same management) to remind us of the raw edge of Congolese music we crave. "Malukayi" is in fact the highpoint of the disc and I will play it again mainly for this collaborative jam. There is high energy here and other individual tracks like "Kala" and "Suzanna" are outstanding, but they are more like a club track you might drop in a set to introduce a bit of African rhythm rather than part of an entire album you want to sit down with and study the lyrics (not provided in my copy). Once I get used to this diversion I may enjoy it more, but it is not the logical step forward from their debut as songwriters with SBB but another arena -- or lounge -- of world music entirely.

LA RUMBA SOY YO (Cumbancha CD31)

Here's another well-crafted set of danceable music from Ricardo Lemvo & his crazy kinsmen. It's their first new album in 7 years and shows why they are an in-demand live band with international appeal. Like Sam Mangwana, Lemvo is of Angolan parentage and he too grew up in Congo. His music is also classic Congolese -- rumba and soukous -- and on this album he also explores zouk, merengue and some Angolan styles, like semba and kizombo, to great effect. However, unlike old-time Congolese rumba which approximated Cuban music, Makina Loca actually gets deep in the pocket on son montuno ("Kari Kuyété") and salsa tracks, thanks in part to pianist "Baby Jesus" Perez. As a bonus there's real Latinos playing the Latin horn parts! The other secret weapon in Makina Loca's arsenal is guitarist Nseka Huit Kilos who started out in Orchestre Macchi with Dindo Yogo (later of Viva la Musica) and Lovy Longomba, then for years fronted Rochereau's l'Afrisa International until an American tour left him, fortuitously, in Los Angeles. His sweet licks and bell-tones ring throughout. There's even the intermittent accordeon. The mood is uptempo and effervescent until the bolero half an hour in which slows the pace nicely and we hear moody solos on guitar and muted trumpet (Arturo Solar). But there's barely time to cool down before we launch into a wild salsa whirl on "El Caburnacho." There are a couple of cover songs on here, which Lemvo has made his own, and he reprises "Samba Luku Samba" because it has evolved in performance into a stronger number than the take on Ay Valeria! Makina Loca are not only dependable, they go from strength to strength.

BEWARE THE FETISH (Crammed Disc cram233)

Electrified likembe music is somewhat akin to the punk music of Africa: it's raw, ragged, emotional and has a real do-it-yourself aesthetic. But unlike punk it didn't arise in reaction to something else (say the smoother big band music of the Congolese bands like OK Jazz or Afrisa which could be compared to Rock, R&B and blues bands of the same era), because likembe music always existed as a folk form, a way of amusing oneself or getting together with friends. Years ago I found it in the OCORA series of folk music recordings from Africa which also included religious rituals and entrancing pygmy music. In 1978 OCORA (who are the field branch of Radio France) recorded four likembe bands in Kinshasa, among them Konono No 1 and Sankayi, one of the groups featured on this disc. Like me, Crammed Disc's A&R man, Vincent Kenis was captivated by these groups and he launched the Congotronics series of recordings of which this is the fifth installment. Congotronics 2: Buzz 'n Rumble from the Urb'n Jungle also has a DVD of these bands in performance that is spectacular. Beware the Fetish is the sequel to Kasai's In the 7th Moon from 2008. Kasai Allstars is a collective of five different bands, all from the Kasai region of DRC, but from five different ethnic groups. Many of these groups fought in the past but one thing they have in common is that their music, as played in the bush, was regularly banned because of erotic lyric content and because the trance rituals they enacted were considered "pagan" by the authorities. So they decided to unite. There is a lot of diversity on here: not just different electric likembe players, but slit & buzz drums, xylophones and electric guitars all come into play. Also it's a double disc so it's real value for money, since, I, for one, could listen to this all day. The final cut is Congotronics vs Rockers to show the influence this music has had on Western bands: on it we hear Juana Molina joining in on vocals and half a dozen Western rockers jumping in on guitars and drums. Most of the two hours, however, is devoted to songs about hardships, evil leopards, enthronement rituals and parables, such as "As they walked into the forest on Sunday, they encountered apes dressed as humans," or "The one who sets fire to the bush catches nothing, while those who are on the lookout catch game." One song has the intriguing lyric: "Mbuyamba will now dance with one side of his body, as if the dance had only been borrowed." Though these Kasai people have moved to the city for various reasons, they are keeping their traditional music vital, absorbing outside influences rather than being swayed by them.

COMPLETE WORKS (Stern's digital release)

Stern's has reissued 18 albums by Congolese superstar Prince Youlou Mabiala. Fans of OK Jazz will enjoy this man's work as his sound is almost an extension of the big rolling rumba sound of the era of OK Jazz from the late 70s to the mid-80s. Youlou, who is now 66, has entrusted his back catalogue to Stern's and this is your chance to catch up if you don't have the two Best Of CDs that came out on Sonodisc in 1994 (both still available as cheap MP3 downloads on amazon). Here are his classic albums, including 1 x 2 = Mabe and the Third Anniversary album Etabe Mofude (1982). It was in 1966, while he was exiled from Zaire, that Franco heard the teenaged Gilbert Youlou in a club in Brazza and hired him, and his bassist/songwriter Celi Bitchou, for his ever-expanding OK Jazz. Youlou became one of the main singers of the band, his tenor contrasting with Franco's gruff lower register, until he was fired in 1972 for moonlighting on other recordings. At this point he formed Lovy du Zaire with singers Vicky Longomba, Kwamy, Bumba Massa, bassist Celi Bitshoumani and guitarists Pablo Lubadika, Syran Mbenza and Mose Se Sengo "Fan Fan" which later morphed into Somo Somo. A year later Youlou rejoined the fold and married Franco's daughter, Hélène, and Franco dubbed him the Prince, as future inheritor of his mantle. His song "Ibrahim" is on the OK Jazz recording Live at 1-2-3 Club in Kinshasa. Though he was featured alongside vocal stars Sam Mangwana, Josky Kiambukuta and Ntesa Dalienst, Youlou quit in 1977 and returned to Brazzaville where he formed Kamikaze Loningisa. These are his great recordings and what you should be digging out of the mound proffered on a platter by Stern's. Start with "Loufou Lakari," from Disques Esperance, 1986, with its insistent bottle percussion (joined in the outro by a cowbell). Like the songs of his mentor, this has a long long vocal intro before it gets to a roiling boil. Then dig "Carte Postale," from the 1983 album Sentimental, originally on Voix d'Afrique. "Mwana bitendi" would pass in a blind audition for classic OK Jazz. It is, in fact, OK Jazz from their Keba na Matraque album (Edipop 05 1981). I know it's not longaniza, but Kamikaze Loningisa is an odd name for a band, but you won't mind this death by sausage one bit!

1958-2013 RE-EDITION DES MERVEILLES DU PASSE (Cyriaque Bassoka /or/ KOS & Co)

Something I don't understand is people who claim to be into "Afrobeat" or some esoteric musical form like African psychedelic or funk but say they don't "get" Congolese rumba. I think these people are not really fans of African music at all, but twisted rock fans who have just gone off track. I love all African music with a few exceptions, but close to my heart is the pulsating throb of early Congolese bands with Latin percussion and one or more hornmen out front. However I got a little carried away by my enthusiasm here. Two competing companies have this compilation on line for download at 320 kbps. It's anyone's guess who has the rights, I suppose it's the typical African free-for-all that also has needle-drop albums of Docteur Nico appearing from the "Sukisa" label. (The latest is called Hommage à Tabu Ley, but curiously there is not one single track on there with Tabu Ley! Note for anyone interested: disc one tracks 1-10 are SAF LP 50042 with titles changed; tracks 11 -22 are Sono CD 36516, also syl 823463) While the sound could be better on this Negro Band comp (most tracks are truly thrashed), this is not merely another reissue of someone else's compilation, but collects rare tracks from singles and EPs that came out in the 50s and 60s. Sadly they seem to have come from old, decayed tapes. You can check the sound clips on line, but believe me they are rough. One for the hard-core collectors, but otherwise skip it. (Cyriaque Bassoka Productions also have a late-80s double Franco Live set on Amazon for download, if anyone is interested. Do let me know if you spring for it; I am once burned, twice gone.)

BENDA BILILI! A Film by Renaud Barret & Florent de la Tullaye (National Geographic Entertainment, 86 mins, PG-13)

This is a shocking, beautiful and moving film. It opens with a paraplegic dancing with sandals on his hands, then we are introduced to the cast of dodgy street kids who survive by "combing" or ripping stuff off and get spare change from helping the cripples who congregate at the Sonas roundabout in Kinshasa. They get together and sing:

I used to sleep on cardboard
bingo! I bought a mattress
it could happen to you
a man's life is never over
luck shows up unannounced
it's never too late
i know we will succeed someday!

This remarkable documentary chronicles the story of Staff Benda Bilili, a group of polio victims who lived on the streets of Kinshasa until they were discovered by this film crew in 2008. We know their music now thanks to Crammed Discs of Belgium who released their CDs Tres Tres Fort and Bouger le Monde, but what is astounding is how these two documentary film makers found them and also discovered the young boy Roger who became their star soloist. The story of Cinderella has nothing on this tale (well maybe in the ugly step-sisters mutilating their feet to try to get into the glass slipper). Nothing could seem more unlikely than to go to the poorest country in Africa, after decades of war, and find handicapped men living on the streets of the toughest city, busking for change with only their talent and optimism to get by and to transform their lives by making a film about them and their plight. The film makers warned the musicians they too were broke but they had faith they could make an album and though it took five years, it came to pass. A fire in the shelter puts the cripples' families on the street also, so recording is suspended and the band disperses. The film makers have to return to Europe when their funds run out. But the seed has been sown and a year later, with backing from Crammed, the film makers are back and the band, who are bursting with ideas, are able to start recording again. Roger says he is confident he will make it, then he can go home again. His mother says, "On his first day of school he sold his uniform and said, 'School will not get me to Europe, but my satonge will.' So, now he can show his uncles he is not a delinquent." We follow their ups and downs all the way through their first trip to Europe & snowy Scandinavia: an unbelievable experience. And of course the music is fabulous. As a running motif the street kids who have no future, but play drums and dance and live by pushing the band members' wheelchairs through the streets, have little side conversations at the zoo about the fall of man, the nature of Europe and why everyone wants to go there, that are like Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern. Now if you have not seen Staff Benda Bilili in concert this may be your only chance. In my review of their concert I said how fragile they seemed, and that fame might go to their heads. But a worse scenario came to pass: a countryman of theirs, an accountant living in Paris, told them they were being ripped off by the white producers (who struggled bravely to get them visas and bring us their music), so they hired this parvenu as manager. He then tried to negotiate privately with all the musical halls on their upcoming tour to get a bigger deal and consequently most of the venues decided to cancel. As a result two of the founding members (& key songwriters), Coco and Théo, have quit the band which seems to have collapsed in entropy and greed. However the film remains and there are fine moments that show the confidence of these downtrodden figures as they emerge from nowhere. After their recording session they fire up a joint and one says, Nothing like this has ever been heard before: it's going to cause a sensation. Certainly cock-sure words. Turns out he was right.


The 2009 debut of this band marked an incredible story of triumph over diversity: the group was formed of paraplegics and kids who lived on the streets of Kinshasa and hung out at the nearly abandoned zoo where they played for change. They were heard by Vincent Kenis, Crammed Disc's man on the spot, and almost overnight their lives were transformed. Their debut disc sold 150,000 copies and they toured Europe, America and Japan, even starring in a documentary film. Vincent Kenis recorded that first album on his laptop in the zoo, and at one point lost some overdubs when his computer was stolen. This time he has taken the band into an old Kinshasa studio, formerly used by Franco, Tabu Ley, Pepe Kalle & Papa Wemba for some of their hits. The great spirit of Congolese music hovers over the whole thing. Again we hear the homemade guitars and drums, and above all the incredible virtuosity of Roger, who plays solos on a satonge: a single guitar string attached to a tin can. They've added Amalphi, a new lead guitarist (dig his shimmering Johnny Bokelo style on "Mutu esalaka [The brains are OK]"), and have rediscovered Randy, a street kid who vanished for a couple of years but has returned on percussion. The best part of the success story is the band members now have homes and are able to send their kids to school. In addition they have started a school for homeless and disabled youth to train them in mechanics, carpentry, computer science and, of course, music. Here is "Osali mabe," the opening track. There are many moods on this album, and as SBB have evolved, different musical styles abound: check out the haunting "Djambula," with bull-roarer effect, for something completely unexpected.


"Golden Oldies" can refer to tunes or equally to performers, without being perjorative. Mose Se Sengo, better known as "Fan Fan" is one of the greats of African music. He emerged from Orchestre Revolution to play second guitar alongside Franco in OK Jazz from 1967 to 74, then took off with the cream of that band: vocalist Prince Youlou Mabiala, Celi Bittshou and Simaro to form Orchestre Somo Somo. On tour, he joined up with Remmy Ongalla to form Orchestre Matimila in Tanzania and later played with Orchestre Makassy. In 1983 he moved to Britain. At various times he has reteamed with members of OK Jazz (in Bana OK) and Somo Somo. Here some former sidemen from OK Jazz as well as some newcomers join up for a scintillating album of Congolese rumba. The opening cut recalls "Samedi soir," the Bopol hit from 30 years ago. They also reprise one of Fan Fan's many hits: "Mosese" from Orchestre Makassy's smash album Agwaya. The mood is definitely retro but the sound is clean and the guitars are not over-amped; the percussion is live (congas and traps) not programmed, so all in all it's a roaring success. The distinguished sidemen include the OK Jazz horn section of Dele Pedro on alto, the legendary Verckys on tenor, and Didan Daniel, also on tenor. Fiston Lusambo plays mi-solo and the lead vocals are shared by Malage de Lugendo and Nzaya Zayadio Paul. On "Mamisa" the jambs are out and the doors blow wide. At 8 minutes this lesson in cooking is too short. Fans of Kekele will love this set of traditional Congolese rumba done in a shimmering style with definite hints of Luambo's magical fingerwork gracing the fretboard.


Baloji opened for Orchestre Baobab in January 2012 at the Barbican in London in what must certainly have been one of the great concerts of the year. I was mesmerized by the Baloji video of Independence Cha Cha on Youtube, where he was backed by Orchestre de la Katuba, so a whole CD from Crammed Disc is worth checking out. Born in Congo (then Zaire) in 1978, Baloji was raised in Liège, Belgium where he got into graffiti and hip hop. When he reached adulthood he decided he needed to go home and find his roots, hence this new album (the English translation of the title is "Kinshasa Branch Office") which remixes some of his rap material from his debut album "Hotel Impala," but adds 6 new songs written in collaboration with contemporary Kinshasan bands, from Konono numero Un, to Zaiko Langa Langa. The Konono track is excellent as is "Kesho" featuring Moise Ilunga. Baloji's name in Swahili means "sorcerer" and he works magic on the Dr Nico-Kabasele classic "Independence Cha Cha." I have a hard time with the harsh declamatory tone of rap -- and it sounds really bad in French -- but I can try to ignore that and focus on the instruments or sung vocals. The collab with Konono, "Karibu Ya Bintou (Welcome to Life in Limbo)" has also been made into a fine Youtube video. The electric numbers show the evolution of soukous (Zaiko are totally unrecognisable) while the acoustic parts remind us of the influence of French production on the work of Salif Keita and others back in the 80s. It's not a keeper, for me, but the memorable videos and window into the future of Congolese pop are worth the glance.


This CD-DVD combination is a wonderful exposition of a largely unknown style of music, a kind of jam-band with big banjo magic from the Katanga province of Congo that gave us Jean Bosco Mwenda and other heavy hitters. It is similar to other copperbelt music found in Zambia and has been around for 40 years or more. The tunes are gritty & fast-paced but show continuity with folk music from this region since recordings were first made there by Hugh Tracey 60 years ago. The Karindula is a giant home-made stringed instrument attached to a goat-hide soundbox made from an oil drum. There is a tiny instrument that looks like a cavaquinho, plus a bit of bamboo beaten with a stick for rhythm, maracas, and, among non-musical aspects of the performance, a kid who dances with a spinning bicycle wheel on top of his skull! The dancing, a robotic hip-sawing motion done in a crouch, is also unique to this region and can be seen on the accompanying DVD which puts us on the spot at a 3-day festival during which these performances were captured. The DVD also lets you know why the crowd is going nuts: various dancers, including an old woman making a fool of herself and two guys in sports bras and kilts who seem to think they are truly à la mode, do some wild dancing. There are four bands and long jams from each (The first cut is half an hour long). Vincent Kenis was busy, filming with one hand and monitoring his laptop recording deck with the other. The last track is called "Beggar's Banquet," a parable about a greedy minister, and not a reference to the Stones. It is 17 minutes of explosive joy. There are different selections on the DVD. You must hear this!


The Voice of Lightness, double CD, with its 56-page booklet documents the later career of one of the greats of Congolese pop: Tabu Ley, better known as Rochereau. This is a treat, even to a collector like me (I have 30 LPs by him, not including the ten or so with African Fiesta or those with Grand Kalle), because here there are gems and rarities that rarely get aired. The first pair of discs in this series covered his debut through 1977 and ended with the triumphant FESTAC 77 concert in Lagos. This set picks up there with "Ekeseni" but instead of the Festac version gives us a different studio version (from a 45 RPM release), stripped down, with only Rochereau singing and extended sax and guitar solos riding the shuffling beat. But that band's guitarists, Dizzy and Lokassa, & drummer Ringo Moya ditched in Cote d'Ivoire to form African All-Stars leaving Tabu Ley with only Dino Vangu from among his old stalwarts. Undeterred he reached back into his Catholic choirboy repertoire for "Ponce Pilate"-- a song about betrayal, that grooves for almost 12 minutes. As Ken Braun explains in the liner notes, Rochereau took the defections to heart and back in Kinshasa built a new stronger band, poaching the great bass-player Shaba Kahamba from the Vévé stable, adding vocalist Kiesse Diambu from Les Maquisards, and building a big horn line to rival Franco's. They played for two years at a club called Type K (pronounced Tipica) & eventually the unthinkable happened: Nico Kassanda showed up to jam. Famously Nico & Rochereau had split up African Fiesta the most successful band in the Congo in 1965. But by 1980 Nico's star was in eclipse and he had taken to the bottle. "Ohambe," captured here, is clearly 100% Afrisa despite Nico's solo at the end. In addition to Tabu Ley's reunion with Docteur Nico, he collaborated with his biggest rival, Franco, in a superb session called "L'Evénement (The Event)." The two were both in Paris when news of Kabaselle's death came. They decided to bury the hatchet and recorded "Kabaselle in Memoriam," and three other tracks, laid down by Franco's guitarist Michelino (a defector from Afrisa!). That song and the equally compelling "Lisanga ya Banganga" are both included here as disc four kicks off. But Rochereau had another trick up his sleeve: his discovery of the hottest female singer and dancer in Africa: Mbilia Bel. Her story has been told on her own Stern's double disc BEL CANTO, but it came at the right time to recharge the 42-year-old singer's career and propel him to Europe and America which had long been his aim, as Congo fell apart under the decay of Mobutu's corrupt regime. (Elsewhere on this site I talk about catching their act in London; I also saw Bel the following year in Oakland when she had gone solo in what was one of the best African shows I ever witnessed.) As a singer Rochereau always knew what he wanted to sound like. He was able to record in Abidjan, Paris and Brazzaville and in the latter's IAD studios attained the big-room echo we associate with his golden period. This is a fresh look at the career of Rochereau: the hits are there, but also enough surprises to make it new.


Note that none of these tracks were on Baba's Greatest Hits album put out by Polygram and reissued by ASLP! However I have no doubt they are at least by him. And as you are doubtless aware, from a close scrutiny of my Congo in Kenya page, he is the godfather of all the great Congolese bands that ended up in Kenya with scores of musicians passing through his ranks. So it's hard to say who is on here. One assumes the African audience for the music is older and remembers the songs and follows the storylines, while the white audience wants context, lists of performers and other data to create a mental framework. It's still enjoyable with only the tunes to hang on to. There's eight songs here (but you only pay for 7: the second track is actually two tracks run together by mistake, and not an A-side B-side single), with Marie Clara, Cesar ya maobi ngai mwana nazongi [i.e. "Caesar moyibi" AND "Mwana nazongi"], Lolo Twisonge, T.P. Engelbert, Lofundu ya pamba, Mboka mopaya pasi, and Wangoya, all of which came out on 45 rpm. Starzo ya Esta sings on "Mwana nazongi," so this is early-70s, before he left to form Festival du Zaire. This third track has a credible Nico-imitation guitar solo. In fact the whole band gives African Fiesta a run for its money on the next cut "Lolo Twisonge," a dreamy number with floating vocals, congas and dancing picked guitars. "T.P. Engelbert" is almost certainly from Lubumbashi in 1970 because it is an imitation of the Danse Kono that Nico scored big with that year. In fact, I would place the whole collection there, so it probably predates Gaston's trip to Kenya by a year. Furthermore the songs are all in Lingala, and not Kiswahili. A classic collection. Please don't tell me it is a lost Nico album and has been mislabelled!


This album should be from Kenya. It also has a song titled "Marie Clara," but it is a different song from the one on the Greatest Hits album. It kicks off with "Ilunga Ilunga" which was so huge it was attached to his name from then on. It's a 6 minute version, the full 8'44 version was gathered on Greatest Hits vol 1. But then disaster strikes. "Kai Kai," is mislabelled. It is a gem, in the style of Negro Succès with Bavon-like guitar answering the vocals. Wait, it IS Negro Succès! The rest of the disc is actually Negro Succès (the first four cuts from Ngoyarto CD023)! Clearly there's no quality control at Tamasha or Limewire. I posted a comment on the review page. Maybe they will fix it. Let the buyer beware!


A four song comp, recorded in Kinshasa with Starzo ya Esta, and released on ASLP in 1983 as "Condition Bi-msum." But the percussion sounds like a drum machine, and despite good twin guitar parts on there, it's not compelling.

MABIALA (Tamasha)

The title song is not about Youlou Mabiala, but about a Gabonese diplomat who used to shower the band with money at the Starlight Club in Nairobi. It is the only track that has been reissued before, so this is a must for Virunga fans. Here is a great four-song set from the days when sugar-soul voiced Moreno Batamba was in the line-up, singing harmony (& lead on "Kimotho"), circa 1983. Result: bliss! Guitarists from Bana Ngenge or Les Kinois, who joined Virunga, brought the great dueling guitar sound of Congo and the frenzy-building sebene to the lighter Kenyan benga sound. If you get your head between the speakers the guitarwork is stunning. I think I hear four guitars in the mix! Samba does shout-outs to the band, but I miss the names (Shikito Mansita? must be Sammy on guitar). I do hear Mayumba on sax and Lava Machine on drums. Mansita and Manitcho are mentioned in "Kimotho." More to the point, these guys are a tight unit and cook along with a relaxed, assured intensity.

PATRICIA (Tamasha)

This is Lipua Lipua after Nyboma left in 1973 to form Les Kamalé. Apparently recorded in Ivory Coast, it has good sound, if a bit too much echo on the vocals. There is also a female chorus, which strikes me as unusual for that time. On side B (metaphorically speaking), which is one long 12-minute track called "Mundial Saturday," there is nice mouth percussion in the style of Lokassa ya Mbongo's "dry" strumming in the African All-Stars breakdowns that were huge at the time, particularly in West Africa. Nyboma was there in Abidjan in the mid-70s with African All Stars, so it's possible he sent word to his old partner Vata that it was a good spot for gigs. The Ivorienne economy was booming with coffee and lumber exports and the folks wanted nothing more than to dance to Congolese music. There is a shout-out in the break announcing that Passeport music of the Ivory Coast presents Vata Mombasa in action... then a credible imitation of the African All Stars at their most grooveworthy.

MFUENI (Tamasha)

Another of my favourites, but once again, sad to report, these recordings were made from a used copy of the LP with a lot of surface noise. If Vata Mombasa's heirs come forward I will happily give them a better rip of this from my clean vinyl copy. (Actually he may still be alive, and living in Ivory Coast where he was last sighted.) From the driving opening cut, to the mellow harmonies of the mislabelled "Namona Yo wapi (where will I find you)," I never get tired of playing this. Each track is ten minutes long. No personnel identified (I think I hear mention of Nadine and Davos), apart from Mombasa on rhythm guitar. The singers are good and one actually sounds a little like Nyboma, though his voice is a bit higher. From my own Vévé page, I learn from liner notes to the original album: "Orchestre Lipua Lipua has the best harmonized team of vocalists led by Kiloto Toko (high-pitched voice). Mbubi Malanda one of the founders of the band, Tedia, Nzaya Nzayadio (who wrote "So-Kizengi") and the newly enrolled vocalist/Composer Kien' Kiesse." In addition a songwriting credit goes to Makaya. These four cuts, with the three on Patricia, made a good hour's worth of music.


Oh, what a tangled web we weave. I went through the Tamasha listings for Verckys and his orchestre Vévé & while most of it has really bad sound, there are some bright moments.


Four A & B-side tracks, "Ndona," "Kamale," "Lossa" & "Sola." The only rarity is the first, which was a single, but it has execrable sound. "Kamale" by Orch Lipua Lipua is on CD36567; "Lossa" by Lipua Lipua was on the LP 360063; "Sola" by Bella Bella, one of Verckys's greatest singles, has also been anthologized several times before.


"Toweli Nini" & "Belina" the first two tracks were a single. Bad sound. "Celine" sounds mighty familiar but I don't find it on my Vévé checklist. "Marcelina" was on Sonafric SAF50009; "Likambo ya somo" (note correct spelling) was the B side of "Fifi" which was anthologized on 360 106. "Ya nini" & "Mangala" parts one and two were all on Vévé hit parade vol 2 (VVLP1002). The sound is muffled.


Six tracks here: "Nakoma juste" & "Bilobela" are on the Sonodisc CD THE BEST COLLECTION, & "Muana Mburu" appeared on LP360 106. The other three tracks have not been collected before, to the best of my knowledge, but from the samples, don't seem outstanding.

ANNA / 15 YEARS AGO VOL 1 (Tamasha CSNLP005)

This disc kicks off with two gems, "Anna" & "Lina Omesana Boye" which were both on Verckys à Paris; I have not seen any of the other tracks collected before. This looks like the one worth getting. The sound is a little crackly, often muddy, but the music is great. Although Verckys was the producer who introduced the stripped down guitar and drum sound of soukous with bands like Zaiko, his own sound was horn-driven with congas and great vocals. "Cela okeba" is the longest track, at 10'45 and rocks. "Kanyuka" is imitation Franco, complete with Franco-style guitar and what is probably one of the ex-OK Jazz vocalists!


A reissue of Edipop 5, "Mwana Bitendi," but taken from a cassette. Four long tracks with OK Jazz (it says), although the first cut is on Volume 2 of the Kamikaze Loningisa compilation CDS6831 from Sono.


Also originally titled "Franco presente," but this time with his own band Kamikaze Loningisa. Four lengthy jams in the classic OK Jazz style. Although Youlou was a singer with the band for 7 years from 1965, he often found himself with Celi Bittsou and Mosese "Fan Fan" running the show because Franco was chasing women or off in Europe cutting deals or building a house. So it was quite normal for the stars of OK Jazz to perform without their leader. Finally Fan Fan broke away with Somo Somo and went East on tour; Youlou stayed in Kin with the remnants of Somo Somo but eventually persuaded Franco to let him return to the fold. Nevertheless, when he did leave and start his own band in 1977, Franco graciously put out his albums (no doubt for a sizable cut). I don't know if he was an actual prince but clearly Franco respected him and gave him as much leeway as Sam Mangwana who was also dilatory about his commitment to the band. Maybe Franco realised that if he kicked them out summarily, like Verckys, they would establish considerable rivalry with him. If you are an OK Jazz fan you will dig this, the same roiling fervor that boils over with big horn choruses, dueling guitars and fine harmony singing, plus the Kamikaze band has a distinctive percussion sound when they punctuate the beat with a bottle or cowbell.


Again mislabelled, but this time it's not an egregious error (not as bad as that wretched cover!). The sublime title cut, "Kanda ya nini?" is by the Papy Tex Band -- a separate or nzonzing band that Tex put together when Kalle was off doing something else (He recorded with Nyboma and also appeared in the Belgian-made film "La Vie est Belle," along with his sidekick, Emoro the dwarf). Every since Meera Nair picked it for the soundtrack to "Mississippi Masala," "Kanda ya nini?" has been one of my favourite songs. Furthermore, it's the full version and therefore two minutes longer than the edit on the soundtrack album. Still, there is a problem with the highs in this recording, so it's not ideal. But it does have a classic sebene, and Tex reminds us there was a good reason he was in Empire Bakuba: it was by no means a one-man show. The other vocalists, Dilu Dilumona and Pepe Kalle, return with the guitarists (the felicitously named Elvis, Doris and Boeing 707) for "Avance loketo (Come on shake your hips)" a happy dance track. I think of Empire Bakuba as the Kinks of the Congo, for like the British rock group, they stuck together as a team, without defections for 25 years, and when one member died, the band folded. (This should have happened to the Who and the Rolling Stones whose careers were crap after the deaths of Brian Jones and Keith Moon.) Hard to date this, I'd guess mid- to late-70s from the sound (lots of echo on the vocals). The dances, the "Soumarin" and the "Kwassa kwassa" are specified: you can wing it -- or swim it.


With their hit "Sikiya Sauce" comes this juggernaut of classic Congolese pop. I suspect this was an LP on Pathé from 1975. Les Noirs were one of the first Congolese groups to seek fame and fortune in Nairobi. From the cover photo you can see they were a big band, with three saxes and at least three guitarists. Drummer and bandleader Chuza Kabaselle turns "Sikiya Sauce" (here mislabelled "Sikia Dance") into a slow smoker. The second song, "Mosa sa ndembo," was also originally released on Pathé-Marconi in Paris. Here, however, track 2 is actually the B-side of "Sikiya sauce." Track 3, labelled "Mungu iko Helena" is the aforementioned "Mosa sa ndembo," by Roger Ndala Mobangui. Will someone slap some sense into the chumps at Tamasha? Here "Mungu iko Helena" is track four: for the first time Kuka is trying to sing in Kiswahili, or rather shout out some simple phrases he has picked up. The ballad labelled here as "Hata Ukifanya Nini Yote Bure" (but I think is actually "Bangaye") has the chords of "I shall be released" as the structure of the first half. The last cut is labelled "Shida (problems)" and appears to be so. It's a different song from the "Shida" of Mbaraka. The promised big hit "Hata Ukifanya Nini" doesn't seem to be present. Trying to straighten out the track titles is giving me a pain, and spoiling my enjoyment of the music. If you like early 70s Congolese rhumba -- and who doesn't? -- this is a prime chunk, professionally recorded, possibly in Paris. But with Tamasha's track record, who knows?

ASSUME CRASH POSITION (Crammed Disc craw60)

We can assume that Konono are flying high these days, and are also keeping a tight grip on their title of Number One. For their latest album with Crammed producer Vincent Kenis they have added a few novelties to the line-up. Young members of a Kin-based Konono cover band have been inducted into the ranks & a few guests from Kasai All Stars, who also appeared in the Congotronics series that broke this sound to a wider audience join in for a monumental jam. Other guest vocalists and guitarist Manuaka Pepe Felly have also jumped in to augment the three electrified likembes that build the trance zone. Traditional Bazombo trance music never sounded so good. The Zombo come from the southern mountains of Congo that border Angola and their traditions are handed on by group leader Mawangu Mingiedi who is now in his late 70s. The appearance of Manuaka (a founder of Zaiko Langa Langa) is a giveaway that "Konono Wa Wa Wa" is a tongue-in-cheek homage to "Zaiko Wa Wa Wa"-- a popular theme of Zaiko's that would crop up periodically during the melody jams in their concerts. Not surprisingly Zaiko were also interested in exploring folkloric material in their music in the early 70s and the "atalaku" (or shouters) are definitely part of a much older tradition. I am so glad this sound caught on, because I have been passionate about it since the 1987 appearance of OCORA's double cassette Musique Urbain à Kinshasa. With electrified likembes, percussion, yells and whistles you don't really need guitars, there's fuzz tone to spare. The sequencing is great so the intensity is always there, but with some variety in the vocal breaks; in fact I think this is better than their 1995 debut and surpasses their live album.

FRANCOPHONIC 2: 1980-89 (Stern's STCD3046-47)

This is an outstanding achievement, not only in the music presented. Everyone knows that Franco was the towering genius of African popular music throughout the 1980s: L'Afrisa was falling apart because of Tabu Ley's unrequited love for Mbilia Bel, Fela was in and out of jail & getting increasingly paranoid & egotistical (reflected in his music), artists who moved to Paris for the vie en rose, like Mory Kante & Salif Keita lost touch with their traditions. Even OK Jazz lost its edge when French production values snuck in. As Franco's health declined & he shriveled, his band became bogged down in soap operas driven by syndrum loops and tedious litanies, so I really expected this second part of the Franco retrospective to come unstuck like other chronological collections that inevitably chart the decline of an artist past their peak. But not here. The first two-disc set got us up to the full flight OK Jazz masterworks from the nineteen-seventies. This golden age of Franco lasted right into the 80s. "Tokoma ba camarade pamba," which led off Vraiment en colère vol 1 in 1980 kicks things off. It is shorthand for the whole double album, though of course if you add water -- or sweat -- you can dance the night away to an hour of the En colère sessions on CDS6852 and CDS6861. "Bina na ngai na respect," sung by Ntesa Dalienst, is a massive song. It kicked off the four-volume celebration of the first quarter century of OK Jazz, and fills all of side 1 of disc 1 with its 17-and-a-half-minute workout. The "song" part is only about 2 and a half minutes, in fact, and the seben kicks it up to a full-on soukous workout for the next quarter hour. The last five minutes is an endurance test between the kit drummer and two lead guitars swapping a two-chord figure that would sound like a stuck record except the horns come back like a bullet train going 120 mph that cannot be stopped. Now you can't put on CDs and get the experience of the Quart siècle sessions because Sonodisc scattered the tracks about among 6 CDs and didn't bother to anthologize two of them (One "Belle mere" is a Haitian cover and not that great). However "Sandoka" from volume 4 is included, to give continuity to this aspect of the biggest of the big OK Jazz orchestras assembled for the session. There was a volume 5 from later years, but I am not sure Franco appeared on it: seemingly, he often left the band in the studio to record their own stuff. Like his confrère Mangwana, Dalienst went on to triumph beyond OK Jazz scoring hits again and again with "Belalo" and "Dangara," and teamed up with Josky post-OK Jazz for great sessions.

Then we get to the centrepiece of the first disc in this set (subtitled "Le grand maître"): "Princesse Kikou." This is classic OK Jazz in every respect: it only takes a minute for a drum-roll to summon the riff -- not a dance groove so much as a restrained vamp -- it goes on for ever, Franco sings and sings and finally when you have had about enough, he rips into a multi-pronged lead with at least two other guitars doing their best to outplay him (take your pick from the eight guitarists listed in the booklet!). The horns come back to calm them down, the guitars fall back to their original repeated patterns for eight bars and come out the other end into the light riffing madly into the home stretch. The horns join in for a final round, proving you can swing and sway -- and play like a fiend. Sono reissued "Princessse Kikou" on three different CDs but mostly cut down to 10 minutes: one of them stretches the song to 13'42", but here we get the full blast of 14'08". Surprisingly there is even room for another cut from this 1982 album (Se Dechainement): Josky's "Nostalgie." Disc one just has room to squeeze in another highly anthologized track, and my personal favourite of the 1980s OK Jazz cuts: "Co-operation." Though I have listened to it scores of times it was a joy to have it come on and shake my walls and scare the neighbours when "GM" le grand maître says, "C'est très simple ... on danse!" Sam yelps, and calls "Attaquer" -- and attack they do. There's a three-minute Franco guitar solo and he runs the whole gamut of his tricks on this song, inverting the chords, staggering the tempo, writing new melodies on the spot. Time stands still. Franco & Sam are reunited and it's like they were never apart. Even when Sam calls out "Sam Mangwana and OK Jazz" and forgets to include Franco he is not in danger of getting the hook, as many lesser vocalists would have. Forget "White rabbit" -- if ever there was a song to have playing when you excitedly knock the radio into the bathtub and fry yourself, this is it!!

Disc two starts with the new and improved Paris sound of the band. Franco and Michelino spent hours in the studio laying down overdubs to build a foundation for the meeting of Franco and his arch-rival Rochereau. The result was several albums-worth of new material, and from Choc Choc Choc we get the first of the four side-long "letters to the director general." A new label, Choc Records, was rolled out, and from the next release we hear Josky's "Missile." The voices of Madilu and Simaro, added to Josky and Franco and the guest shot from Tabu Ley, give a spectrum of the great vocalists of the era associated with OK Jazz. Franco started playing nylon strings to show off the cleaner sound but also introduced a metronomic bass drum bomp which controls the tempo, so the band becomes more clinical and the OK Jazz sound loses its roiling fervor. We are spared the pain of "Attention na SIDA" and the endless disco drudgery of the 20-minute epics and get a succinct view of some overlooked gems that you probably don't have in your collection. There's a 48-page booklet accompanying the discs that details the history of each track and contains more rare photos. Stern's selector, Ken Braun, has sieved the best of Franco's vast output so you only get the gold.


Hard to believe it's twenty years since Franco died. He really seemed set to go on forever. Though his music had succumbed to French discoid tendencies at the end, he had an immense body of work and put out enough great material to keep us all happy for a long time. In the later videos he really doesn't do much, the whole band is chugging along like a locomotive with others singing and even playing all the guitar parts. However, after Franco's death an attempt to keep going as Bana OK was short-lived, and other efforts to perpetuate his songs were not fruitful. One exception is Kekele, Syran Mbenza's band, who have always played "Infidelité Mado" in concert. They kept the Franco spirit vital, particularly when Syran would play a two-fingered lead guitar solo. Now Syran has gone another step and produced a whole album of Franco-related material from the wealth that exists. It's in the unplugged light rumba style of Kekele, so is in fact like another Kekele album with added guests. Bopol Mansiamina is back on two tracks, though I wish he and Syran would team up again (not necessarily as Quatre Etoiles). Wuta Mayi who has been a stalwart of Syran's bands also sang with Franco in the mid-70s (his classic "Melou" can be found on the OK Jazz 20th Anniversary album) so he is the perfect lead singer. Sharing those duties is Elba Kuluma. He sang with Youlou Mabiala's Kamikaze Loningisa and later with Les Bantous Monument. Flavien Makabi is also recruited on bass: a post he held with OK Jazz from 1976 on. Otherwise the band comprises members of Kekele and Quatre Etoiles, including drummer Komba Bellow, Jimmy Mvondo on sax, and conguero Deba Sungu.

Track 3 lights up the dance floor: this is a rip-it-up version of Ntesa Dalenst's "Mouzi" (formally known as "Liyanzi ekoti ngai na motema"). Next is a less-well-known number, Camille Feruzi's "Madeleine," which dates from Franco's authenticité period when he too was unplugged (in the early 70s). Viviane Arnoux gets to shine on accordeon muzette, while Syran shows off his impeccable double-pronged attack. The centrepiece of the programme is "Mado," Celi Bitsou's tale of a faithless woman: by now so polished as to dazzle. Fofo le Collegien gets a chance to play lead guitar on Michelino's "Salimu," originally voiced by the all-powerful chorus of Josky, Wuta, Pepe Ndombe and Youlou Mabiala, while multi-tracked Jimmy Mvondo has to stand in for the 5-piece OK Jazz horn line (of course they were dancing and waving their instruments in the air for most of it)!

Kekele did a medley of OK Jazz oldies on the Congo Life album, and after a new mix of oldies ("Rumba Odemba"), we come into the homestretch with the heartwrenching ballad "Liwa ya Wech," rephrased as "Liwa ya Franco," for which Ballou Canta is summoned to deliver the sorry saga of Luambo and Bavon, dead before their time. Synth swells add an ominous tone to it, while Syran embroiders the chords with finely detailed crewel work. A couple more hits then an original Syran Mbenza tune rounds out the set. Franco was unquestionably the most important musical figure to emerge from Congo after Kabasele, but there is continuity in many of the bands that were contemporaries or followed OK Jazz, particularly Les Bantous and Les Quatre Etoiles. This is a great tribute to the memory of Franco and should ensure that a new generation will start to discover his magnificent musical legacy.

RETROSPECTIVA (City Hall Records)

From cooking a meal to relationships, most of us feel we could do better if we tried again. Musicians get to play their hits over and over. This can be good or bad. You can be stuck in a rut (a friend of mine's brother is in It's a Beautiful Day & they still play "White Bird" at every gig -- that sounds like purgatory to me) or you can continue to evolve. Makina Loca has the kind of creativity that allows for fluidity in performance. So now after six albums they have a retrospective album that is quite new and dazzling. The track list is familiar, from "Mambo Yoyo" to "Habari Yako," in fact it's a set that you have seen them perform live over the nearly two decades they've been touring. However they have reimagined their songs to give them a new twist. It's still Afro-Cuban with the emphasis on Afro, so that "Mambo yo yo" takes the dancefloor as a son montuno but has the mutuashi rhythm associated with Tshala Muana at its heart. "Yiri Yiri Bon," their Beny Moré cover, now has a cumbia beat and accordion lead. And with the global interest in African Lusophone music, Lemvo has gone to his Angolan roots and delivers three Portuguese classics from Africa. The Angolan tracks are taken at a slower pace (The original of Carlos Lamartine's "N'Vunda ku Muceque" can be found on ANGOLA 90s for comparison.) They've moved West across the Atlantic, so there's a Haitian feel to them, or at least a touch of zouk or kompas, more aurally evident than any sign of semba. The pan-African feel is still strong, the Latin beat is heavy and once again, Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca keep it new and vital.


A second reissue of Ry-Co Jazz from Retro is welcome but it left me wondering, surely they did better stuff than this? Again there is a mix of Rumba-Congolaise with Antillean biguine, calypso and merengue, but where is the stuff that slayed them in the clubs in the 1960s? Ry-Co was a phenomenon and issued scores of singles but, from what I can make out, they have not been anthologized yet. Ry-Co was a band with a mission: to take "Rythme-Congolaise" -- or Ry-Co -- to the rest of the world. They toured West Africa from a base in Sierra Leone for years (founder Henri Bowane stayed in Ghana and Togo for 3 decades) and ended up in Paris, capital of West Africa, in 1964. That was where Jean-Serge Essous joined and they headed to the tropical island of Martinique and were resident there for three years. Jean-Claude Naimro, later a pioneer of zouk, joined them on keyboards. Things fell apart when they returned to Paris. Essous went home to rejoin Les Bantous, Jerry Malekani brought in Manu Dibango and they toured North Africa, lasting until the late 70s. This disc attempts to show all the styles Ry-Co covered, and while individual tracks are good, overall the choppy sequencing does not work. An uncharacteristic calypso (in English) is followed by the quintessential piece of malaise, a bolero in French, that is a snooze. "Eboma Africa," a 12-minute workout from their last stand, is the best thing on here, and you wonder there are not more such long jams waiting to be unearthed. The album should end there, instead there are three late tracks, including an awful reggae number. There are two albums, Fantastique & Vacancies (with Grammacks) that are worth mining for reissue. Much of this disc seems to come from a late 1977 album that was cobbled together for purely commercial reasons, five years after the band's break-up.


Franco Luambo Makiadi (1938-89), as everyone who reads this knows, was a giant of African music. This set is subtitled "Africa's greatest: a retrospective, vol 1: 1953-80." With his band OK Jazz he released at least 400 singles (more than half later compiled onto LP or CD) and Graeme Ewens' book CONGO COLOSSUS, the biography of Franco, records 84 LPs. Although Ewens' book came out in 1994, after Franco's death, it was during the huge onslaught of Franco CDs that recompiled tracks from the LPs that had been licensed to SonoDisc in Paris from Franco's own Edipop label. Ewens list 36 CDs; Asahi-net has 83. Even though I had the Sono LPs I bought the CDs in a fit of covetous collectimania. So now, when I complain about being broke, Deejay IJ tells me to put those Sono CDs on Amazon or EBAY where they will fetch big money. Now two decades after the man's death we have another Franco reissue, the first part of a two-part Stern's retrospective which has been in the making for a decade or more. How does it differ from what has gone before? There are three distinct aspects to consider: the sound, the liner notes, and the intelligence behind the construction of the set. The sound is as good as it can get without being substantially re-engineered. Before he built his own studio Franco was at the mercy of whatever facilities he used and you know how difficult it is to mike a huge 15 or 20 piece band. There seems to be less echo on "Kinsiona"; overall the sound quality is excellent. The liner notes by compiler Ken Braun are thorough and informative; of course the joke about Sono's liner notes is "What liner notes?" They never had any. In addition there are many wonderful photos which will be unfamiliar to you. Of course everyone has different favourite Franco songs and thinks they know how to put together a hot set, but in reality the people with most familiarity with his vast oeuvre will be most adept. So as far as sequencing goes, this is the definitive Franco retrospective, even taking into account the three or more recent efforts on the market, from Manteca, Rough Guide (both reviewed on Congo1 page), and the Sheer compilation which I reviewed on Congo3. Rough Guide & Manteca tried hard but you simply cannot get a reasonable Franco retrospective onto a single disc. Sheer had the luxury of two discs but screwed up the sequencing. Now we have Stern's: the most credible entry yet.

Disc one, "On entre OK," starts at the beginning with "Esengo ya mokili" by Dewayon which shows the rough and ready roots of the sound and features the debut of teenage Franco on his first day on the job at Loningisa studio on backing vocals and guitar. Then we rock out with a rumba, that is, a Congolese version of their idea of a rumba which, despite a hint of "El manicero" on Essous' clarinet, owes as much to Congolese folk rhythms. Similarly "Tcha tcha tcha de mi amor" could only by African (Braun, more specifically, says only from Lipopo!) and shows the beginning of an original approach to guitar, though Franco is not identified as the soloist. By track 8 we are firmly in the terrain of the grand maître. "Bato ya mabe batondi mboka" is an overtly political song, sung by Franco in his gruff voice. He takes a sharp stab at a lead and for once you sense the other musicians are augmenting him, respectfully leaving room for his moment of self-expression. We only get one song a year for the 1960s which is a pretty rapid progression and will make you want to find more of the albums. I am not going to second-guess the compiler but there is one track on disc one I would have omitted, track 11 "Ku kisantu kikwenda ko": it starts with talking and whistling, which rapidly becomes irritating. It was chosen for its political relevance and Franco certainly had a lot of that. But otherwise the sequencing is great. "Marie naboyi," one of my favourite OK Jazz rave-ups (sounding a lot like his younger brother's Orchestre Negro Succès), rocks out and when it stops you think the disc has ended, but then the quiet lilting guitar opening of "Boma l'heure" comes on and it is magnificent in its spareness. The backing is stripped down to maracas with a moody sax echoing the vocals and a flock of floozies singing a rather out-of-tune chorus. The first disc ends with "Infidelité Mado," a perfect song to have in your head in the ensuing silence. All of the tracks on disc one have been on CD before, either from Sonodisc, or in the case of the first few tracks, the Originalité album on RETRO and the Roots of Rumba Rock and Roots of OK Jazz on CRAMMED put together by Vincent Kenis. (Six of the tracks assembled here are also half of the Manteca CD FRANCO: The very best of the Rumba Giant, that came out in 2000.)

The second disc, "Tout puissance," is also a sharply honed set. Again there is an odd-track out, which I will get to in a moment. We kick off with the blockbusting AZDA, the 1973 paean to a Volkswagen dealership! (It has appeared on 5 or 6 CDs, most recently Congo Gold), "Mambu ma miondo" which is second, has appeared on 3 CDs and the third track, "Minuit eleki Lezi," is on a total of 6 previous CDs!) These three tracks, along with "Mabele" and "Kinsiona" were all on 1972/73/74 (Sonodisc CD 36538). This is the heart of the matter. The original albums were on Editions Populaires with Sam Mangwana and they were licensed first to Pathé-Marconi who issued them as two LPs and then to Sono who followed suit. When Sono made the CD, for once (perhaps lacking the motivation to screw it up or being so lazy they just mimicked the Pathé disc) they put both albums on one CD 36538. This demonstrates the rolling force of an OK Jazz session and is one of the most satisfying single CDs of Franco & TPOK Jazz. I listen to it regularly but I think of it as a Sam Mangwana and OK Jazz album. Perhaps for that reason the compiler, Ken Braun, has steered more towards the Franco tracks. After the roiling intensity of "Liberté" we get "Lisolo ya Adamo na Nzambe (Conversation between Adam and God)" which features Mangwana's partner from Les Maquisards, Ntesa Dalienst. The disc ends with an oddity: a song written and played in its entirety by Franco, with drum machine and swelling synth fills, "Nalingaka yo yo te." Its message is "I don't like you," as Franco was alone in Brussels and depressed. It's a strange end to the set. Braun has sought to show the entire reach of Franco's career: his politics, his band-leading skills, his poetry, and succeeds. It's maybe a bit didactic bringing in that last track, but there's much more greatness to look forward to in the next disc.


Kasai Allstars are well-known in the Congotronics realm because of their unusual make-up. I dont mean their body paint! I mean the composition of the group. They are traditional Kasaian musicians but they come from five different ethnic groups, not all of whom get along (to put it diplomatically). Kasai is in the Heart of the Congo and rich in diamond fields. The members came to the big city looking for fame and fortune and eventually made Kasai Allstars out of five separate bands who came from Songye, Lulua, Luba, Tetela and Luntu peoples. Two of the smaller bands, Basokin and Masanka Sankayi, appeared on Congotronics 2. Each group has its own culture and language but together they are a super jam group to beat the band. While Konono no 1 is essentially an electric likembe ensemble, Kasai Allstars include a xylophone played by Tshilumba "Baila" Luamba the acknowledged master, and two electric guitars. There are also buzzing likembes, frame drums, a lokole or slit log drum, rattles, and other percussion. The guitar makes a big difference: it is not played in a recognisable style, but used to augment the likembe patterns. There is a rhythmic pulse to the music, like breathing, that quickly gets inside your head and takes over your own respiration. The overall effect of this album is trance-inducing with occasional moments where you are reeled in by a guitar or vocal refrain. It's wonderfully meditative and rich.

Congo 70 RUMBA ROCK (Syllart 6139342)

You might imagine I am in two minds about whether to review this CD. I love Congolese music so I have 90% of the music on here, but then you may not so I should tell you if it is worth hearing. I was disappointed in the Congo Gold compilation from Rough Guide that didn't go beyond the usual suspects. As in my review of Golden Afrique vol 2 (Network 29.076), I listed a few songs that I thought might have been worthy inclusions. I suggested Vercky's "Nakomitunaka," for one, and it is here, along with other groups I put forward: Les Bantous, Empire Bakuba, Les Maquisards, Bella Bella, Johnny Bokelo & others. CONGO 70 makes better use of the double disc format than Golden Afrique 2 did, casting a wider net, but also managing to get in two cuts by Les Maquisards & three from Franco. "Azda" by OK Jazz which was on Congo Gold is included here, but this set kicks off with an all-time Franco classic "Boma l'heure" from 1971. We jump forward to "Zonga Zonga" from 1978, an early recording of Viva la Musica with Papa Wemba on vocals, that was on Ngoyarto's recent La Naissance de l'orchestre Viva la Musica. It's an odd choice for a second cut, because it takes a while to get started but once it comes to the boil Bongo Wende and Rigo Star rip out the proverbial jams. From a programmer's point of view it would have worked better later in the set, along with the Zaiko track. The heavily anthologized "Tu m'as deçu Chouchou" is next. This lovely Hawaiian guitar workout by Nico was track 100 on the 4-CD MegaAfrica compilation; it's also on 30 Ans de l'Afrique and several Sonodisc comps. The "Get down with James Brown" segment is dedicated to Trio Madjesi and their jamming "Sex Madjesi" backed by Orchestre Sosoliso. (Note the shout-out to Mobutu!) And Bavon Marie Marie & Negro Succès are represented by the funky "Libangana Libumu." I can't figure why they haven't been added to the pantheon sooner. There's the warm and heavenly "Kamale" by Lipua Lipua and the lovely "Massamba MJ" by Fidèle Zizi and Mando Negro Kwala Kwa which came out on the Pathé Marconi label in Paris and then was anthologized on a Sono set 1962-73 (CD36591) and the 5-CD set of Mando Negro from Glenn. The wretched and pitiful "Le Bucheron" of Franklin Boukaka arranged by Manu Dibango is here. Really, only Africans can like this wet number, even if it does have a poignant political message. Most of the tracks on here are gems by bands who are worth devoting an hour or more to, so when I hear "Kamikaza" by OK Jazz, I want to take this off and dig out one of their discs. The closing cut "Beya Moke" by Sakade Band is the only one I did not already have & it is great. When this album becomes available for download by single tracks I predict a lot of people will want this cut as everything else has been around. Now Sylla seems to be carrying on the fine legacy of Sonodisc, who made a real hash of this cultural patrimony. The cover is most offensive: a bunch of sleeves were re-scanned them and then the "art director" (i.e. a**hole with Xacto) cut off Dr Nico's head. That is a very symbolic move. This is not a particularly well-sequenced set. The cuts by Viva la Musica, Zaiko and Empire Bakuba are not their best stuff. The tracks are seemingly just thrown on at random, but if you don't have a lot of classic Congolese rumba material in your collection you will soon find that it is worth pursuing, as much if not more than Afro Funk.

ON THE RUMBA RIVER (Directed by Jacques Sarasin)
(First Run Features DVD)

This film (which came out in 2006) got limited theatrical distribution in UK and America, but is a "must watch" on DVD. I already reviewed the soundtrack. The film itself is a treat. Wendo Kolosoy, for all his 80 years, is a spry dude. At the start you see him at home trying to snooze in the garden while his wife berates him for not going out and getting a job. It's funny but of course really sad that he has no income; still, he tells her he has some prospects of a tour and to that end gets together with his old cronies to rehearse and we see some wonderful music and interaction between these old-timers. The packaging, inevitably, calls them the Congolese Buena Vista Social Club, and like that Cuban enterprise they are all starting to check out for heavenly pastures. We drive around Molokai (the suburb of Kinshasa) with Wendo trying to find Joseph "Maproko" Munange, the sax player, veteran of Esengo studios and original member of Verckys' band. He fares no better than his vieux copain. "Stop that noise!" his wife tells him as he sits outside his home practicing. --I was already a musician when you married me, he complains. A younger member of the band (in his 60s) explains that Mobutu wanted to get all the old guys together, Camille, Dessoin, etc, but they didn't sing so well any more, and so they recruited a few younger guys. Such candid moments are intercut with extremely well-edited shots of the band rehearsing and performing. There are also images of decay, rust, rain, and ruin, crowded trains, and the great river where Wendo started out, now with its wreckage of ferry boats. He likes to preach and constantly harangues the band, but he saves his strongest remarks for the politicians who have allowed Congo to fall apart. (It does seem like geopolitical interests are allowing the war to continue. A century from now it may be called the Motorola Cel Phone War because the demand for coltan and gold is what is fueling the carnage.) But what else can the old musicians in Kin do but play? Finally Antoine Moundanda shows up with his thumb piano and some outlandish pants & joins in for a rousing finale.


Franco is arguably the most important African musician of the last 50 years. The sound of OK Jazz permeated the continent and finally conquered Europe and the rest of the world. Though I have a vast Franco collection, it's always nice to get a fresh perspective on his music. This 2-disc compilation kicks off in full flood with "Matata mwasi na maboli esilaka te (As long as they are together, husband and wife will argue)" from the "20th Anniversary" sessions (& not the later "Co-operation" as stated) in 1975 when Franco had just poached the top talents from the band of his rival Tabu Ley Rochereau, including Michelino on guitar, Deyesse Empompo on sax, and Sam Mangwana and Pépé Ndombe, Afrisa's star vocalists. The talent theft was so serious it became an affair of state! Now for once you can read about all this in the liner notes, compiled by François Bensignor and Louis Malambu, which are excellent. For example, we learn the comical and lewd significance of "Quatre boutons"!

Three of the tracks were included in the Rough Guide to Franco. The hits reminds us of Franco's power, but there's one immediately apparent flaw in this new comp and that is the sequencing. It jumps restlessly from era to era which seems ill-conceived. It starts in the mid-70s, lurches forward 15 years, then back to 1958 in the course of three songs. I am not saying there should be a strict chronology, that only leads to inevitable decline as the shine wears off the early brilliance and you end up with the slogging 25-minute epics in a log jam at the end. These musical soap operas had their day, but were plagued by syndrums and cheesy synths replacing horns. If you can follow the dialogue they are long involved stories of tawdry romance, but for me they were the band on autopilot and, while I enjoyed "Bois Noir" and "Tres impoli" (the latter included here) in their time, I felt most of the Mamou and Mario sagas were a waste of airtime. There was an Irish actor (named Molloy), who did a one-man show in these parts. He told stories from his life in reverse order so he ended up as a hopeful young thing starting out on the stage at the end of the show. And that's an approach that would have worked here. The second disc goes back to the early days and spends a little more time in the 50s and 60s and seems a bit more coherent than disc one. But then it leaps 14 years from "Marceline" to "Mamou" (actually, as Ken Braun points out, not "Mamou" at all, but "Layile" sing by Jolie Detta -- Franco's answer to Mbilia Bel) and the inevitable "Mario" (part one).

Sam Mangwana singing with OK Jazz

I believe everything on here is taken from previously released CDs, that is to say nothing has been excavated from vinyl. Sam Mangwana sings on a quarter of the tracks, from his two stints with the band. Three tracks from "Ou est le sérieux?" (Edipop/Ngoyarto) sung by Sam, form the core of this set. Apart from Franco he dominates the sound, despite Vicky Longomba, Youlou Mabiala, & Madilu System who were the main vocalists in different eras. The upside is this is a great two hours of OK Jazz; the downside is, apart from the odd sequence, there has been no attempt to remaster the sound, so there are some scratched 78s (the great early Vicky composition, "Tomeseni, zonga Coco [Come back Coco]") and some muddy or overmodulated tracks (the classics "Azda" & "Nabala ata mbwa [Why wouldn't I marry a dog?]") which would have benefitted from a little attention. But above all Franco's music is timeless, indeed suspends time, with its trancelike multiple looping guitar candences, so these two discs go on for ever, which is wonderful and you can bask in their aura as the hits, like "Azda" and "Alimatou," pour forth.

L'ESSENTIAL (Syllart pmsyl001)
L'INDISPENSABLE (Syllart pmsyl002)
L'INCONTOURNABLE (Syllart pmsyl003)

Once again I find reissues more interesting than new product, as well as a dearth of anything truly new and exciting. And here I go reviewing a series of discs I don't own (because I have the vinyl and most of it already on CD also). Sylla has put out a three-CD set of the late great Pamelo Mounk'a, one of the finest singers to come out of the Congo in our lifetime. Pamelo died in 1996, aged 51. He was a big enough star to get top, even solo billing, when he was fronting the Bantous, so the album JOSIA JEE came out under his name though it was a Bantous album and included a Jean-Serge Essous composition. You will note on my AFRICAN TOP 50 page that I include a CD by Mounk'a called Plus grands succès vol 1, that came out on the KARAC label in 1993. If you have that, you don't need this new collection. Plus grands succès contained two superb LPs that were recorded under the direction of the great Antillean band-leader and arranger Eddy Gustave. The line-up included Master Mwana Congo on lead guitar, Pablo "Porthos" Lubadika on accompaniment, Dave Sakou on bass, and Domingo Salsero on drums. The regular horn section might include Jimmy & Fredo, even Eddy Gustav himself on saxophone. (A web search adds Emile Manga on trumpet, Kameni on sax, Lea Lignanzi on backing vocals, and Pierre Letchoumayen on congas.) This was the peak of a career that started when Pamelo was a teenager in 1963, singing alongside Rochereau in African Fiesta. Then he was known as Pablito and added the harmony to Tabu Ley and sang lead on some Cuban-style rumbas and cha chas delivered with impeccable aplomb by Docteur Nico and his men, such as "Me voy a cantar," "Amartes," "Camalie" and "P.B. Zonga." From there Pamelo joined the Orchestre le Peuple, Trio CEPACOS, in 1964, and then Les Bantous de la Capitale, scoring hits with "Masuwa," "Monsieur, on va se marier," and "Mama na Mwana." He also did a bit of nzonzing on his own, recording over 70 singles in makeshift studios in Brazzaville, and cementing his position as one of the most popular Congolese singers ever. In 1981 he was invited to Paris by Eddy Gustav where he recorded in a state of the art studio with the aforementioned stellar lineup and scored a massive hit with "L'argent appelle l'argent" (Money calls to money)" from a self-titled album on Sonics 79406. His follow-up album (Sonics 79413) contained two smash hits, "Samantha, tresor Hindou" and "Ce n'est que ma secretaire (It's only my secretary)"! and the lovely ballad "Amour, quand tu me prends..." His songs are clever and catchy and his silky voice has no compeer, except Rochereau. He made several more albums with the Paris session guys, including the "Red" album, Camitina (Sonics 79430), and Ça ne se prete pas (RC2001 1982), by which time he was hailed as the "No 1 Africain!" In 1983 back in Congo-Brazzaville he recorded 20 Ans de Carrière (Genidia 106) with Orchestre L'Afrisa of Rochereau and Mbilia Bel (an album that definitely has the hallmark Afrisa sound and consequently sounds a bit out of place here). But it was the Eddy'son, or Eddy Gustave sound that sold best, and even when he returned to Brazza and fronted his vieux copains in Les Bantous it didn't have the scintillating glitter of the Paris sessions. Essous' health, plus departures and other problems led to a long decline for the Bantous, as documented in my Bible, Gary Stewart's RUMBA ON THE RIVER.

Sylla has reshuffled the deck and changed a couple of song titles to confuse prospective buyers. Essentially here is what he has on offer: L'ESSENTIAL contains the first half of Plus grands succès or the "L'argent appelle l'argent" album, along with a 1981 release on the Sonics label: the Propulsion album. This album, also produced by Eddy'son, was recommended to me by Steve Heilig of THE BEAT magazine as one of his all-time favourites. It all smokes. To round it up we get the B side of 20 Ans de Carrière. L'INDISPENSABLE contains the second half of Plus grands succès, or SAMANTHA and all of the "Red" album, Camitina. This is the one to get if you don't want to spring for all three, but I would recommend both if you don't have any Pamelo. If you have Plus grands succès you will only be duplicating the best stuff if you buy these. The third release L'INCONTOURNABLE, as the name suggests (?), is a bit more dispensable and obscure. It contains the Ça ne se prete pas album, plus the A side of 20 Ans de Carrière, and the last three tracks are titles I don't recognise, perhaps from Bantous albums, or stray 45s. I like the Ça ne se prete pas and Camitina albums, but if you search high and low you may find them on vinyl where it will sound better than in this context, I am sure. Unlike the recent return of Orchestre Baobab, who go from strength to strength, the Bantous reunion album fell short. Clearly they have lost too much over the course of time and nostalgia aside, they are definitely an historic band at this point. But so many stellar musicians passed through their ranks, and among their singers, including Kosmos Moutouari and Theo Blaise Kounkou, Pamelo Mounk'a was the greatest. I suppose Sylla could have stretched this out into a five-disc set so for that we should be grateful, but I don't like the way he chopped up the 20 Ans de Carrière and used it as filler. Still, it contains the heart of one of the greatest achievements in Congolese music of the early 1980s.


This is a revolving showcase of four acts, and a remix of the EL CONGO BRAZZA KIN album and Wendo's ON THE RUMBA RIVER. If you don't have any Wendo or Moundanda it makes a great introduction, but for me the best part of this disc is its variety and the flavour of early rumba imparted by the Rumbanella selections. They are not Kékélé, and other (electric) bands have done similar material better -- like Soukous Stars, even Kanda Bongo Man -- but their take on African Jazz standards is wonderful and vibrant. From Tabu Ley's debut "Kelya" to his "Sey Sey," from Kwamy's "el Congo," to Dechaud's "Africa Mokili Mobimba," and from Jean Bosco's "Massanga," to Dr Nico's "L'age et l'amour" and his "Ngalula," their taste is impeccable and the acoutic delivery simply gorgeous.

KEKELE LIVE: TOURNEE AMERICAINE & CANADIENNE (only available from CD Baby as a download)

For the first time I have bought a CD as a download (though I admit I have snaggled a few on the sly, most recently Neil Young in Amsterdam, which is worth seeking out). C.C. Smith, editor of The BEAT sent me the link to a live Kékélé concert: I checked out the sound on the CD Bébé site, which is board quality, so immediately grabbed it. C.C. has also started the inevitable myspace page for the band and if you check their friends there's a link to Quatre Etoiles. As I said in my review of their show in San Rafael from this 2005-6 tour, they were a lot hotter live than on the CDs. On tour they had Rigo Star instead of Papa Noel on second guitar and three singers which kept it focussed. Syran decided to authorize the sale of the concert tape on line. The CD Baby site also points you to several other albums available for immediate download, including a couple of Samba Mapangala & Virunga albums you probably have, a recollection of Sam Mangwana's Portuguese tracks, Quatre Etoiles' LIVE IN LONDON, and an outstanding soukous album: Syran's SYMBIOSE: BEST OF PARIS. If you don't have it, that disc is essential listening (It includes the same rhythm section and vocalists as Kékélé). The artwork for Kékélé Live is budget-quality and the liner notes are crummy, but the music is superb (though they clipped the end of a couple of songs). What's really striking -- without watching them play, or the antics of the singers -- is that you really get inside Syran's amazing finger picking. I thought it wouldn't be long before they went electric again, but he has been there, done that (Symbiose is a case in point, not to mention all the Lovy, Somo Somo, Quatre Etoiles, Sam Mangwana, Paris sessions etc, he played on) and now he has taken hold of something that is, to me, the legacy of Franco: a plucked two-finger lead, staggered tempi, and sustained repetitions of a phrase that push the rest of the band into a rhythmic frenzy (He started doing it when Quatre Etoiles did "Mado"). We also have Sebastien Malherbe on accordion and the legendary Jimmy Mvondo on sax (uncredited in the liner note, but Loko gives him a shout-out). Deba Sungu (ex-Afrisa International) on congas backs Komba Bellow's drum kit. The front line on the tour were three Congolese legends: Nyboma and Wuta Mayi of Quatre Etoiles & Loko Massengo of Vercky's wild break-out band Trio Madjesi (He had considerably bigger hair back then!). Wuta Mayi's "Affaire mokumwa" sounds like his earlier "Enfant Bamileke." In fact there is a familiarity to the whole sound, they have successfully reprocessed many musical ideas from their separate and collective past into a fantastic fusion of supercool rumba. There's now rumours of a Quatre Etoiles reunion tour, though I remember Quatre Etoiles did "Doublé doublé" unplugged on Georges Collinet's radio show Afropop (memo: find the tape), which was probably the spark for the idea of an unplugged band. They should just keep doing this until it gets tired, and if they can get Bopol back then call it a double bill and do both acoustic and electric sets. But this Kékélé concert is really smoking. The last three tracks lift you right up into the air. The "Ma-ni" chorus appears on the penultimate track so you know they are feeling positively Afro-Cubist. "Ça, c'est la rumba Congolaise," says Loko with satisfaction, as Jimmy breaks out some hot licks, Deba slaps fiercely, and Syran chugs on relentlessly. He finally makes the connection to Franco pointedly: it's an awesome moment as the song ends. One for the ages.

ON THE RUMBA RIVER (Marabi 46822.2)

Wendo is now up to three albums since his return to performing in 1999. An orphan who was kicked out of the Belgian church school for his verses, Wendo worked on the riverboats and had a career as a prize fighter before recording "Marie Louise" in 1948 and becoming a top performer. He is the last survivor from the roots of rumba and has assembled some great sidemen nearing his own age (he is 82) to perform in the style he first popularized 60 years ago: the acoustic precursor of rumba Congolaise. He stretches to the high notes and with his shaved brown head he does look like a tortoise. (But as Lewis Carroll would say, We call him tortoise because he taught us!) He has Joseph Munange (ex-African Jazz) on sax, Alphonse Biolo (ex-Afrisa) on trumpet and his old copain Antoine Moundanda on likembe. I thought I heard accordion too. Michel Vula, ex-Bella Bella, is on electric guitar as needed. Acoustic bass (Niandu Milandu) and congas (Mbingi Kabata) round out the line-up. There's a great echo to the recording, like they are in a big room with one microphone. This lends exceptional authenticity to the track "Rumba," which is a stately old African Jazz tune done as an instrumental. All it lacks is some surface crackle! Some of the tracks are taken from a 1993 recording (one is from 1972); the others are from 2004, but they cohere. They form the soundtrack to a documentary about him called ON THE RUMBA RIVER, directed by Jacques Sarasin. (Gary Stewart should have copyrighted that title!) I look forward to the film with great anticipation.


We had the Rough Guide to Congolese Soukous compiled by Graeme Ewens and now its Martin Sinnock's turn to bring us CONGO GOLD. Rough Guides seem to be for people who have decided to explore world music with no prior exposure. Maybe they heard Mabulu on a TV commercial or caught Baobab on "Later with Jools Holland," but Rough Guide assumes they are blank slates, so their CDs really seem to start with basics. Therefore I have minor reservations about this latest compilation and will no doubt piss off those I hold most dear, my world music buddies. There were four oldies on the previous disc (RGNET 1050 CD), Franco & Sam Mangwana's "Odongo," Rochereau's "Sarah," RyCo Jazz doing "Marie Jose," and, from left field, Thu Zahina. Now we have another look at the formative years of African pop when Kinshasa ruled the airwaves. Franco, Sam and Tabu Ley return, but RyCo don't. There are some great choices on here and no bad tracks, but a surfeit of the same artists. It leads off with "Marie Louise" by Wendo, rather predictable. A clever trick would have been to use "Maria Tchebo" by Adou Elenga and then close with Sam Mangwana's 1983 version to show the development of the music. Kalle & African Jazz do "Parafifi," which is one of my favourite tunes by them. After "Adios Tete" by Rochereau and African Jazz we get to "le Dieu de la Guitar" Nico Mobali & African Fiesta doing "Mamu wa mpoy," one of his pyrotechnic slide guitar sorties. Apparently Jimi Hendrix went to meet him in Paris! That must have been quite a meeting. Then, newly inducted, Verckys brings his sax for "Marcello Tozongana," which was on the RETRO CD "Vintage Verckys." There are dozens of great Verckys tracks waiting to be anthologized, but presumably that was close to hand and already digitized. "Nakomitunaka," which is not widely available would have been preferable to one from the RETRO CD we all have. Furthermore there is a technical glitch at the fade-out of this song which was not fixed. "Azda" by Franco & OK Jazz is a real gem: a paean to a car dealership in Kinshasa. I imagine they got paid in Volkswagen Beetles for this smoker. Tabu Ley's "Nakweyi Carreau" was not in the Stern's box set so it was a good choice for inclusion. You can't go wrong with Sam Mangwana and as a bonus you get to hear Syran on guitar. "Eswi yo wapi?" by Mbilia Bel & Rochereau is certainly golden and was the lead track on BEL CANTO, Mbilia's recent Stern's compilation. Franco returns for a ten-minute "Mujinga" and things start to sound samey. Papa Noel's "Bon Samaritain" is good but it's basically more OK Jazz. Then we end with Madilu System's "Biya" which is here purely on sentimental grounds. Madilu just died but his post-OK Jazz career was largely thrashing about looking for a band big enough to frame him properly. He could have been omitted from this line-up. Most conspicuously missing are Les Bantous de la Capitale. Kiamuangana Mateta a.k.a. Verckys is promoted to the pantheon -- it's about time -- but we don't see any other inductees to the Congolese Music Hall of Fame, which surely by now includes Pamelo Mounka'a, Pepe Kalle & Empire Bakuba, Nyboma and Les Kamales, Les Maquisards, Bella Bella of the brothers Soki, and Quatre Etoiles, for starters. So where are they? If they are not sufficiently ancient then how about Mando Negro, Negro Band, Conga Jazz, Cercul Jazz, Vox Africa, Negro Succès, and Rock a'Mambo? Don't tell me their stuff is not available: it's what I listen to all the time. Obviously licensing rights has something to do with it, but we just had a ton of Rochereau and Mbilia Bel stuff put out by Stern's, so why overload on them here? Rochereau is a Golden Oldie, but he appears with African Jazz, Afrisa and with Mbilia Bel. He takes up a quarter of the CD while another third is taken up by two tracks from Franco. Yes Franco is King but rather than have two cuts why not do a Rough Guide to Franco? Oh, they already have (RGNET1071).

Given my five cents' worth of input, I would have argued for Les Bantous' "Oiga mambo," Les Maquisards doing "Biki" or "Jaria," "Numero Empire" by Empire Bakuba, Bopol doing "Choisi" or "Pitié," Orchestre Bella Bella's "Sola," Lipua Lipua performing "Mfumbwa" or "Maswa," Les Quatre Etoiles' "Zunguluke," Josky & Dalienst doing "Dangara," & Shaba Kahamba's "Bitumba." Or how about a surprise cut, like Pierre Moutouari's "Missengue," or Theo Blaise Kounkou backed by Sam Mangwana's African All Stars performing "Zenaba"? In fact it's time for a whole series of CONGO GOLD. GLENN & NGOYARTO didn't find the right market for their efforts and their documentation was inadequate. That does not mean the market is not ready. Some enterprising label like NETWORK or PAM, CRAMMED, STERN'S, RETRO or DAKAR SOUND needs to pre-empt Sylla and do a proper job of re-editing and repackaging the highlights of Congolese Music. Just look at Blood & Fire (the motto, I learned, of the Salvation Army!): they made us buy all our old reggae albums over again because they figured out how to make it new: Great packaging, intelligent liner notes, and always one or two crucial tracks we had never heard. The same could be done for any & all of the classic Congolese bands. Muzikifan is ready to assist, operators are standing by.


In 1980 there were two big bands in Congo: Franco's All Powerful OK Jazz and Afrisa International of Tabu Ley Rochereau. Tabu Ley was the underdog and knew it. Sam Mangwana & guitarist Michelino whom he had nurtured, had abandoned him a few years earlier for OK Jazz. Bopol was gone, Empompo Loway was gone. He had some good guitarists in the band: Dizzy Mandjeku & Lokassa Ya Mbongo. He had rock solid Ringo Moya on drums. But he still didn't hit the heights of OK Jazz, and then these stellar sidemen ditched to join Sam Mangwana's African All Stars in Abidjan. Still there was plenty of hot young talent to audition & his old buddy saxman Mekanisi Modero stuck around. Afrisa and OK Jazz gave their all for fans and were cranking out records at a staggering rate. Franco had his 10-minute epics like "Tailleur," "Ilusse," "Peuch del Sol," "Loboko," from his boys club of Josky, Simarro, Wuta Mayi and the newly returned Sam Mangwana. It must have killed Tabu Ley when Ndombe Opetum signed on with OK Jazz, after all he sounded like Rochereau and had been the perfect harmonic foil for his voice in the 70s. But then in 1981 Rochereau was watching Abeti Masekini and her Redoubtables on La Voix du Zaire TV and noticed one of her backing dancers, a 21-year-old with great butt-wiggling moves. Rochereau hired her for his own backing dancers, the Rocherettes, same gig just bigger crowds, and soon Mbilia was demonstrating she could also sing. In 1983 Tabu Ley stepped back and let her have the spotlight for a whole LP of four songs backed by his smoking band. It was electrifying. She debuted in Nairobi on the band's East African tour and took all of Central Africa by storm, so by the time they got back to Kinshasa the fans were clamouring to see her.

Now Stern's has put together the cream of Mbilia Bel's work from Rochereau's own Genidia label, created in a state-of-the-art recording studio. This is truly magnificent music, indispensable, and a great slice of the musical pie à la mode. The hits keep coming. All of "Eswi yo Wapi?" All of the sequel "Faux Pas," the hits off her other discs, like "La beauté d'une femme." Solid. After their Nairobi gig, Afrisa recorded the biggest hit of East Africa, "Shauri Yako," and then took the chords and wrote new lyrics, the brilliant "Nakei Nairobi." Mbilia's voice soars over the superb arrangements.

There is an amazing aura to "Kelhia," perhaps because I played the first album so much it is completely ingrained in my mind, associated with the pleasant memories of my trip to Africa. She starts in a high register acapella, then the bass drum sets up a 144-bpm bomp and the two guitars start snaking in and out in "flanger" mode. I think Shaba Kahamba was in the band at this time also. Things were going so well Rochereau proposed and the two were hitched. But it was just a dream fostered by the limelight. Mbilia got on better with Rigo Star, the guitarist. Rumour has it Rochereau caught them together in the King George V Hotel in Paris and chased her through the streets brandishing a pistol. If it's not true, it still makes a great passionate conclusion to their story. Don't expect any reunion tours soon. But do check out the 17 fantastic songs on this lovingly presented set.


Another exciting set from the Kinshasa garage band with electrified thumb pianos and home made percussion. This is high energy music, great to get you motivated for some housework, with enough of a trance vibe to make you feel you are not accomplishing anything and need to work harder. Call it a somewhat distorted sorcerer's apprentice, if you like. The recording is clean so you hear each member step up and solo creating a vibrant interplay between the sostenuo of the bass and treble likembes and whoever is playing the lead at any moment. When I saw them in concert they switched instruments and there was a young guy who took over and was truly entrancing. There's a big lokombe drum holding down the bottom, and whistles and yells of exhortation. In fact the vocals are more in the "Atalaku" style than singing. That is yelling out catch phrases and bits of folk wisdom. The atalaku is considered a bit of a trickster, like Coyote in American Indian myths and though they are often social outcasts, some atalakus have made it big, joining bands like Zaiko Langa Langa where they take over during the animation with vulgar dancing and clownish behaviour. Konono recorded this after their recent US tour, where they played Coachella and famously jammed with Björk, leading to their key contribution to her hit "Earth Intruders." This disc includes two remakes of songs on their debut CD on Crammed from 2004, but of course they sound different now. Also "Mama na bana" is very familiar. Ah, that's it, the Björk riff! Here it is raw for those of you who enjoy listening to similar tunes from different cultures back to back. The album ends with a great two-minute head-banging outro.


There are a handful of Congolese singers: Franco, Nyboma, Sam Mangwana, Papa Wemba, who have unmistakable and magical voices, capable of transporting you with a few notes. One of the most distinctive and purest of all singers to come out of the heart of Africa is Rochereau, now up in his 60s and last survivor of Generation Kalle. As a lad he worshipped African Jazz and started getting songs to them. One day, while still a teenager, he met his hero Joseph Kabasele (Le Grand Kalle) by chance and blurted out that it was he who was composing these tunes. He was offered a chance to sing with the band and stepped into the spotlight 50 years ago. This double disc wafts through his career, spinning a web of sonorous delicacy. We start with his first hit "Kelya," but there's only time for three African Jazz songs before we get to the crucial part of his career. In 1963 a splinter group left Kalle and started African Fiesta: this was the great moment for Docteur Nico to emerge from the shadow of Tino Baroza and establish himself as the ascendant guitar God. But Franco's OK Jazz was hard to beat. Franco's music was more rooted in folklore while the Kalle groups preferred the cha-chas and rumbas of Cuba. And they tended to inhabit a place in some idealized Cuba of dreams while OK Jazz was grounded in the dust of the marketplace. No wonder people craved the escapist fantasies of African Fiesta's montunos when Nico wove his dizzy leads around Willy Kuntima's ragged trumpet lines. Then they were off to Hawaii or the Wild West with slide guitar suggesting the empyrean in "N'daya paradis." Rochereau left to start another band in 1966 and we hear the moving "Mokolo nakokufa (the day I die)"-- a serious piece that even made it to literary anthologies-- then another gem: the lovely and silly "Savon Omo," a paean to soap sung with a fervent choirboy sincerity. The band kept changing; one suspects Rochereau was a tyrant as a boss though sax-player Mekanisi Modero stuck with him for three decades. Early guitarists, like Guvano Vangu, did their best to sound like Nico though, of course, there was only one "Dieu de la Guitare."

Another great tenor, Sam Mangwana, joined up for a spell with Rochereau and can be heard here harmonising on "Monano." When he left for OK Jazz he was considered a traitor, but the rivalry was between the fans, not between the two band-leaders. In fact Rochereau and Franco collaborated on a couple of outstanding albums together in the 80s. But this 2-disc set focuses on the earlier years.

The second disc has a big chunk of Afrisa International, the band that emerged after Rochereau had made it to Paris and was inventing new dances and trying new effects, like James Brown horn punctuation, wah-wah guitar, etc. With Afrisa, Rochereau really found himself. He was no longer trying to create African Fiesta sans Nico, but had evolved into his own man with a more international sound. Syllart started reissuing Rochereau's albums a year or more ago, taken from the Sonodisc LPs. I did not buy any as I have all the albums, but he did not reissue the full Live at Olympia or the FESTAC set which I think are his best whole albums. This is an eclectic selection from Rochereau's vast output but includes gems such as "Kaful mayay" (with a great sax solo from, I think, Empompo) and "Aon aon," and there's nothing to dispute among the choices. The last three tracks are by Onaza (Orchestre National du Zaire) which was the group Rochereau put together, with members of Zaiko Langa Langa, for the 1977 Festival of Arts and Culture in Lagos (known as Festac 77). The tracks get a little longer, including the classic ten-minute jam on "Adeito" which was on Live at FESTAC. For some reason they had part 2 in the middle of the first disc and part one later: thankfully Stern's reunited the two bits chronologically here. Finally Rochereau learned the main lesson from James Brown: Give the drummer some! We get a stretched-out series of solos to round out this excellent retrospective of one of the giants of the Congolese sound. The story goes thus far. We know that a year later the band ditched in Abidjan and the guitarists, Dizzy & Lokassa, and drummer Ringo Moya joined Sam Mangwana in African All Stars, but Rochereau would go on, discover Mbilia Bel and have another triumph in the 80s. Stay tuned.

SELEMBAO (Ngoyarto NGO65 ATB14)

This is an older album and may be hard to find, but I have been listening to it again along with the new Kenge Kenge from Kenya. It's folkloric music from the Congo, unplugged & vital. It's a 9-man ensemble. Three guitars, likembe and percussion, tapped bottles and shakers, no drums. They have small amps but it's not electric in the sense of the big rumba bands. Call and response vocals and a jet-fueled energy that pushes it forward. There was a Swiss label called Planisphare that put out half a dozen albums of Congolese folk music a couple of decades ago. I don't think they made it to CD but all are remarkable. They were field recordings made in Kinshasa in 1984-5 and featured Kawende et ses Copains (Zone Z1), Orchestre Sim-Sim International (Zone Z4) and Ali & Tams avec l'Orchestre MALO (Zone Z5). I missed the others, but at the same time I found Musiques Traditionelles Bantandu par l'Orchestre Yamba-Yamba Beto Ba that manifests the same spirit. The popularity of Konono No 1 brings this to mind and if you have had a chance to check out the exciting DVD in the Congotronix 2 package you will know what I am talking about. Despite the seeming indifference of some of the patrons having a beer, the performances are electrifying. There is also a documentary called JUPITER'S DANCE about the contemporary Kinshasa music scene that is well-worth seeing. Believe me I find most music videos a waste of time, but these two are superb. In the finest Franco-Belgian tradition there is no information about Debonheur in the CD package but the music, which also comes from Bantandu folklore, is fabulous.


After a recent illness, Papa Noel is back. Noel was great with Kekele and fits in well with Sam Mangwana or as a guest on Ricardo Lemvo's new album. I wish he would consider getting in on the reunited Bantous tour this summer, but clearly he likes to be the boss. Here, with Bana Congo (The Congo Kids), is another great set of Cuban-influenced Congolese rumba like the kind he used to play with Joseph Kabaselle in African Jazz back in the day. In fact the album leads off with one of African Jazz's signature tunes "Africa mokili mobimba" which has notably been covered by Sam Mangwana, Ricardo Lemvo and Dr Nico, among others. The original riff owes a lot to the piano and horn stylings of Sonora Matancera. Noel plays acoustic guitar and, with the acoustic bass, congas, and "African percussion," the whole hearkens back to the unplugged sound of Independence-era Kinshasa. Another link to that time is the sax of Manu Dibango, the only other veteran sideman of Kabaselle still alive (Rochereau, now the mayor or governor of Kinshasa, was a front man). It is rather irritating that Noel takes credit for this composition, which is by Mwamba Dechaud. The whole trend to musical appropriation, especially among poor Africans, is sad: Come on, Noel, don't be a jerk, pay the family their due. Sultan Zembellat is drafted as vocalist as he has a stronger voice than Noel, though Noel's cracked vocals add charm to some of the songs (Maybe he's trying to sound like Wendo!); backing vocals are provided by Abby Surya & Stella Liv Makasso (from Guadeloupe). The addition of genuine Cuban tres (Coto Antonio Machin Garcia) and muted trumpet (Osmil Ordoñez Garcia) adds a lot to the sound while the repertoire flows back and forth between Paris and the Caribbean with son, zouk & merengue bouncing off the Frenchified soukous sound. Though it all sounds very familiar, it is a comforting and mellow album.

ISABELA (Mopiata Music MOPI-2)

Ricardo Lemvo is charged up and ready to play. Plus he's got those stalwarts, Baby Jesus and Bopol Mansiamina in his corner, making this holy trinity of Afro-Latin party music infallible. In addition to his soukous hybrid, there's more Portuguese-influenced music on here (like Sam Mangwana he was born in the Congo of Angolan parents) adding a second circle to the diasporic currents he's floating in. Though Makina Loca can erect a sonic Tower of Babel without assistance they are augmented here by Papa Noel on acoustic guitar on four numbers and by half of the four stars, Wuta Mayi & Nyboma, on two others. They revisit Franco on "Malambo," and African Jazz on a sprightly cover of Tino Baroza's paean to Gina Lollobrigida. "Habari yako (How are you?)" switches to Swahili lyrics while the rhythm switches to reggae. It's not much of a tune & doesn't go anywhere: it's more of a sketch, but it put me in mind of "Night Nurse" by Greg Isaacs. Like Mangwana's "Minha Angola," Lemvo's "Serenata Angolana" is a ballad of the weepy wistful type. Noel adds guitar and there's soprano sax and accordion too. Cap Verdean chanteuse Maria de Barros joins in on the sufferer's choice chorus. But then things perk up decidedly for a charanga with the legendary charanga-fiddler Alfredo de la Fe on "Mentirosa." There's a rap which we can ignore and then some inspired jamming that reminds you of the classic albums of Orchestra Rhythmo Africa-Cubana from the late 80s. The title song returns to Lingala with muted trumpet for a classic Congolese rumba at which Lemvo excels with his honeyed delivery. After that we need some of the high-energy soukous sound, with banda horns (another Makina Loca specialty) that make this such a quintessential party band. Nseka Huit-Kilos who has been hanging back, fires up on this one (unless it is Bopol; my copy didn't have band credits). Then Huit-Kilos is evident on "Papa na bana" a last chance to boogie down before we get to the final ballad. "Elbete" shows yet another side of this immensely talented singer and polyglot vocalist: It's a bolero in Turkish! Alfredo de la Fe adds some violin fills & everyone does their bit perfectly, as you would expect from such a consummate band.

CONGO CLASSICS 1953-1955 (Crammed Disc Craw33)

How wonderful that this fabulous collection of early Congolese rumba has been reissued in a handsome package that includes both original discs for the price of one. Actually I was happy to pay import prices for the two separate discs when they came out in 1991 because this is the legendary stuff that you only read about in books and wonder if you will ever get to hear it. Before Le Grand Kalle, before Franco, and long before Zaire, the (Belgian) Congo had some big stars who were household names. They were also "owned" by recording studios quite often run by shrewd Greek businessmen, in the case of this collection, the Loningisa label. (I always mentally associate this with longinisa or "sausage," though the artists would not want to be thought of as factory products.) The early fifties was a creative time for musical exploration in the Congo: Cubamania had not taken over, though you hear echoes of the clave beat in some songs and there's a gratuitous cover of "El manicero" done as "Mazole vanga sanga" by Bokalanga. Harmony vocals predominate, with acoustic guitar and intermittent brass; the percussion is simple: shekere or scrapers and rumba box. The booklet explains the songs, some of them just jolly adverts ("Margarina fina") but there are the usual concerns over beauty, courtship, advice, homilies about life. Some of these tunes are well implanted in my brain and are enduring favourites: "Nicodeme Lulu" has a weird organ but the acoustic guitars of De Wayon (& his younger brother Johnny Bokelo) coast along on the melody elegantly; their "Ayebi kobota" has nonsense lyrics based on hoodlum slang, while "Nyekese" has gravelly shouting. You can hear the proto-Rude Boys emerge. Lufungola Alphonse's "Prince Baudouin" --referring to the large boulevard in Leopoldville (Kinshasa) -- introduces electric guitar and has traffic noises on bells and saxophones. The call and response vocals, harmonies based on lingala intonation & guitar patterns that parallel likembe riffs (as on the rollicking "Odjali na mouchoir?" by Kitenge) are all indigenous, but you can hear traces of jazz, biguine, son montuno (even, Vincent Kenis suggests, Greek bouzouki music) in the tunes. Other favourites, Kalima Pierre's "Olingi na sala boni" and his "Na mokili moko te" have fanfare horns (tuba, sax, clarinets), derived from the Catholic church processionals, though here they rock out. Due to the limitations of the technology all the songs clock in at 3 minutes so there is no room for the exposition (sebene) that became such an integral part of the sound once the technology evolved, but they all -- Bowane, Liengo and lesser-known stars like Kalafayi -- manage to hit it and quit with aplomb. The only thing dated about this set is the typography of the booklet which is very '80s, but the photos are elegant and, despite the dated type choice and gratuitous letter-spacing, it is readable. If you could find these 78s in this condition you would have to spend about 5 grand to buy them, so grab this pair of discs and take a little trip.


As you my have gathered, if you read this column regularly, I love Congolese music, and the so-called rumba congolaise of the 60s and 70s is my soul music. This CD, RUMBA ON THE RIVER, borrows its title from Gary Stewart's excellent book. It all starts with the sweet harmonies of Kalle and his young protégé Tabu Ley. Then there's the can't-sit-still guitar of Tino Baroza and the questing sax and wistful clarinet of Essous, the slapped congas of Depuissant boxed in by the insistence of the clavé, which is never quite solidly Cuban. So I am in a dilemma because there's a lot of material reissued on the Syllart label which I should be covering in depth here, however there is a catch. If you read my article about the Sonodisc 360 series linked on the African window, you will see my opinion of Sono who threw stuff onto the market with no regard for the important cultural patrimony with which they had been entrusted. (A friend wrote: "Malambu used to have a big pile of LPs on the floor of the Sonodisc office -- half of them without sleeves." No wonder the CDs sounded so poor!) On my Dr Nico page I mention that Rochereau, as the last survivor of this generation of musicians -- le generation Kalle -- has been claiming composition of some of the material written by other members of African Fiesta. Ibrahim Sylla has apparently made a deal with Rochereau, and has started putting out some of the Congolese classics that have been off the market for too long. As you know, Congo is in the middle of a civil war. If you catch BBC news bulletins you learn that UN peacekeepers are pinned down by hostile fire, diplomats have been kidnapped, even in Kinshasa people cannot go out after dark because the supporters of the president and vice-president, the two main contenders in the current election, are shooting at one another. So even if you tried to contact songwriters or their descendants it might be hard to find those entitled to the small royalties due here.

The whole legal rights nightmare rears up again, tainting our enjoyment of the music. ASCAP & BMI will come after you for a cut per copy sold for the owner of the rights, but they don't do so for African music, to my knowledge. The way they collect fees from college or public radio stations (where you are more likely to hear non-mainstream music) and redistribute it seems random. Often in the case of African music the producer made the deal with the label and there were no contracts. In some documented cases, the producer Roger Izeidi made a deal with Fonior and paid the band for their work and probably their rights. I don't know what the French or Belgian statute for public domain is -- probably about 50 years; whether there is such a law in the Congo is anyone's guess. The Kalle material was previously leased by the Gefraco label of Brazzaville from Nono Tshamala Kabaselle in 1990. There's even Franco material on this new compilation and there has been a lot of contention over the last two decades about the title to his huge body of work. So, although I should keep my mouth shut and say "Enjoy the music," I feel someone is getting the shaft here and if it's Dr Nico's daughter, Izeidi's family or Kabaselle's son, then I feel sad.

Having said that. If you don't have the Sonodisc LPs or CDs, you will find some of the music, in different configurations, on the new Syllart releases. The African Jazz tracks were just reissued in May on SUCCES DES ANNEES 50/60, a reissue of SONO CD36560 with the addition of "Independence cha cha," which was previously on CD36501. Like other recent reissues of classic material we get the same obvious tracks and only one or two that are rarities.

Not all the Dr Nico tracks on here were previously on CD but were issued on Sonodisc LPs as follows: "Pesa le tout" (erroneously attributed here to African Jazz) is VITA 9a from 360.162, "Biantondi Kassanda" (VITA 73a) was on 360.011; "Rochereau Pascal" (VITA 56a) was on CD36501, and "Permission" (VITA 4b) was on CD36512. The two classic Bantous de la Capitale tracks were on CD36527 ("Tokumisa Congo"), and CD36592 ("Kumbele Kumbele"). There's one cut from Orchestre Rock-a-Mambo, a splinter group of African Jazz which Rochereau had no part of, and that is "Maria Valente." It's also the only track by them currently in print as it was on the DE DAKAR A CUBA ON DANSE LA RUMBA compilation last year, also from Syllart. There are five tracks from Franco & OK Jazz -- three were issued on Sonodisc (two on the CD 36555) and the other two are the genuine rarities on here, taken from vinyl -- "Musica tellema" was on an EP catalogue M45 (unless it's the mislabeled "Yo tellema" which was on LP360.167), and "Alliance mode succes" was on a double album OK JAZZ VOL 1 & 2 (Pathé Marconi 1965, reissued in 1977, now owned by EMI). Interestingly, this track "Alliance mode succès" and the Rock-a-Mambo track were originally released on 45s as "by DeWayon & Son Ensemble." So I am not rushing out to buy this, however it did send me back to the Gefraco CD LE GRAND KALLE Volume 1 (AMCD-01 F.170) which was taken from vinyl, complete with pops and scratches, the best single disc introduction to African Jazz.

I've been told this CD has good sound and excellent liner notes by Francois Bensignor. What I would like to see is some of the great stuff I don't already have (I do not have a complete collection by any means, so that is not a pipe dream); also a sense that the responsible parties are getting their fair share.

Buzz 'n' Rumble from the Urb'n Jungle (Crammed Disc CRAW29)

My Eurobuddies have been telling me for six months how great the new CONGOTRONICS album is, excelling even the first volume. I finally got a copy & I have to say it is truly mind-blowing. First of all there is a variety of groups on here, not just Konono #1 whom we know and love from the first album (as well as the great "Musiques Urbains à Kinshasa" [OCORA C559007] recorded in 1978). I believe the group Masanka Sankayi featured on two tracks here is the same as Orchestre Sankaï from the OCORA recordings. Otherwise there are the Kasai Allstars, Sobanza Mimanisa, Kisanzi Congo, Bolia wa Ndenge, and Basokin -- folkloric troupes from all over the Congo basin who have ended up in the big city. Again we hear home-made sound systems that create massive distortion, as well as some improvised instruments conjoined to traditional xylophones and thumb pianos and a battery of bottles and drums.

I am not big on music videos -- they require you to sit down and then monopolize your senses -- but the 41-minute bonus DVD is fabulous. It shows six of the bands during the recording session and makes a virtue of the amateurish quality of the shaky hand-held camera work. In fact the editing by Elsa Dahmani (daughter of "Latcho Drom" filmmaker Tony Gatliff) is a crash course in how to take crappy raw material and make it look good. The film reinforces what you guess from the music, that it is visceral raw roots music and has been modernised without losing its authenticity. Sure there are American college sweatshirts visible, but they are warmer than grass skirts. (Oxfam has dumped so much clothing on East Africa that is has put the local tailors out of business.) Like the sense of style, the music evolves. Electric bass plays the part you might have imagined on the lokole or slit log drum. You still have a groove that wont quit & that vertiginous feeling you get from inhaling narcotics. (If you have never inhaled narcotics imagine listening to music on headphones, drunk, laying on your back on a waterbed. -- Come to think of it, if you've never inhaled narcotics you've probably never been anywhere near a waterbed.) Let's just say the insistence of the music takes over your brainwaves and causes a kind of euphoria.

The giddy chaos of "Kiwembo" by Sobanza Mimanisa reminds me of trance meets punk rock, like the bands I used to follow in the 70s: the Mutants or Throbbing Gristle. Vincent Kenis's video captures them (their name means Orchestra of Light) recording before a huge crowd (the melomanes in the outdoor bar under a mural of a bloody bull's head rising from a cauldron; the curious on the street outside): the electric guitarist hammers away at three chords mercilessly, the thumb-piano player, riffing on the same pattern, has a far-away look in his eyes. His electrified likembe carries both bass and solo parts.

Bolia wa Ndenge perform some theatre where Papa Ndoi, one of the elders, appears in a vintage army uniform with medals and shako and says he has served King Leopold faithfully and do you know what his reward is? Un accordeon! (The liner notes say that H.M. Stanley, an accordion aficionado himself, suggested the idea to Poldy.) He hands the vintage squeezebox to a strikingly painted man in a wild hat who begins to jam while Ndoi and two girls shake a leg. One group that appears only on the DVD is called Tulu. They have two instruments that traveled to the New World: the berimbau and the jug (as heard in Appalachian music). Kenis tells us that their sardine can and spring rattle hasn't been discovered by the outside world yet.

Kasai Allstars (a collective consisting of four separate bands) quickly gets subdermal on "Kabuangoyi." Singer Muamboyi takes the lead, but it's the interjected guitar and ringing likembe that provide the memorable hooks.

Members of the Songye tribe from eastern Kasai now living in Kinshasa, Basokin (their name is a contraction of Basongye and Kinshasa) have so much distortion on their two guitars they're indistinguishable from the electricfied thumb pianos. Three drummers pummel their skins, and then there's the insistent tapping of metal on an empty bottle like a Morse code signal to the Primus brewers [... . -. -.. -- --- .-. . -... . . .-.]: send more beer. In common with the other bands Basokin have home-made amplification but outstandingly costumed dancers. National Gee should see these guys: leopardskin aprons, feathered head-dresses, white body paint and ceremonial (let's hope) axes. One of the shouters screeches like a leopard into his crispy fried microphone. The remarkable fact is this amazing sound was all captured on a Macintosh laptop. The only outboard amplification was the beat-up Fender amps used by the groups. You don't need drugs: Basokin's music quickly puts you into a trance (& it's kinder to your liver).

KINAVANA (Stern's STCD1101)

Music critics have to be cautious how much they admit, because there are always snipers ready to take them down for a verbal slip-up. Famously, back in the early 1970s, a Rolling Stone reviewer wrote, "I have been listening to the Blues for all of three months now...," so you know the rest of what he wrote was dismissed. Well, I have to admit I was into Congolese music long before I understood the Cuban connection, and while I did realize there were some obvious borrowings in riffs like "El Manisero," I didn't hear how deeply rooted the modern Congolese Rumba sound was in Cuban son and guajira until I started getting into Miguel Matamoros and Ignacio Piñeiro. Then I noticed the Congolese have a much more relaxed sense of tempo and eschew the metronomic rigors of the Cuban clave. It's been more than a few months -- a few decades -- that I have been into Cuban music now and Ñico Saquito & his ilk get almost equal time with Nico Kassanda on my speakers, though not quite.

Kékélé consists of the most accomplished Congolese musicians still standing from the great Proto-soukous wave of twenty years ago. They've mellowed and unplugged and now deserve to coast on their past successes. They are also entitled to reflect on their roots which they have done with KINAVANA, their most successful outing to date. To the flexible all-star roster of front-line talent they've added a solid Latin underpinning (arranged by Nelson Hernandez) of flute and strings to give a charanga backing to their exploration of the work of some of Cuba's great folk composers. It's not Buena Vista revisited, nor Africando, as you might think, because they are not singing in Spanish. In fact they have taken the original lyrics and phonetically transposed them to Lingala to create new lyrics, so Ñico Saquito's "Oye mi son" becomes "Yoka biso." This is also a part of the heritage as the reincorporated Cuban sones of the 30s were adapted to the Congo style with the violin and piano parts transposed to electric guitars. As Ken Braun notes, it wasn't so much appropriation as a repossession of something the Congolese realised was inherently theirs. In addition to the full sound provided by strings and horns, the return of Papa Noel after an enforced absence due to illness is most welcome. Mbilia Bel adds her sweet ethereal voice to a couple of numbers and the great hippo-voiced Madilu also shows up. Manu Dibango plays sax on five tracks. I've never found his work particularly deep and when he plays soprano it sounds like Kenny G. Though Manu D has a pedigree stretching back to African Team with Joseph Kabaselle, I think Nelson Hernandez should have brought his baritone to the session for a little more oomph. Hernandez does bring Isabel Martinez who has a fine voice but I object to her contribution on "Ba Kristo" where she adds a gratuitous Catholic litany to the wonderful "El Carretero," I don't think Guillermo Portables would approve. However he would appreciate the way the bass-driven momentum of the song is retained, as well as the prominent percussion, added by Luis Quintero who locks down the groove. Richard Virnet's muted trumpet is more New York than Santiago, adding a nice splash of urban sophistication to the metropolitan mix, especially on "Yo odeconer" (a reworking of Ñico Saquito's timeless classic "Al vaiven de mi carreta [the rocking of my cart]"). Syran and Papa Noel rise to the occasion pulling off some brilliant interplay on their Spanish guitars. The only track which is conceivably over the top is the tribute to Miguel Matamoros, "Oh, Miguel," sung by Loko Massengo (once the young raver of Trio Madjesi with a huge afro and matching platform boots). The orchestration swells with flute on stereo chorus, hovering strings, and what I called "bullfight horns" (a hint of the Tijuana Brass) when I heard it on African Fiesta's "Porti Caliente" and "Amartes." But it works as the florid centrepiece of this wonderful bouquet of choice songs.

GOLDEN AFRIQUE VOL 2 (Network Medien 29.076)
(Highlights and rarities from the golden era of African pop music [1956-82]: the great days of rumba Congolaise and early soukous)

It's funny to be excited about a new CD when I already have all the music on it. I suppose it's my quasi-professional curiosity, to see how I would have done it differently. The music of the Congo is my passion and an introduction to early Congolese popular music could easily be a multi-disc set (or a full ipod). The riches are so deep it's tough to think of winnowing it down to 27 tracks, and the compilers have done a good job, while omitting some obvious things, and duplicating a bit too much.

I suppose the first consideration is the licensing. How do you lease a Franco track, for example? Franco left more widows than Bob Marley. Just imagine trying to get them together as a Board of Executrixes? The first disc is devoted to the big guns, in fact it leads with trumps which is a questionable move if you aren't playing with a full deck: the opener "Odongo" (Mislabelled "Co-operation" here -- that's the title of the album) by Franco & Sam Mangwana is THE definitive Congolese track. When the Congolese finally send a rocket into outer space it will have an 8-track cassette in the dashboard playing that song endlessly in a loop. Nyboma & his dynamic Kamales move to second place with "Doublé Doublé," an irresistible dance groove. Arguably (instead of playing your ace of hearts up front, after your ace of clubs) this should have been held back to close the set. Then we get to "Africa Mokili Mobimba" and "Independence Cha Cha" the seminal tracks of Joseph Kabaselle & African Jazz. These are essential though it might have been interesting to throw in a less well-known number like "Para Fifi" or "Jamais Kolonga." There's a solid Bantous track but it doesn't particularly showcase their twin hornsmen, great guitarists, or fine singers. The two tracks from Dr Nico are prime: a snaking guitar-driven instrumental composed by his elder brother Mwamba Dechaud, and a chance to hear the Docteur's sublime Hawaiian stylings on "Pauline." A third track from Sam Mangwana "Bawayo" with Tiers Monde, featuring Empompo Loway on soprano sax ends the first disc.

What's missing? Lots of stuff: Wendo, Mando Negro Kwala Kwa, Negro Band, Negro Succès with Bavon Marie-Marie, Les Maquisards with Ntesa Dalienst, Johnny Bokelo & Conga Succès, Josky with Orchestra Continental, Vox Africa with Jeannot Bombenga, Empire Bakuba, Papa Noel with Orchestre Bamboula, Lovy du Zaire, etc. It's a long list. But there's only so much you can get on a CD and some of these tracks are ten minutes long. More of the early stuff can be found on the two ROOTS OF RUMBA ROCK CDs on Crammed Disc, but the later material was in the Sonodisc catalogue which is currently in abeyance. (Apart from the pressing question of what their legal claim to the music actually is.) The first CD in the Merveilles du Passé series that SonoDisc issued in 1991 had both of the Kabaselle tracks you find here and a range of other things from Roitelet and Roger's "Banga imana" to Zaiko Langa Langa with Papa Wemba singing "C'est la verité." Along the way they work in a couple of things I would have found room for here: Orchestre Veve's "Nakomitunaka" (which was sadly missing from the VINTAGE VERCKYS set on RetroAfric), and "Yalimbisa bijou," a choice cut from Negro Succès featuring Bavon Marie-Marie.

The second disc opens with a great number by "Fan Fan" SeSengo from his outstanding BELLE EPOQUE collection on RetroAfric. This song was actually recorded in Nairobi and featured Tanzanian and Kenyan musicians but you would think it was straight out of Kinshasa. Ry-Co Jazz, who toured the world, spending two years in Martinique from whence they sent home the lilting Antillean rhythms (so effectively captured by Sam Mangwana and his African All Stars), are up with "Mambo Ry-Co," also borrowed from the RetroAfric archives. M'Pongo Love's "Ndaya" is a great track and has the sax of Empompo again, along with a great montuno-continuo on a slightly out-of-tuno piano. Her voice is a bit warbly but she was adored in her day. The second disc could be tidied up. Sam Mangwana returns for a fourth time dueting with Rochereau on "Como bacalao," a poorly recorded song that could have been left out. This is followed by a 10-minute piece from Rochereau, "Mazé," that is good but not essential (at that length) particularly when he pops up again with the brilliant "Aon Aon" a couple of tracks later. Manu Dibango's solo "Ekedy" is rather flat and I would have preferred to hear him with African Team. Instead of coming up to 1982 and hitting hard on the roots of soukous, this second disc goes backwards and returns to the folkloric roots of the music in the 50s, drawing on the pair of LES PIONNIERS discs, BANKOLO MIZIKI 1 & 2 on Ngoyarto. This part could have been compressed or moved up to make room for a big finish with Bopol Mansiamina, Syran Mbenza, Ntesa Dalenst, Youlou Mabiala or Pamelo Mounk'a. As it is, the second disc flutters up and then subsides and lacks the solid structure of the first disc.

In the final analysis, here's how I would have programmed it differently: Disc one, cut Nyboma's "Doublé Doublé" and move it to the end of disc two. Move the last three cuts on disc two to the start of Disc one, after Franco & before Kabaselle. Cut Camille Feruzi and OK Jazz and replace with "Infidelité Mado." Cut Dr Nico's "Exhibition Dechaud" and replace with "Echantillon ya pamba." Otherwise Disc one is a gem. Disc two needs revamping: I'd cut Tabu Ley's "Mazé" and replace with Mbilia Bel (& the same band) doing "Eswi yo wapi?" Cut the Rochereau and Sam Mangwana track and substitute "La vie" by Sam and Vox Negros from 1971. You don't need three Camille Feruzi tracks when there's no Wendo, so add "Marie Louise" by Wendo, and "Maria Tchebo" by Adou Elenga for good measure. Also add "Nicodeme Lulu" by De Wayon from ROOTS OF RUMBA ROCK 2. Cut the rest of Disc two after track six, except "Aon Aon". That leaves 24 minutes to play with! "Voiture ya occasion" by Mando Negro is a fabulous track that would work well (Glenn Succes reissued it in 1995 but I believe it was originally published by Pathé-Marconi, which means EMI now holds the rights). "Jaria" by Les Maquisards is blissed-out: it's got to be there. We need the essential "Mwambe no 5" by Johnny Bokelo & Conga Succes. We also need some of that pulsing rumba from the 70s with churning guitar and bleating sax -- in fact you can't call this a representative selection without it! So let's go with Essous and Les Bantous doing their theme "Bantous de la Capitale," or "Tokumisa Congo." That leaves just enough time to squeeze in Bopol and Syran performing "Manuela" & call it a wrap.


Though the music is familiar I was trying to place the name of this artist. But then when he started singing it all came back to me. He was the Rochereau backing singer who was better than his boss. I feel sorry for Tabu Ley Rochereau. He lost his girl, then he lost his voice, and then he lost his band. There's also the Pygmalion story here: As is well known, Tabu Ley promoted Mbilia Bel from dancer to singer to co-star and then she ditched the poor sap (That's what you get for calling your dancers the Rocherettes!). He called Mobutu names then appealed for asylum in France claiming he couldn't go back to Zaire, but was turned down. So he came on tour to the USA and was so well-received he moved here. But his voice wasn't up to the rigours of a two-hour show every night, so he hired a singer who could sing just like him. At some point the band ditched him and became Yoka Nzenze. I don't know what Tabu Ley is doing now. When I met him he commented that all his generation had died, but there is a renewed interest in Congolese rumba so if he can get a band together there should be a spot for him, though not the Las Vegas casino he probably feels he deserves. Meanwhile, or whinemeal, there's Wawali Bonane with his fine voice and a laid-back soukous groove that periodically tears it up. Huit Kilos on guitar is one of the best exponents of the form working today. The music is formulaic but there's real drums (& congas) to make up for the synth. They cover a Jhonny Bokelo song, "Sandoka," and a ballad, "Fote ya biele," that uses my favourite groove "the Peanut Vendor" as the main structure. But the Bokelo track should have ended the album, instead there's a remix of the wet ballad (and when Congolese do wet ballads they are sodden) that is not that different from the forgettable version that appeared earlier in the sequence. A truly grave mistake, but you can always cut it after "Sandoka."


Look at that suave devil on the cover: He's grinning because he is possessed of the finest tenor voice in Africa and this album showcases it with some of the most sparkling guitar riffs you'll ever hear. It doesn't get better than this: the cream of Nyboma and les Kamales' recordings condensed to a single CD. I have the vinyl but it's great to hear a stripped down to the essentials compilation like this. And of course it gets me listening to the albums to see what I would have done differently. Nyboma Mwan'dido started out singing with the legendary Orchestre Negro Succes, which folded after the death of guitarist Bavon Marie Marie. He joined Baby National in 1969, then the phenomenal Bella Bella of Soki brothers. He broke away to start another Vercky's band called Lipua Lipua and scored a massive hit with the song "Kamale" (a friend's mis-pronunciation of the French word "camerade"). So when he left Lipua Lipua to regroup he called his next band Les Kamale. The span of the Kamale's recording career has two parts. In the 1970s they were a massively popular danceband with their hits "Salanga" and "Afida na ngai." Then in 1979 Nyboma was drafted into Sam Mangwana's African All-Stars in Togo. Actually Sam was no longer with these All-Stars, having moved on to Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Drummer Ringo Moya and guitarists Lokassa ya Mbongo and Dizzy Mandjeku had a gig but no lead singer, so they flew Nyboma to Lomé to fulfill their contract at one of the town's bright nightspots. In 1981 when Nyboma was ready to record an album he had a dilemma as African All-Stars was still Sam's band name, so he brought in his former partner Dally Kimoko and got the great Bopol Mansiamina (who was playing bass with the other branch of African All-Stars), to record as Les Kamale Dynamique. The result was "Doublé Doublé" one of the great proto-soukous anthems, that perfectly blended all the popular dance forms of the day, including zouk, highlife, and makossa (as Ken Braun points out in the excellent liner notes to this release). A second single from the album "Papy Sodolo" was also a hit prompting the release of the album in France and then in the US where Rounder picked it up. By 1984 when "Doublé Doublé" began to be a hit in the US, Nyboma had moved to Paris and recorded two more albums with the great Syran Mbenza on guitar. When Bopol was signed up for a Maikano recording session the transformation into Quatres Etoiles was virtually complete, thus we had concurrent releases from the Four Stars as well as individual efforts that included combinations of them. It was indeed a golden time for the music. I was able to interview Nyboma on the radio on his first American tour (with Les Quatre Etoiles). I pulled out one of my favourite tracks "Les Generations" to play on the air and Nyboma told me he didn't have a copy, so I was able to burn him a CD of it. The final Paris recording of Les Kamales Dynamiques was "Bandona" which starts to show the influence of drum programming and synths that plagued Congolese music produced in Paris in the 80s. Despite that, this CD sparkles from top to toe. I would have found a way to get "Les Generations" in there but maybe it will turn up on the sequel, which could also include the band's singles and pre-1979 releases on the Sonafric label. Meanwhile this disc proves again what incredible chemistry resulted from the pan-African fusion of pop styles in the 1980s.


I don't like music videos on principal, but I do appreciate good documentary footage of bands in concert. Clips of Otis Spann with Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon are important talismans to me. Americans kids got to see the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, while in Britain we got Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding on Ready Steady Go! (Clearly we got the better deal.) The Stukas were one of the classic youth bands of the new wave who grew up on rock and soul in the sixties. During the 1970s they appeared frequently on the state-run television station La Voix du Zaire. The authorities saw the advantage of keeping the youth off the streets during the summer holidays so Lita and the Stuka Boys often had hours of broadcast to themselves. They looked weird but were essentially benign, expressing their difference through music rather than politics or crime. Vincent Luttman, who compiled this Lita Bembo CD for RetroAfric, showed me a clip of one of their performances from 1975. There was a minimal set and stripped-down band of bass, drums and lead guitar, plus Lita wrestling with the mike & impersonating James Brown. At one point the guitarist Bongo Wende started doing a Hendrix: playing the guitar behind his head & picking out leads with his teeth. When the camera tracked back Lita was absent, but then suddenly he appeared stage right lugging a giant crucifix! I have never seen anything like it. Here was this singer reenacting the bleeding Passion of Christ on daytime TV while the cooking Stukas ripped out some blistering soukous! In one move Bembo had outdone the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, and even the posturing Jim Morison. The band's jagged attack matched their name, and they had tons of hits and created many dances in the 70s but sadly their recordings are very ephemeral and the sound is pretty thrashed on some of these rediscovered tracks. It reminds me of the early days of Papa Wemba with his bands Isife Lokole/ Yoka Lokole, another of the touchstones of the early soukous sound. The original Stukas guitarist, Zamunga, was poached by Veve in 1975 and a young Bongo Wende replaced him for a few months. Zamunga then returned, but a year or so later tragically died of hepatitis. At the height of the band's fame, the guitarists Kembo (l'homme invisible) & Le Pop, were drafted in as replacements. Although 50 musicians passed through the Stukas, we know Awilo Longombo played drums for a spell and the great bassist Nguma Lokito also swelled the ranks. Awilo also joined Viva La Musica before going solo and is now (June 2005) one of the biggest stars in all Africa. Despite the sound limitations on a couple of tracks compounded by heavy reverb & echo on the vocals, there is incredible energy as things build to unprecedented levels of intensity. I wished this could have been longer, or a double disc, but here it is, and it is essential. This compilation finds three of the Stukas' best singles, "Toto Seta," "Presidents," and "Odeyo," from the mid 70s, and gives us both sides. The other three tracks are also extended to 8 minutes, without the fade in the middle. It's a big slice of the cake, with chocolate icing and blazing candles. Yum.

RUMBA CONGO (Sterns STCD 1093)

Unplugging finally occurred to the Congolese superstars of the 1970s who have mellowed into the elder statesmen of African music. RUMBA CONGO appears under the soubriquet Kékélé. Kékélé is a fibrous plant and implies long interwoven strands of vine that together provide great strength. Here it's the meeting of three of the Four Stars: Syran M'benza, Nyboma Mwan'Dido, and Wuta Mayi (missing Mansiamina Bopol who is touring with Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca), with the natural addition of Papa Noel, Bumba Massa and Loko Massengo.

A few years ago I asked Syran over a beer in Berkeley what he was doing and he said, basically, waiting for something new. His album SYMBIOSE, which was one of the classic soukous albums, was his sole shot at that sound, but he felt he had made that statement and was sitting out the next dance as Loketo and Soukous Stars whirled around the world trying to get it up one more time for the dance-floor diehards.

The new album is light and ethereal in places, but still kicks in, especially when Nyboma is in charge, as he is on two cuts. A delight is the addition of Viviane Arnoux on accordeon. Though she was raised in the French clody musette tradition she has adapted very well to the Congolese idiom and adds a touch of nautical wistfulness which is so welcome instead of a wheezing synth. The horns are not the best, but still another bit of reality.

One gets the feeling the group is avoiding just doing a mouldy oldies set of Grand Kalle material, but when they do a medley of his classics (at 8'39" the longest cut on the album) things really catch fire. The only flaw here is the weakness of the horns which should really be punching counterpoint to the vocals. There are one or two forgettable tracks but there's such a diversity of riches with all the talents aboard that the whole thing goes down very smooth.

After the first Nyboma track the next highlight is Wuta Mayi's "Pinzole ya Africa," again featuring Viviane Arnoux on accordeon, Miguel Gomez on congas, and Jean-Marie Bolongassa on percussion. As Ken Braun says in his passionate liner notes (which include Achille Ngoye's superb potted history of the Congo sound), "those who remember the rumba Congolaise classics feel that Congolese music has lost some of its most appealing characteristics. Rumba Congolaise was always gentle, even at its liveliest. Its sensuousness didn't preclude elegance. So much Congolese music these days is coarse." He points out the return of Mose Se Fan Fan to acoustic music, the sound of some recent Sam Mangwana recordings and the reappearance of Wendo, the 72-year-old father of the Congolese rumba, who recreated his line-up of the late forties in his classic album of 1999 MARIE LOUISE (Label Bleu LBLC 2561). So mine wasn't the only voice saying enough of the "boogie til you puke" seben: let's hear this stuff without the clutter of French production values.

CONGOTRONICS (Crammed Disc Craw 27)

A garage band is a term applied pejoratively to a group of kids who get together to make music, generally badly, in someone's garage. Exhibit A: myself & my school chums. That was the name of our garage band when I was 14. The garage becomes a makeshift studio where the garagistes half hope that the walls will muffle the drumbeats and the inevitable feedback when the guitarist gets too close to the vocal mike or creates an electronic impedance by having frequencies bounce off speakers that are too close together. (While simultaneously hoping that stray girls, strolling by, will hear the music and burst in to find out who's making it!) I believe a whole genre of music made a virtue of such teenage suburban ineptness, starting with Green Day--or was it Nirvana?-- but I am happily oblivious to this whole musical moment having opted to screen it out of my own electronic aural field. I was busy listening to Congolese pop which in time also became numbingly repetitious and imploded, but, as in any culture, there were great thing bubbling under waiting to be heard. In 1987 the esteemed French radio label OCORA issued MUSIQUES URBAINS A KINSHASA. I have two copies of the CD (in case I lose one), and a copy of the cassette (because the cuts are longer). It features four groups, recorded in Kinshasa in 1978, playing garage music of a previously unheralded type. First, you have to picture a garage in Kinshasa. There are no Marshall amps, no Fender guitars, just a lot of old car parts. No matter: there are batteries, bits of wire, hubs and rims, even some small speakers in the door of a clapped-out jalopy. With such materials Orchestre Tout Puissant Likembe Konono Numero Un (as they were styled in 1978) created a raw ragged sound that as is grunge as you wanna be. They electrified thumb pianos with contact mikes made of magnets wrapped in copper foil, wired to car batteries that were attached to salvaged speakers. Singers use megaphones to be heard over the din of treble, contralto and bass electric likembes. The percussionists beat on assorted car parts (muffler cowbells, hubcap cymbals) and create a groove that won't quit and is audible over the urban hubbub. An interesting aside is the sound of the electrified likembe which attains a buzzing sonority that was foreshadowed in many acoustic models. I have a beautiful thumb piano made from a solid piece of wood, hollowed out with a hot poker, that I traded a T-shirt to an Mbuti pygmy for in 1983. There are small metal rings on the tines between the two bridges of the instrument that rattle and create a buzzing distortion akin to a loudspeaker with blown cones. There's no way this pygmy chap ever heard amplified music, other than from a transistor radio owned by a passing bigmy (as we styled the normal-sized forest dwellers), but the insect buzz was an integral part of the sound. Konono has gone one step further into distortion favoured by garage bands once they discover tube screamers and similar effects. After 25 years Konono made it to the infamous Paradiso Club in Amsterdam and soon were signed to Crammed Disc for a debut CD that is brilliant. It's the first in a projected series of bush electronica and bodes well for renewed traditions in African pop music. The origin of Konono's sound is in trance music of the Bazombo peoples, a group that spans the Congo and Angolan frontiers. On moving from the bush to the city, the singers, dancers and musicians brought their social roles as well as their traditions. This music is guaranteed to be heard by their ancestors on high.

BILINGA LINGA vol 1 (Ngoyarto NG 070)

This is such a glorious gift from the past it's hard to stop playing it. It thrills me every time I put it on. The Maquisards (or Resistance Fighters) came from Shaba, the mineral rich province of Southeastern Congo next to Zambia that attempted to secede during the independence struggles of the mid-60s. The talented group included Sam Mangwana, Daniel Ntesa aka Dalienst, Camille Lokombe Nkalulu, Diana Nsimba from Rochereau's band African Fiesta, Nkura, Jeef Mateta, Morendo, guitarists Guvano and Michel "Michelino" Mavatiku, Jean Trompette and African Jazz conguero Depuissant. Les Maquisards had emerged from Vox Africa and various members went on to prominence in other top bands: Mangwana an early draftee into African Fiesta, joined OK Jazz in 1972. Later stalwarts of OK Jazz passed through their ranks, from vocalists Kiesse Diambu, Madilu System and Josky Kiambukuta, to ace guitarists Michelino, Dizzy Mandjeku and Jerry Dialungana. This was seen as heresy for members of the Clan Kabasele, groups like African Fiesta and the Maquisards whose style resembled the smooth rumba-based sound of Joseph Kabasele's African Jazz rather than the jagged folkloric strut of Dewayon, Bokelo and Franco. Memories of the Katanga secession led to the authorities in Kinshasa keeping an eye on the band and Mobutu even had them locked up for a while. Jail time probably meant a loss of work and bands didn't own their own equipment, so joining Franco's all-powerful and all-consuming machine meant at least permanent work for them. No wonder Franco felt threatened: their popularity at the end of the 60s, nearly eclipsed that of OK Jazz who ultimately swallowed them up piecemeal by the mid-seventies. They put out a couple of dozen singles in the years 1968 and 1969, characterized by great vocals from Sam and Dalienst, Michelino's guitar work and fine sax playing. Though they didn't record LPs at first, many of their singles have been anthologized, appearing on two albums on Ngoma, two on Sonodisc's AFRICAN label, and one on Philips. Three CDs have appeared of the material, sometimes duplicated, but this fourth CD on Ngoyarto only has two overlaps from the previous stuff, so it's a revelation to have more classic Maquisards, even though the sound is not always the best. Six of the cuts were anthologized on an Ngoma LP in 1970 that I have never seen. At this point ANY new Maquisards stuff is a thrill and there are at least a dozen more un-reissued singles. Not to say it's unpredictable: The opening cut reminds me of "Mokolo nakokufa," and halfway through the first number I started to chuckle when it turns into "El Manisero." Sam was sometimes called "Le Moraliste" -- the reason can be found on the catchy number "Sisika" which appears here. One of the best tracks on BILINGA LINGA, "Yambi Chérie (Welcome sweetie)" parts 1 et 2 by Michelino Mavatiku, was originally issued on the Ngoma label (Negro Festival NF3506) in 1968 and was a hit all over Africa. It, and "Catherine" by Lokombe, shows the anatomical breakdown of the musical structure that later characterized the great African All-stars albums: open chord strumming by the mi-solo while the guitarist tries out a few things before they take it down to the bare bones. Sam contributes mouth percussion and the occasional "Vaya!" to keep them going. Other sweet love songs, "Georgine" and "Colette," that were hits for the band are included. This album ends with two versions of the brilliant "Zela ngai nasala (Wait while I work)" by Mangwana. The original version was released twice on 45, once on Ngoma (Negro Festival NF3502, 1968) and again on Sono's African label. It was also used it as the lead cut on Sonodisc's CD36573. The second version is a brief reprise and more of a novelty than a different treatment, perhaps a studio-done edit for a sound check. In mid-1969 Mangwana left the band which regrouped as Les Grands Maquisards under Dalienst's sole leadership and recorded on the Verckys label, until their dissolution in 1974. Ngoyarto has also put out a few reissues of late-70s Sam Mangwana material that I didn't pick up as I have them on LP but the Maquisards stuff is very fresh.


Pépé Ndombe is a Congolese singer born in 1944 in Kikwit, Bandundu province. He is best known for his work in the all-powerful OK Jazz of Franco. However he started out as Ndombe Opetum in the rival camp singing with Tabu Ley Rochereau in Afrisa in 1968. This was a bit eerie since he modeled his own vocal style on Rochereau and the two voices were often indistinguishable. In 1973 he quit Rochereau's band to start his own Orchestre Afrizam with Bumba Attel and Empompo Loway, the well-known saxophonist. He also attracted Sam Mangwana and Esperant to his band before they broke away to form the Maquisards. There are two sax players on here, Moro Maurice (aka Moro Beya Maduma) being the other, and it adds a nice layer to the classic Congolese groove. The songs are mostly short, but don't fail to deliver. This is the first of three volumes from Ngoyarto offering all the singles they could find by Ndombe. It is very fine, though the Mangwana track is a duet and you can hardly hear his magic pipes. On some tracks Ndombe sounds so much like Rochereau, you feel you are listening to a lost album of Afrisa's greatest hits instead. It's high calibre Congolese pop, pre-soukous but still with a lot of guitar momentum and great sax flourishes backing the dynamic vocals.

Volume 3 starts with another rocker, "Kalambayi," that fades out at five minutes. I bet there's a part two somewhere. Interestingly Ndombe calls out "Kwassa-kwassa" at the seben. Since this is mid-seventies it must predate Kanda Bongo Man. The title cut is a blend of Archie Bell & the Drells' "Tighten Up" with Afrisa fanfare-style horn bursts. Another great talent in the band is Vata Mombasa (I deduce this from the fact that they do one of his compositions on Vol 3). After the departure of the talents that formed Maquisards, Afrizam was renamed Makina Loca -- not to be confused with Ricardo Lemvo's band. This little window into the past shows some of the many strains of pop that converged into the cauldron of Congolese music in the bright moments in the first decades after independence.