December 30, 2015

La femme se plaint

Is there an element linking this and the previous post? The answer is yes. What both artists have in common is a unique and original singing style. And that's not all: they both draw their inspiration from tradition. Although I add that the source of this tradition may not be so clearly defined - and certainly not in ethnomusicological (what?) terms - in the case of the singer who is the subject of this post.

I am sure you have already recognised him from the photo on the sleeve; the subject of this post is Josky Kiambukuta. I am sure I am not the first blogger to post this album, but there is a valid reason why I still would like to share it with you again. This is a special album. First, because it was conceived as an album, and not as a random collection of previously released songs. Secondly, because Josky was the first singer who was allowed to make his own album with the T.P. O.K. Jazz.

Josky was recruited into the O.K. Jazz (by Simaro Lutumba*) after Sam Mangwana to add a different style to the orchestra. As an ex-singer with Docteur Nico's African Fiesta Sukisa and a member of the Orchestre Continental (as was Wuta Mayi) he was firmly rooted in the African Jazz school of Congolese music. As he explained in an interview in 1991 he had been a great fan of Rochereau since his early youth. Obviously his first vocal contributions were in the style of idol (great example), but he soon started making his mark in the O.K. Jazz, and was actively encouraged to develop his own style. Like all musicians within the O.K. Jazz he was also asked to contribute as a composer, which he did with fervour ("Kebana", "Monzo", "Seli-Ja").
In the interview he pinpoints the song "Fariya" as the start of his own style. A style which he traced back to the legendary ensemble San Salvador, who dominated the recordings on the Ngoma label in the first half of the 1950s. He further developed and refined his style in songs like "Ba Pensées", "Amour Violé", "Mobali Amesana Na Ngai", "Toto", "Bisengambi", "Tokabola Sentiment", "Propriétaire" and - of course - "Bimansha" and "Nostalgie". All these songs were hits.

In the 1991 interview Josky indicated that traditional music was another source of inspiration for these songs. He named "Amour Violé" and "Limbisa Ngai" as based on a traditional rhythm from Shaba (now once more named Katanga**). This personal development culminated in the lp "Franco présente Josky Kiambukuta du T.P. O.K. Jazz", an album which he treated with considerable respect and care. This resulted in a true Classic of Congolese music.

And this is a rare feat for an O.K. Jazz album to which Franco himself has not contributed (i.e. he is not playing in these recordings...). What I personally really like in these four songs is the variation which Josky has managed to introduce both in the rhythms and in his singing. He is without a doubt the star in these songs, but none of the songs is the same, and within the songs it is like he is constantly 'feeling his way', almost exploring the right notes. Solidly backing him in all songs are Aimé Kiwakana, Lokombe Ntal and Madilu System. This harmonic backing only acts to emphasise Josky's vocal excellence in all four songs. Just listen to the ease with which he weaves through "Massini" and "Mehida"!

Josky stated in the interview that most of his songs are sung from a perspective of a woman. "La femme se plaint" (the woman complains) as he described it. Keep this in the back of your mind and listen to this album again. It will add another dimension to what is already a masterpiece.

Edipop POP 025 (1983)

* who knew him from the age of 15.
** Josky himself is from Bas-Congo.

December 29, 2015

In control

A few posts to round off this disappointing year...
In the first of these I would like to share with you a cassette by Hawa Dramé. Hopefully you have seen (and perhaps even watched) the videos I posted some time ago (here and here). More persistent fans of the classics of Malian music may have even listened to the two (1 & 2) cassettes I have shared*.
This cassette is different from those two cassettes in so far that I strongly suspect the recordings on this cassette were all made in a studio. Consequently the sound is more refined, even to the point where it can be called 'delicate'.

This cassette is linked to strong personal memories of my travels in Mali in the late 1980s. Particularly in the town and region of Ségou this cassette could be heard on almost every street corner, and even in the taxis-brousse. Listening to songs like "Tunkan Te Dambe Do" I can almost taste the red dust again...

The songs in this cassette are all deeply rooted in the bambara musical tradition. One may be tempted to call this music 'simple', - but this doesn't do justice to Hawa Dramé's brilliant performance.
Take the first song on the B-side for example, "Klawa". The song starts off with a ngoni, which is joined by a second ngoni. Hawa opens after 40 seconds, careful at first; but soon she is in total control. This is her song.
The same can be said for all the songs on this cassette.

This is one of these cassettes which can last you a lifetime. I still discover 'new' things in the songs, and find that my reaction to the music varies with age, mood, circumstances. I particularly like the dynamics in these recordings: Hawa Dramé does not go full-blast all the time, but demonstrates that she stay in control in the wonderfully delicate and subtle parts of her songs too.

SYL 8331

* and if you haven't I strongly advise you to do so...

October 15, 2015

Tempo

'Tempus fugit', often translated as 'time flies', actually means 'time escapes'. This is how I experience the passing of time; it rushes on and I am running after it trying to catch up.
In this post I would like to share with you a video, which I recorded in 2011 and which I have been meaning to post on this blog ever since. But time has been escaping me, and we are now in 2015.

The recording was made in October 2011, in a bar called Le Tempo in central Bamako. And the name seems very fitting for the music which was performed by a group of clearly seasoned musicians. For walking into the bar was like walking into a time machine, and being transported to the early 1970s.
And perhaps even to a different place. For this music reminded me of legendary artists like Dexter Johnson, Laba Sosseh, Idy Diop, Papa and Mar Seck. Music with a strong Latin or Cuban flavour, hot and languid. Languid in a positive sense: with the ease that comes from an inherited understanding, and not from fanatic practice.

Unfortunately the sound is slighty distorted, but it should give you an idea of the almost unreal quality of this orchestra. The flute player would fit in easily with any top Cuban orchestra. Unfortunately I did not have time to go back and find out who he is, but this man is topnotch. The vocals in these two cleverly linked songs are superb. The harmonies in "Que Humanidad" (the first if the two) are in my opinion better than in Johnny Pacheco's original from the mid-1960s, particularly for the despondent tone. The second song, "Oriente", does not surpass the original, but this is not surprising as the original is by the immortal Cheo Marquetti* when he was singing with Chappottin y sus Estrellas, at a time when they were - rightly - at the top of their fame. But the Tempo band still manages to give the song its own feeling.



Out of character and emphasising that I am not going to be making a habit of this, I would like to add that if you like this 'genre' I can recommend the releases by Terangabeat, noteably those of Idrissa (Idy) Diop, Mar Seck and Dexter Johnson, despite the fact that I get the impression that in 'restoring' the original they may have in some cases overshot the mark.

Returning to the music of Mali: a lot has been written about the Latin influence into the music of the Malian orchestras. While I am inclined to believe that this influence is being overstated, it does not mean there was no influence. Apart from a few musicians who went to, visited or even studied in Cuba (such as Boncana Maiga, who can been seen nowadays presenting a rather unfortunate weekly magazine on modern African music on the French TV5), Mali also went through a Latin 'wave', - as did most countries in Africa, Europe and the Americas**. Often records from the GV-series on the HMV-label (from the 1950s) are cited as a major influence on West African music, but I have my doubts about this. This series contained mainly Cuban son music, and little of this music remains in the West African music of either the 1950s or 1960s. I suspect Mali went along with the worldwide craze in the 1960s.

I had heard from several musicians that there had been orchestras in the era of Modibo Keita which combined Latin with Malian, and even French music. But for decades this music seemed to have been lost in the mist of time (as is the case with far too much music in the African continent). But fortunately Florent Mazzoleni managed to dig up this cassette, which I would like to share with you here. The cassette contains no information apart from the title of the orchestra: Askia Jazz.

This orchestra was reputedly founded in 1960, in the wake of Mali's independence, by pupils of the Lycée Askia Modibo in Bamako. Several musicians claim to have started in this orchestra, but one member who has been confirmed by several sources is the legendary sax player Harouna Barry. I am not quite sure which instrument Harouna Barry played with Askia Jazz, but reports suggest it was not the saxophone, as he only took up playing this instruments years later. He only stayed with Askia Jazz for a few years before moving to Gao, where he worked as teacher. In the mid-1970s he joined Boncana Maiga in Les Maravillas. And ten years later, in the mid-1980s, he was the leader of the Ensemble Instrumental National du Mali before becoming the chef d'orchestre of National Badèma. He remained in this position until his retirement in 2001. Harouna Barry passed away in January 2008.

Other members included Mohamed Cheick Tabouré, who - according to this article - stated that the creation of Askia Jazz was made possible by using the money from the deposits which student had to pay when they joined the Lycée. This money was used to buy instruments in Abidjan. The example of the Lycée Askia Modibo was soon followed by other schools in Bamako.
Tabouré, by the way, is in the news in Mali with some regularity as a leading member and spokesperson of le Mouvement Populaire du 22 mars, which was created to support the plotters of the coup d'état of March 2012.

As per usual I am open to any suggestions with regard to the titles of the 16 songs of this cassette. I have added my suggestions, - but they are just that: suggestions.

Askia Jazz du Lycée Askia Modibo

Many thanks to Florent Mazzoleni for filling in this bit of musical history from Mali!

* but what is surprising is the fact that Marquetti, born in the Occidente of Cuba (Alquízar), should be so melancholic about the Oriente.
** even in the Netherlands we had a spell a Latin madness. I particularly remember this frisky chachacha from my youth.

June 13, 2015

Balance

Another song that has been haunting me for the last few weeks months. I have lost track of where and when and from whom I have copied this video, but it seems to me that it must have been a private recording. This has some negatives, notably the flaws in the sound (after 3'48), but in all the positives have the upperhand.
This song, "Kabambare" composed by singer Papy Tex and performed by him with Pépé Kallé and Empire Bakuba was released in 1985 on the album of the same title. But to be honest the album version can only be described as 'anemic' in comparison to the superb full-blooded version in this video. And this is mainly due to the technical imperfection of this recording, and in particular the balance between vocals and supporting instruments.

I add that in general I am not a fan of Empire Bakuba, let alone an expert on the group. But this video is official and irrefutable proof of the vocal talents of Papy Tex, Dilu Dilumona and Pépé Kallé, both as individual vocalists and as a harmonic trio.
It explains too why Franco was desperate to have a Pépé Kallé voice in his orchestra (see this post)...


EDIT September 12, 2015: I have mixed up the two songs of this video. The song you find above is "La Terre Sainte", and the one I have added below is "Kabambare". This song too demonstrates the vocal talent of the singers of Empire Bakuba, and adds to my point that these live versions are more interesting than the studio version.
"La Terre Sainte" (the holy land) is composed by a certain Dadou; and this is probably not the Dadou of the songs with this title.

June 12, 2015

Obsession

I have been struggling to compile traditional songs from the DR Congo for a podcast. The struggling was certainly not a result of the lack of choice, but entirely the result of my obsession with this cassette.
I got stuck on this cassette, and just couldn't get any further.

The recordings on this cassette are generally labelled as 'traditional music', and I am sure there must be some form of passing on from one generation to the next involved. Unfortunately the label 'traditional' suggests, at least to a large section of western audiences, cultures on the brink of extinction, archaeological finds, ethnomusicologists travelling to remote regions to record octogenerians, staged performances of natives in costumes which even their grandparents would be too embarrassed to wear. These recordings are indeed made by an ethnomusicologist, and it seems more than likely that quite a bit of travelling had to be done to get to the location where the recording took place. But "staged performance": I don't think so. And the performers are perhaps nów in their eighties, but they weren't at the time of the recordings in the mid-1970s.

The recordings radiate the confidence and general optimism which is typical of a lot of - if not all - Congolese music of that era. This is particularly the case with the songs in these recording which are performed by women and girls. The casual boldness of the singing, the natural and unforced interaction between the individual women, who manage to combine chaos with harmony, is simply spellbinding.

Take the third song on side A. Every participant is free to add her own individual melodic line to the collective. The effect is both kaleidoscopic and harmonic. I would have loved to be there when the recording took place!

Magic can be found in all tracks of this cassette; there are simply no weaker songs. Besides the songs sung by women, either accompanying themselves or accompanied by an issanji or sanza ensemble, there are songs sung by men. These are, fortunately, in the same vein, with the same tendency towards controlled anarchy in the chorus. The last two songs are different from the others in that these are examples of the evolution towards modern instruments, - in this case a acoustic guitar and a bottle... The result is mesmerising and nimble, delicate and confusing.

I am sure you have recognised the musical style as the one that was modernised and commercialised by Tshala Muana. Personally I find that she took the evolution a step too far and has lost the magic of the original, which can still be heard on this cassette. I can only pray that some of the essence of this brilliant music has survived, somewhere in the immenseness of the border regions between Congo and Angola.

LLCT 7313

May 11, 2015

Apologies







Apologies for the image quality of these three videos. But certainly not for the music. The videos have in common, besides the fact that they all feature great artists from Mali, that they are all too good not to share.
The drive, the passion and the unadulterated fun of the Ambassadeurs, the refined dancing combined with the brilliant vocals by Alou Fané and Flani Sangaré plus the unique talent of Zani Diabaté, the soul-piercing singing by Mah Damba backed by her late husband Mamaye Kouyaté: they are hard to surpass.

More soon...

February 21, 2015

Mumble

The record I would like to share with you in this post has been in my possession for quite a few decades. I can't even remember where and when I bought it. But listening to it again, years later, all of a sudden the penny dropped.
This happens occasionally, and it usually leaves me wondering why the penny was stuck in the first place. Maybe it has to do with maturity and the patience (never one of my key features..) that is said to come with it. Or maybe it has to do with the relative quality of the recording: the bigger the pile of disappointing (or downright crap) new releases, the better the chances for the former 'mediocre' recordings. In this case I suspect it may have to do with never getting beyond the first track, combined with my generic impatience.

A big mistake, I admit it.
For this is a special lp. The artists are probably from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and have - as far as I am aware - never gained any renown outside of their region. The Kwana-Moto Band is led by Alport Astazio, and the latter is also responsible as composer or arranger for the twelve songs on this album. The principal instrument of the group is - as the cover suggests - the marimba. The marimba skills of the group are particularly evident from the tracks "Odoli"(b2) and "Gweru" (b4), if you ask me.

The two final tracks of each side demonstrate that the repertoire of the group is somewhat wider. Both songs are of the kind that take some getting used to. "Intandane (Orphans)", clearly a sad theme, starts off with an acoustic guitar, a flute and a female singer, but when a man has repeated the lines of the woman a mbira joins in and the songs changes in character. Strangely it fades out when one would expect a lot more... The second non-marimba song, "Urombo (Poverty)", is a more typical instrumental mbira tune.

The songs which make this album really special are the songs with lyrics. These lyrics are mainly spoken and not sung, or perhaps I should say they are mumbled. Because they are drowned out by the instruments. In "Kwira Mungoro [Get Into The Cart]" the argument between the woman and the man is still audible, and in "Ranchera" the instruments quieten to allow the singing to be heard, but in "Lobengula" (my favourite song of the album) all that remains are the mutterings of a man about his experiences in the big city.

Please listen to the album a few times, it may grow on you.

Inter Africa Records 1ALP9

February 08, 2015

Moriba Kaba

In 1988 he was not one to push himself to the forefront. He hadn't been part of the European tours of the years before, so he was 'outside'.
Guitarist Mama Sissoko had moved himself in the limelight during the concerts in Holland, and - according to some - was rivalling for the position of leader of the orchestra, after the retirement of Amadou 'Armstrong' Bah. But sax player (and hunter) Mamadou Diarra better known as 'Blick' had filled that position, a logical choice given the historic focus on the horn section.
I had met with Toussaint Siané a few months before, and had been spotted by Amadou Bah when he was touring in Ségou on his Yamaha motorcycle while I was trying to get some money out of the bank.

Singer Papa Gaoussou Diarra I didn't meet until I saw Super Biton play at the Hotel GTM on November 19, 1988.

Both public and bandmembers addressed him as Papus, at the the time. Later on, after he had made three solo albums (one of these is posted here), he acquired the surname of "Pèkèlè", after one of his hit songs. But to me he will always be linked to the concert at the Hotel GTM.

A few days ago I received news that he has died on January 25, at the age of just 56.

By way of a tribute to Papus I would like to share with you the song that earned him a place in my list of best musical moments ever.
This song was the opening song of the concert at the Hotel GTM in Ségou. Technicians of Malian television were still installing their equipment to record a few songs, which were to be part of a celebratory emission for the (then) president Moussa Traoré. On guitar is, of course, Mama Sissoko, and the vocal in this Malinké classic is by Papa Gaoussou Diarra.

Moriba Kaba (flac)

Additionally here is a video of a song featuring Papa Diarra, recorded at the Institut Français in Bamako in October 2011. The sound is slightly overmodulated (sorry).




January 07, 2015

Je veux danser

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Je veux danser"... toute l'année!!

Music of Zaire 1 - Catalina (cassette)

December 28, 2014

My joy is so great...

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

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

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

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

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

Leader LRCLS 52

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

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

Sound Museum SOMU 5

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