April 29, 2013

Money

The processes of the mind are a mystery. In the last few weeks, ahead of the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander (April 30, i.e. tomorrow), a calypso from the 1930s has been continuously popping up in my head. I have found myself singing it under the shower, and for no obvious reason. Tiger's "Money is king" (and the music can be heard here) was true in 1935, and unfortunately little has changed since those days.

Through a similar mysterious process my mind has always linked money with ... not a king, but a president. Perhaps it is because his name sounds like the lingala word for money (mbongo), or because of the many reports during his reign of his excessive wealth, reputedly gathered by dubious means (and with the aid of neo-colonial powers in France), but Omar Bongo's name immediately evokes images of large quantities of money. Omar Bongo, a.k.a. Albert-Bernard Bongo, died nearly four years ago, but still his name lives on in Gabon. And not only in the name of a town in the south-east of Gabon, but also because his son, Ali Bongo Ondimba, succeeded him as president. In that respect the Bongos are not unlike royalty.....

During his lifetime Bongo has done more than enough to guarantee a place in the eternal memory of his people. Particularly through music his name has been immortalised to a degree that will take centuries to be wiped out. If you think Sekou Touré left his mark on Guinean music, go to Libreville and go through the Gabonese music archives. He was undoubtedly helped by his wife (and mother of the current president of Gabon) Marie Joséphine Kama, who after divorcing him in 1986 launched a career as a professional singer under the name of Patience Dabany. I am not quite sure of the sequence of events (and any additional info is welcome..), but it appears that Omar Bongo was instrumental in launching her career by funding the creation the group Kounabeli, of which Josephine Kaba was not only the lead singer but also the choreographer.

Many videos (here or here or here) can be found of Ms. Dabany and her group and here is just one example, from 1986, to give you an idea:


Isn't that just great?
Kounabeli, which appears to have been founded mainly in honour of the Gabonese Democratic Party, the P.D.G., seems to fall in a category of musical ensembles which is virtually unknown in the West and which seems to have countless representatives in Gabon: the groupes d'animation.
These groups consist of large numbers of women dancing and singing, - and mostly in praise of Omar Bongo or of the P.D.G.. The most popular ones are accompanied by a (small) soukous-style orchestra, but I am sure there also groups with traditional accompagnement, or even a cappella.
I would like to share two examples of the music of these groups with you. And I am well aware that the music in itself does not do justice to the experience of the live performances of these groups, which must be overwhelming...

The first example is a cassette by Kounabeli. This is probably a bootleg version of an lp from the 1980s. I remember hearing the lp-version once and being very disappointed. I found I preferred the tinny sound of this cassette. Perhaps because it accentuates the female chorus. This is especially the case in "Lessimbi", and slightly less in "Anniversaire de Bongo" (I told you..).

FG 1136



The second is from an lp from 1985, released as an own production by the group Missema. The recipe is very similar to Kounabeli's, with plenty of hip-hip-hooray-for-good-old-Omar-B..
The sound will probably be more acceptable to the average mélomane. But, if you ask me, the massiveness of the group is slightly lost in the recording. And that's really a pity, because that is the element that makes these recordings stand out among the numerous middle-of-the-mudtrack soukous albums.

Missema MI 2002

To round off this post another video, this time by a group from the Ogooué-Lolo province of Gabon. The subject of their animation is, of course, Mr. Bongo and his good deeds....


PS: I have to give it to the old dinosaur, this music is much better than that depressing King's song we are supposed to be singing tomorrow.....

April 26, 2013

Union

In the aftermath of the death of Margaret Thatcher I have missed a documentary analysing the relation between Thatcherism and the present economic crisis. Perhaps it was broadcast and I just did not see it, or perhaps this is being prepared.
Or maybe the absence of such an analysis is an indirect result of the deceased's policies. Certainly in the Netherlands the media have fallen victim to the "free-market economy". The dramatic effects of this can be observed daily. A movement towards (very) 'light entertainment for the masses' which started in the 1960s with the then new broadcasting corporation TROS was rocket-fuelled by Thatcherism. What was seen in the late 1960s and early 1970s as mindless drivel and the lowest of the low has now - through a process that can only be described as 'incestuous' - achieved the status of 'high culture'. Products of this free-market culture have been exported all over the world. And I am not only referring to Endemol produce such as Big Brother and similar blockbusters, but also to the Tiëstos and Armin van Buurens and other - in my opinion disturbing - phenomena. Mindlessness as a major export.

The latest exponent of this trend is now almost literally forced down the throats of an entire nation. Apparently it is not enough to infect the brains of the defenseless with retarded programming mixed with and/or incorporating matching adverts, with the "King's song" (see this article in The Guardian) an element of coercion is added. We, as a nation, are expected to sing along with this sub-Eurovision (and that's as low as it gets) standard sh*t, in celebration of the new king. This may be the start of the new Middle Ages.....

Perhaps stubbornly, I am still hoping it is not too late. Although on a local level all seems lost, globally there may be sufficient individuals ready to combat the regression into cultural barbarism. By joining forces we can avoid slipping into the abyss. The motto "l'union fait la force" ("Unity makes strength") was - according to this wikipedia page - first used in these low countries in the 16th century. And that's where we will have to look.

As it happens, this unity, this joining of forces, was the main target of the policies of the late Mrs. T. and her sad & misguided successors. The vigour with which she attacked any form of grouping of workers to defend their rights against the forces of the free-market economy - and specifically the trade unions - can only be described as manic. So it stands to reason that we turn to these very unions in our attempt to turn the tide.


And that's where we arrive at the subject of this post: the orchestra of the National Union of Tanzania, the NUTA Jazz Band (see also this earlier post). A great example of strength in unity, and of the high cultural level that can be the result. A unity that is demonstrated in strong vocal harmonies, in a solid wall of horns, and in some great interaction between musicians. And although I have no information about their salaries, I am convinced they can not be labelled as 'overpaid' (like many of the exponents of the present-day 'free-market culture').

This cassette, released by FLATIM Records (see also here), was probably recorded sometime in the mid-1970s. It is a collection of brilliant and very Tanzanian songs, but there is certainly an influence of the then dominant Zairean (Congolese) music. Particularly the influence of the (by that time) Tout Puissant O.K. Jazz is more than obvious. And, as you may have noticed, this will give a band a serious advantage in my rating.
One song stands out in this respect: "Mwana Iddi". In every aspect this is a superb tribute to Franco, but especially in the execution of the sebène. After 1'40 the build-up starts, an ascent in stages which reaches its culmination after 3'19 with one of the very best Franco-esque solos I have ever heard. The band clearly has listened carefully to the grand maître, for they also have grasped the added value of the shouts (with the O.K. Jazz often by singers like Chécain and Boyibanda).

But let me stress that NUTA Jazz is nevertheless very much original, very much Tanzanian - and very much authentic NUTA Jazz.

AHD(MC)032

April 05, 2013

Home-made

Completely off-topic: I have had to introduce a relatively mild form of moderation on the comments. What goes on in the warped minds of those sad individuals who think I will let them get away with link-ridden and mostly ill-conceived and shoddy mails, is completely beyond my imagination, - and I have no intention of finding out either.
Anyway, the moderation may result in a (hopefully short) delay in the publication of any comment you are still very welcome to make. And it is certainly possible that I will remove this form of censorship (and I am the first to admit it) in the future.

On topic: this post is primarily intended to inform you of a new, small-scale initiative. And I hasten to add that I am personally not at all involved, and do not stand to gain a single peso or eurocent. I am a consumer like yourself* and as such open to anything new.

You may remember that post of the wonderful record by Sali Sidibé, which Michael from Switzerland allowed me to share with you. Subsequently Michael has remained in contact. In September 2011 he mentioned he was going to Mali in December.
A few months later he reported back: "I collected some 130 tapes - in a few years you will not find it anymore..... I discovered Mouye Traoré, a nice Sali Sidibe being very young...., some Koni Coumaré with Bazoumana Sissoko, some old Toumani Koné.... some really hot Fula singers - and ngoni (= hoddu) - players I wasn't aware of before, some really good stuff....
And yes, I could make some recordings - Zoumana Téréta at the sokou (violin) together with 2 ngoni-griots being one of the more interesting ones - but also Daouda Dembele with his wife....
And Moudou Tounkara, one time with the smaller ngoni (irident) and one time with the base version of it... And another ngoni player Assana Gaucko, from Segou.. Some bambara balafoni from Segou.... as I payed the musicians, I've got the rights from them, and the recordings sound quite well....
So it has been more or less a ngoni-related travel, I even could buy a used instrument.....
"

Two months ago another mail: "I produced the CD of a recording I did with Zoumana Téréta, Hama Sissoko and Moudou Tounkara: "Juru nani fo".
I'm selling these to friends or lovers of african/malian music, therefore in no store; maybe this will come.
The benefit goes 100% to the musicians, which have been payed already for the recording in BKO.
Therefore, if you' re interested in a CD, which is professionally pressed (and not burned), I have to ask you 25 € for it, included shipping, etc.
And, as it's for the benefit of the artists, I don't want it to be shared in the internet.
"

He has since sent me the CD, which indeed has a very professional look about it (and in this respect beats quite a lot of CD's from commercial sources). The quality of the recordings, made on January 20, 2012 in a private house in the Magnambougou district of Bamako, is excellent. Apparently/audibly a small audience is present during the recording and this results in some feedback (talking, commenting) and in some 'background noises' (like cell-phones ringing, cutlery falling on the floor, doors closing). The music regularly breaks off and there are small interruptions for discussions between the musicians. Personally I love these kind of 'one-take' recordings (well actually I have a general preference for one-take recordings..). But I can imagine it is not for everyone.

Star of the show is - without a doubt - Zoumana Tereta, whom you may remember from an earlier post. You may remember I described Zou as a "survivor from another era". In this "Juru nani fo" he seems very much in his natural habitat, in the living room playing for a family. At the same time it is clear that he has evolved tremendously as an artist since my recordings in 1999.

So would I recommend this CD? Certainly. But it is not for everyone.

You can obtain the CD by sending an email to Michael: kabako[at]proimago.net.

As Michael has explicitly asked not to share any of the music I would instead like to share with you a cassette (from the 1980s) by an artist who will probably never be famous outside of Mali, but he was world-famous in Mali in the 1980s and 1990s. Not only did he do quite a few cassettes on local and regional historic heroes, he also talked about topical events, like a strike by lorry drivers.
And please note the "talked about", for Daouda Dembele does not sing, he is a rapper avant la lettre, a talking djeli. But I hastily add that both descriptions don't do justice to Daouda Dembele's rare talent. For he is, like Zoumana Tereta, a voice from the past, an echo from history. A 'raconteur' as there used to be many, in the time before television, and even before radio. A master of his art, who many Malians will remember from the time when they were sitting with their friends or family, sipping hot tea and listening attentively to his stories.

Please let me know if you want more.

Super Sound SS 15

*although I don't rule out the possibility that you are involved with the production side of music...