Wednesday, September 14, 2011

From the Banks of the Oubangui River

The music of the Central African Republic is little-known. There are some excellent recordings of traditional music on the Ocora label (Empire Centrafricain: Musique Gbáyá/Chants à Penser [558 524, 1977] is a standout), but its "modern" artists are often overlooked in favor of those of the CAR's neighbors, Cameroun and the two Congos.

Some may have wondered if there is a serious music "scene" in the CAR at all, but as recounted in a fascinating post in Matt Lavoie's African Music Treasures blog, indeed there has been since 1954, when Prosper Mayélé founded Tropical Jazz, which became the house band at Bangui's Le Rex club. As is the tendency in African music, Tropical Jazz spawned splits and sub-splits, giving rise to Orchestre Centraficain, Vibro Jazz and Tropical Fiesta. A group called Zokela, founded in 1981, in 1999 split into four different Zokela permutations. For samples of music from several of the groups I've mentioned, I would refer you to Matt's well-researched article.

It has not been my practice to post more recent, commercially-available recordings on Likembe, but as it apparently has long been out of print, I am making available here RCA: Centrafrica Compil (Déclic 50 608, 1997), which is a pretty good overview of the Central African music scene, at least as it existed in the late '90s. I regret that I can't give you any information about the musicians. As you might expect, the sound owes a lot to Congo music, but there are plenty of uniquely Central African touches (take note especially of Francis Gon's "Caresse de Î Les"). Enjoy!

Download RCA: Centrafrica Compil as a zipped file here. I suspect that some of the tracks on this CD were mislabeled. If someone has information about the correct track-listing, let me know and I'll make a correction.

Enjoy this video by Canon Star, one of the groups featured on Centrafrica Compil:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

l'ANPAC Presente Vol. 3

Some sweet sounds conclude our presentation of the three-volume series l'ANPAC Presente with Volume 3 (AN 400 3, 1984). Like musicians on Volumes One and Two, Pierre Claver Zeng Ebome, who performs "Eyala," has been active in Gabonese politics for many years, holding various posts in the government of President Omar Bongo as well as being elected to Parliament. Norbert Epandja, who gives us the lovely "N'oublie Jamais," has been involved in politics of a different sort, as president of the Musicians' Union of Gabon. I can tell you nothing about the other talented musicians here. Enjoy l'ANPAC Presente Vol. 3!

Download l'ANPAC Presente Vol. 3 as a zipped file here.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

l'ANPAC Presente Vol. 2

Back in the '80s the three volume collection of Gabonese music l'ANPAC Presente was frequently on our turntable and, dubbed onto C90 cassettes, our auto sound system. Continuing Likembe's presentation of this interesting series, l'ANPAC Presente Vol. 2 (ANPAC AN 400 2, 1984) features a couple of songs that are among our all-time favorites.

Mack Joss is the only musician here known to me, and all I can tell you is that he's been on the Gabonese music scene for a while - at least since the 1970s. "Mounombi" here is a really nice adaptation of Gabonese folklore, as is "Motobetheyi," performed by Pierre Emboni, who in addition to his musical efforts, was a leader of one of Gabon's political parties and Minister of Youth and Sports in the late '90s. "Souviens Toi" by Yvon Dawens is a nice song in the Congo-Cameroun musical continuum, but the real standout of this LP is Obiang Okane's "Dokira," which incorporates the mvet, a traditional musical instrument of the Fang people of Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and southern Cameroun. I hope you'll enjoy l'ANPAC Presente Vol. 2 as much as I do:

Download l'ANPAC Presente Vol. 2 as a zipped file here. For those interested in learning more about the mvet, featured in "Dokira," I would recommend Francis Bebey's magisterial African Music: A People's Art (Lawrence Hill & Co., 1975), and also the LP Gabon: Chantres du Quotidien/Chantres de l'Epopee (Ocora 558 515, 1981). The mvet plays a role in traditional Fang society very similar to that of the kora among the Mandinka peoples of West Africa, as an accompaniment to epic ballads, the performance of which is said to last all night. From Gabon: Chantres du Quotidien/Chantres de l'Epopee, here is an extract from one of those performances, performed by Akwé Obiang (pictured below):

Friday, September 2, 2011

l'ANPAC Presente: Vol. 1

The small country of Gabon has never loomed large in the African music scene, although artists like Pierre Akendengue and Oliver N'goma have certainly made their mark. Back in the 1980s, though, the Libreville radio station Africa No. 1 and its powerful signal ruled the African airwaves, and along with Gabon's first modern recording studio, Mademba, founded around the same time, brought increased attention to musicians from the country.

Africa No. 1 was the inspiration of Gabonese President-for-life Omar Bongo, who apparently sought to use his country's oil wealth to raise its prestige in the world. Another Bongo initiative, l'Agence National de Promotion Artistique et Culturelle (ANPAC), in 1984 issued a three-volume series of recordings, l'ANPAC Presente, showcasing a number of popular musicians of the decade.

I can't tell you much about the musicians on Vol. 1 (ANPAC AN 400 1), presented here, or on Vols. 2 and 3, which will follow shortly. Hilarion Nguema, the best known of these, founded Orchestre Afro-Success in the early '80s and scored a number of hits, notably 1988's Crise Economique. The Wikipedia entry for Jean-Boniface Assélé describes a politician and brother-in-law of Omar Bongo, but makes no mention of a musical career, which leads me to question if they are indeed the same person (see update below). The other artists draw a complete blank on Google.

I think you will agree with me that these mellow sounds have congruences with the music of Congo and Cameroun, with some unique local touches. Enjoy!

Download l'ANPAC Presente Vol. 1 as a zipped file here. There's an interesting coda to the story of Africa No. 1. The radio station left the airwaves for a number of weeks earlier this year, apparently a result of the political crisis and civil war in Libya. Libyan Jamahiriya Broadcasting was a 52% shareholder, and when Libya's assets were frozen, the station was unable to pay its bills. You can read the story here and here.

My apologies for Likembe's three-month hiatus, by the way. A lot of personal issues intervened, but I hope to keep things going on a more regular basis from now on.

Update: Thanks to commenter Peter for confirming that the Jean-Boniface Assélé of this LP and the one described in Wikipedia are indeed one and the same.