Friday, June 29, 2012

The School of Verckys




Note: This post was updated and corrected on July 3, 2012.

The rambunctious saxophone stylings of Kiamwuangana Mateta "Verckys" are a hallmark of many of the 1960s recordings of Congo's great Orchestre OK Jazz. Bandleader Luambo Makiadi Franco is said to have much valued his improvisational style and invocations of American-style R&B, a counterpoint to the rest of the band's more sedate sound.Verckys attempted a mutiny in l968 while Franco was away in Europe, enticing several of the band members to join him in forming a new orchestra. When Franco returned he was able to convince most of the defectors to come back, but Verckys, unrepentant, launched Orchestre Vévé in 1969. He later managed the careers of up-and-coming bands like Les Grands Maquisards, Bella-Bella, Lipua-Lipua and Empire Bakuba. There was a distinct Verckys sound or "school" exemplified by these groups, which was influential across Africa as I discuss in this post..

By the early 1980s Verckys had established himself as an emperor of the Zaïrean music scene to rival Franco himself, with his own recording studio, record label, nightclub, pressing facility and a stable of the hottest bands in Kinshasa, including various Zaïko Langa-Langa offshoots and Victoria Eleison.

The 45s I offer here were borrowed from various friends and dubbed onto 10" tape reels back in the '80s. Several years ago I digitized them, along with a number of other recordings in my library. Unfortunately I didn't think to photocopy the labels, but I copied the recording information from them. These were all pressed in the mid-'70s in Kenya.

"Lukani" (Editions Vévé VV213), composed by Tusevo Nejos and released in 1975, elicits warm feelings of nostalgia across Africa, as typified by these comments on YouTube: ". . .:Brings back childhood memories growing up in eastern Nigeria then. Quite fun listening to my elder ones singing along as the music is being played on the popular IBS radio station. Oh Africa, home of good and undiluted music." ". . . Reminds me of the Kampala of the 1970's, when Idi Amin ruled supreme. Remember those bell-bottoms, eh?":

Orchestre Vévé - Lukani Pts 1 & 2

The LP Les Grands Succes de Editions Veve (Sonafric SAS 50039, 1977) features another version of "Engunduka" by Orchestre Engunduka. I'd give the edge, though, to Vévé's interpretation of Sax Matalanza's song (Editions Vévé VV-234-N), which starts out somewhat restrained but quickly succumbs to frenzied guitars and some truly insane sax work:

Orchestre Vévé Internationale - Engunduka Pts 1 & 2

According to Mboka Mosika, Orchestre Kiam was founded in 1974 by Muzola Ngunga. In appreciation for the band's sponsor Kiamwuangana Verckys, who provided its musical instruments, he proposed to name it "Kiam." Orchestre Kiam lacked the distinctive horn section of Vévé and had a radically different style. "Kamiki" (Editions Vévé VV218), which Ngunga composed, was a big hit in 1975. Here the stripped-down guitar sound, scattershot percussion and frantic vocals bring to mind the sound of Orchestre Stukas du Zaïre, a contemporary aggregation:

Orchestre Kiam - Kamiki Pts 1 & 2

Orchestre Bella-Bella was founded in 1969 by the Soki brothers, Emilie Diazenza and Maxime Vangu. When they hooked up with Verckys and his label Editions Vévé this caused a fair amount of disagreement within the band, leading to the departure of a number of members in 1972. The result, though, was the accession to Bella-Bella of several musicians who were to become leading lights of the Kinshasa music scene, including Malembu Tshibau, Shaba Kahamba, Pepe Kalle and Nyboma Mwan'dido. Dissension continued, however, and Emile left to form his own short-lived group, Bella Mambo, only to rejoin a few months later. By 1973, feeling ripped off, the brothers left Editions Vévé, taking the Bella-Bella name but leaving behind their musical instruments, which were owned by Verckys, and a number of musicians including Pepe Kalle and Nyboma, who became the foundation for a new band, Orchestre Lipua-Lipua.

The two Bella-Bella songs here, "Pambi Ndoni" (Bilanga Bl 001) and "Nene"(Editions FrancAfrique EFA 08), were both written by Soki Vangu around 1975 after the break with Verckys. The late '70s were the peak of Bella-Bella's influence, and the group waxed numerous classics including "Tika Ngai Mobali," "Houleux-Houleux" and "Zing Zong." In 1977 Soki Diazenza apparently suffered a nervous breakdown. It was all downhill for Bella-Bella from that point and by 1981 it had effectively disappeared.

Orchestre Bella-Bella - Pambi Ndoni Pts 1 & 2

Orchestre Bella-Bella - Nene Pts 1 & 2

As recounted above, Orchestre Lipua-Lipua was formed by the musicians who stayed with Editions Vévé after the departure of Bella-Bella in 1973. It too suffered its share of defections, notably that of Pepe Kallé, but soon recruited a number of talented musicians, notably rhythm guitarist Vata Mombassa, who became leader with the departure of Nyboma Mwan'dido and several others in 1975 to found Orchestre Les Kamalé. He is responsible for the next two tracks, "Bondo" (ASL ASL 7-2109) and "Lossa" (Editions Vévé VV198):

Orchestre Lipua-Lipua - Bondo Pts 1 & 2

Orchestre Lipua-Lipua - Lossa Pts 1 & 2

Lipua-Lipua winds things up with Tedia Wamu Mbakidi's scorcher "Temperature" (Editions Vévé VV 228N) from 1977. Nzaya Nzayadio's vocals and Santana Mongoley's lead guitar really make this one a standout. Lipua-Lipua would continue on for several years until sputtering out around 1984. Vata Mombassa pursued a solo career, ending up in Abidjan, Ivory Coast where he remains to this day.

Orchestre Lipua-Lipua - Temperature Pts 1 & 2

Download the songs in this post as a zipped file here. For more information on Verckys and his label Editions Vévé, see Alistair Johnston's discography here. The liner notes of Vintage Verckys (Retroafric RETRO 15CD, 2001) were very helpful in researching this post; in addition the blog Classic Ambiance: Franco and Pepe Kalle Flashback is highly recommended. African Rock: The Pop Music of a Continent by Chris Stapleton and Chris May (Obelisk/Dutton, 1990), Congo Colossus: The Life and Legacy of Franco & OK Jazz by Graeme Ewens (Buku Press, 1994) and Rumba on the River by Gary Stewart (Verso, 2004) are all excellent reference books. All of these may be purchased or downloaded by clicking on the links.

7 comments:

Rhythm Connection said...

Thanks for this great post, John.

FrancoPepeKalle said...

Thanks for the post. Thanks for mentioning my blog. Your blog is better than mine though. But I did try to give the info I knew about Lipua Lipua. I wish this band would be longer than it did.

zim said...

Thanks John, especially for the other version of Engunduka. I had only heard the version on les grands succes (and really liked it), so it was great to hear this one.

I had a question about kiam - you mention that he personally led the group - does that he mean he played in it? I had always thought that they were in his stable of bands (hence the name) but that he wasn't a member

John B. said...

I don't know, Zim.

Ronald said...

According to an article on Mboka Mosika Verckys was not a member of Kiam. He helped them with instruments and when they were looking for a name singer Muzola Ngunga said they should take the name of the one who had helped them, so they decided to name the band Kiam.
http://www.mbokamosika.com/article-special-fin-d-annee-l-orchestre-kiam-63670222.html

John B. said...

Thanks for that, Ronald. I'll update the post accordingly.

David said...

Belatedly, a big thank you for this post. These 45s are a great reminder of just how good the 'big' dance bands could be, and I hadn't earlier appreciated that all these great bands came from literally the same stable. It's like a review of musical royalty! Thanks again!