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.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Birth of a Nation




If you've been around here a while you'll know that I have a major obsession with the 1967-70 war in Nigeria, when the Eastern Region of that country left to establish the independent nation of Biafra. It was a valiant struggle, but the nascent Republic went down to defeat on January 15, 1970. I suspect not everyone shares my interest, but some do, and for them I'm posting another entry in Likembe's Biafra archive - the hard-to-find LP Biafra: Birth of a Nation (Lyntone LYN 1684), issued by the Biafra Choral Society in London in 1968. This was kindly provided by Craig Taylor, and I thank him for it.

Birth of a Nation is propaganda, and I don't mean this in a pejorative sense. It was issued by the Biafran government in an effort to influence public opinion in the outside world, especially the United Kingdom, main supporter of the Federal Government in Lagos against the secessionists. In 1968, when it was released, the Biafran cause had already for all intents and purposes been lost, although this wouldn't be apparent for some time. Still, it's of considerable interest not only to historians but musically, as it contains some nice highlife tunes. Listened to in sequence the album sounds like something recorded off a shortwave radio broadcast in the wee hours of the morning, history in the making.

On January 15, 1966, Nigeria's First Republic came to an end when Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Northern Premier Amadou Bello and Western Premier Samuel Akintola were overthrown and executed in a military coup. A counter-coup led by Major-General Aguiye-Ironsi, an Igbo from the Eastern Region, managed to re-establish order, but his military government lacked legitimacy in the eyes of many Northerners, who saw it as Igbo-dominated. On July 29 a coup led by Northern officers led to the deaths of hundreds of Eastern officers as well as Ironsi himself, sparking a series of bloody events. In September and October of 1966 Northern Nigeria was swept by a series of pogroms targeting Easterners, leading to the panicky exodus of more than a million people to their ancestral homes.

In a last-ditch effort to save Nigerian unity, a meeting was held in Aburi, Ghana January 4-5, 1967 between leaders of the Federal government in Lagos and a delegation from the Eastern Region led by Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. The resulting Accord provided for restructuring Nigeria on a looser confederal basis, but soon became a dead letter as there was no unanimity regarding its interpretation:

The Aburi Declaration

An Efik song:

The Canaan Brothers - Ukaridem (Independence)

The Eastern Region of Nigeria declared its independence as the sovereign state of Biafra on May 30, 1967. It  was recognized diplomatically by only five countries: Gabon, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Zambia and Haiti. In addition it received varying levels of support from Portugal, France, China, South Africa and Israel. Britain and the Soviet Union were solidly on the Federal side, while the U.S. was officially "neutral" but tacitly supported Nigeria:

The Rev. Edmund Ilogu - Declaration of Independence

Biafra's national anthem, "Land of the Rising Sun," is based on the "Finlandia" hymn by Sibelius. The first verse is as follows:

Land of the rising sun, we love and cherish,
Beloved homeland of our brave heroes;
We must defend our lives or we shall perish,
We shall protect our hearts from all our foes;
But if the price is death for all we hold dear,
Then let us die without a shred of fear.
Land of the Rising Sun (Biafra National Anthem)

The Rev. G.E. Igwe - Prayer

Rex Lawsons's Kalabari-language "Ojukwu Imiete, Biafra Bolate" was the subject of several previous posts and some speculation. Uchenna Ikonne has unearthed a copy of this subversive song as a 45 (Nigerphone NX 412, left), ostensibly pressed in Nigeria, of all places! It has also been released under the titles "Odumegwu Ojukwu (Hail Biafra)" and "God Bless Colonel Ojukwu":

Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson and his Biafra Republicans Band - Ojukwu Imiete, Biafra Bolate (Ojukwu Thank You, Biafra has Come to Stay)

In this speech Ojukwu levels a number of accusations against Nigerian head of state Yakubu Gowon, most of which are exaggerated or untrue. Gowon apparently played no role in the July 1966 coup that overthrew Ironsi, nor did he "plot" the pogroms of September and October 1966. There is no doubt that the war against Biafra led to a horrendous loss of lives (over a million by conservative estimates) but as to whether it constituted genocide I refer interested parties to this Wikipedia article:

H.E. Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu - The War of Genocide

British Attitude to Nigeria/Biafra War

An Igbo song:

Abraham Onyenobia - Chukwu Zoba Anyi (God Save Us)

At Independence, approximately 40% of the population of Biafra was composed of non-Igbo "Eastern Minorites," Ijaws, Efiks and others. Fearing "Igbo domination," many of these were ambivalent about secession or even actively supported the Federal cause. However, members of minority groups were represented in the Biafran government throughout the war:

Ika Bassey - The Case of the Minorities in Biafra

H.E. Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu - Launching of the Biafran Currency and Postage Stamps


I.S. Kogbara - Excerpt from H.E.'s Address to Special Consultative Assembly, Addis Ababa


Download Biafra: Birth of a Nation as a zipped file, including liner notes, here.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Real Rumbira Sounds



A major force in the Zimbabwe music scene of the 1980s, the Real Sounds of Africa were in fact founded by a group of Congolese musicians in Zambia in 1975. Moving to Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia under the white-minority government of Ian Smith) in 1978, they became an immediate sensation, releasing their first LP, Harare (Zimbabwe ZML 1015), in 1984.

The foremost Congolese-origin band in Zimbabwe, the Real Sounds forged a unique blend of rumba music and indigenous sounds that they called rumbira. Success followed upon success, and in 1986 the group toured Europe, releasing two albums in the UK, Wende Zako (Cooking Vinyl COOK 004, 1987), and Seven Miles High (Big Records BIG 1, 1989).

I don't know what has become of the Real Sounds, but their music, especially their football songs, continues to be popular to this day.  Enjoy Harare!

The Real Sounds - Kapinga

The Real Sounds - Ozweli Ngai Mbanda

The Real Sounds - Baninga

The Real Sounds - Harare

The Real Sounds - Chamunorwa

The Real Sounds - Dynamos Versus Caps (0-0)

Download Harare as a zipped file here.

Monday, June 11, 2012

DDC Mlimani - Nelson Mandela




The subject of many musical accolades over the years, South African liberation fighter (and President from 1994-99) Nelson Mandela receives his due in this cassette (Ahadi/Flatim MSKCAS 512) by Tanzania's immortal DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra. It was released around 1994 but I suspect the material was recorded a few years earlier in the Radio Tanzania studios.

I don't have much to say about this one save that it combines the usual sweet vocals, expert finger-picking and red-hot horns of classic Muziki wa Dansi with the poor recording quality that is the hallmark of most of these Flatim Records releases, usually made from second- and third-generation dubs of the original masters. I am pleased to announce, however (and thanks to Zim Bida for making me aware of it) that a project is underway to digitize and preserve for posterity more than 100,000 hours of recordings like this in the Radio Tanzania archives. You can go to the website of the Tanzania Heritage Project here, listen to some recordings here, and pledge your financial support here. Plans are to release a compilation CD and make a documentary film of the project.

Enjoy Nelson Mandela!

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Nelson Mandela

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Tumetoka Mbali

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Utamaduni

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Kauli Yako Nimeisikia

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Maneno Maneno Ya Nini

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Kupenda Sio Ndoto

Download Nelson Mandela as a zipped file here.