It's no secret I'm not thrilled about some of the Congo music that's been coming out lately, particularly from the Paris-based bunch. For those of us who got to know it in the '70s and '80s, "soukous" is synonymous with the mellow, hot-yet-cool sounds popularized by the great Franco and Rochereau, Kosmos Moutouari, Pamelo Mounk'a, and of course, Lipua-Lipua and its many offshoots. That was real cuisine. The new stuff? Well, it's just fast food.
Of this crew guitarist/composer Papa Noël has always held a special place in my heart, although he's labored in the shadows of better-known musicians for many years. Born Antoine Nedule Montswet in 1940 in Leopoldville (today Kinshasa), he was nicknamed "Noël," having taken his first breath on Christmas Day.
In 1957 Noël made his first record (backing Léon Bukasa) and joined the group Rock-a-Mambo, which crossed the river in 1960 to the newly-independent French Congo and became Orchestre Bantou (later Bantous de la Capitale), a major force in Congo music for decades. In 1963 he returned to Leopoldville, and was soon asked by the great bandleader Kabaselle to join his Orchestre African Jazz. Here he played for five years, leaving to lead his own Orchestre Bamboula for a few years, and then to play with a succession of combos. In 1978, Papa Noël was asked by Franco to join his Orchestre Tout Poussaint OK Jazz, where he stayed until the great man's death in 1989 (it was as a member of OK Jazz that Noël was jailed for 22 days in 1978 as punishment for Franco's notoriously filthy song "Jacky," a recording in which, ironically, he played no role).
During the years that Papa Noël toiled as a "musician's musician" in other people's projects, lending them his soft-spoken elegance and masterful guitar work, he occasionally made solo recordings to great acclaim. Two of these were Bon Samaritain (1984) and Haute Tension (1994), tracks from which are available on the CD Bel Ami (Sterns SDCD 3016, 2000).
In 1999 the family and I had the pleasure of hearing and meeting Papa Noël when he performed in Milwaukee as part of the backup group for Sam Mangwana, who had just released his CD Galo Negro and was touring the U.S. to promote it. Although Mangwana was the "star" of the show, these two great musicians were definitely co-equals in our eyes. I could tell Noël was pleased to have been recognized in his own right, and he seemed touched that I had brought two of his hard-to-find LPs for him to autograph. Here we are below:
Papa Noël's Allegria (Editions Provil PV 015, ca. 1987) is one of those "desert island" recordings, a masterpiece that I rank, along with Fela Anikulapo-Kuti's Zombie, Kiné Lam's Galass, and Kuku Sebesebe's Munaye, one of the ten greatest African recordings of all time. See if you don't agree:
Papa Noël - Allegria
Papa Noël - Sem-Sem
Papa Noël - Nzoto Pasi
Papa Noël - Sante Pepele
Download Allegria as a zipped file here. Much of the information in this post was mined from Ken Braun's very informative liner notes for Bel Ami.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Thursday, December 27, 2007
I mentioned a while back that I recently digitized a number of 10" tape reels that I've had lying around for many years. I've been working through this material ever since, organizing it and processing the sound, and the result has been a number of recent posts. Today I'm putting up several 45s of classic music from the Congo (then known as Zaïre). These were all issued in Kenya in the early '80s.
Our first selection is by Mayaula Mayoni (above). Mayoni, formerly of Congo's Vita Club football team, was a member on and off of Franco's TPOK Jazz, played in other bands, and put out a number of solo recordings in the TPOK Jazz vein. "Ba Chagrins" was issued in Kenya as ASL Records ASL 3390:
Mayaula Mayoni et son Ensemble - Ba Chagrins Pts. 1 & 2
Speaking of Franco, if you're a devoted fan, I'm sure you've heard this one. "Tangawusi" is one of TPOK Jazz's most popular songs, and has appeared on a number of compilations and reissues. Naotaka Doi's excellent Franco discography at Forest Beat credits the song to Papa Nöel (right), which would lead one to think that he sings lead as well (an extra bonus, Papa Noël being one of my fave African musicians of all time). Here's the Kenya pressing (ASL records ASL 2318):
Franco & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Tangawusi Pts. 1 & 2
Souzy Kasseya is best known as a backup musician, particularly on the recordings of Tshala Muana, but he has had a number of solo outings, particularly "Le Telephone Sonne" (left), which I understand actually "crossed over" in Europe and got some mainstream radio play. He was born in Lubumbashi in 1949 and bounced around among various orchestras including Vox Africa, the African Team and Mpongo Love's group. "Sulia Tantine" was issued in Kenya as ASL Records ASL 2328:
Souzy Kasseya - Sulia Tantine Pts. 1 & 2
Doug Paterson wrote in the British magazine Africa Beat in 1986: ". . . In 1984 the biggest selling single in Kenya was 'Amour Cherche Amour’ by Manana Antoine, a record with a French title and Lingala lyrics sung by a Zairean working in Cote D'Ivoire. It sold 30,000 and got universal radio airplay while the biggest vernacular record got heard only on its local district radio and sold 8,000. . ." Antoine, known as "Papa Disco," was a well-known musician in Côte d'Ivoire for a time, with his own record label, but he seems to have dropped from view in the years since. Here is "Amour Cherchez Amour" itself, from the Kenyan pressing (ASL Records ASL 2329):
Manana Antoine (Papa Disco): Amour Cherchez Amour Pts. 1 & 2
Lipua-Lipua was one of the many innovative new bands that arose in Zaïre in the early 1970s. While the label of this 45 (Editions Sakumuna SN 018) credits "Anifa" to Lipua-Lipua, the very informative Bolingo website lists a version by Les Kamale (on the LP Sonafric SAF 50087, right). Of course, Nyboma Mwan'dido was a member of Lipua-Lipua before splitting to form Les Kamale, sings on this version (although not lead), and on SAF 50087 is credited as composer. I've been unable to dig up another citation of "Anifa," and not having the Kamale LP, I can't say if there are actually two versions of this song or one version issued under two different names. Can someone clarify?
Orchestre Lipua-Lipua - Anifa Pts. 1 & 2
Update: Several reader/listeners have confirmed that there are two different versions of "Anifa," one by Lipua-Lipua and the other by Les Kamale. Thanks also to Ronald, who informs us that the lead vocalist on "Tangawusi" is Ntesa Dalienst, not Papa Noël (although Papa Noël did compose it).