Showing posts with label Remmy Ongala. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Remmy Ongala. Show all posts

Monday, May 25, 2009

Some More Seldom-Heard Tracks by Remmy Ongala




Like Comb and Razor, I seem to be experiencing some difficulty managing to get a post up, not, as in Uchenna's case, because I'm terribly busy with anything else, but because of a general sense of ennui. Spring fever perhaps?

Anyway, I've got a few things in the works, but I just realized that it's been more than two weeks since I've posted, so here's something in the nature of a stop-gap.

In one of my first dispatches, I posted five tracks from Remmy Ongala's two 1988 albums On Stage With Remmy Ongala (Ahadi AHDLP 6007) and Nalilia Mwana (Womad WOMAD 010). Which leaves seven tunes that I didn't post, so here they are!

"Tembea Ujionee," from Nalilia Mwana, means "Travel and See For Yourself." Remmy sings, "Travel and see for yourself. Don't wait to be told about it. There are many things to see in the world. Waiting for you. . ." By the way, although the liner notes of the LP credit this song to "Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila," I suspect it, along with other songs on Nalilia Mwana, was recorded when Ongala was with Orchestra Makassy. That sounds an awful lot like Mose Fan Fan Se Sengo on lead guitar!

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Tembea Ujionee

In "Mnyonge Hana Haki" ("The Poor Have No Rights") Remmy deplores the plight of the unfortunate. "I have nothing to say. . . Remmy is a poor man, an ugly man. Remmy has nothing to say to his companions. A bicycle has nothing to say in front of a motorbike. A motorbike has nothing to say in front of a car. A car has nothing to say in front of a train. The poor have nothing to say in front of the rich. . . The poor have no rights."

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Mnyonge Hana Haki

The liner notes of Nalilia Mwana state that "Arusi ya Mwanza"
is ". . . about a young woman who is married in Mwanza and goes to live with her husband in Dar es Salaam. After a few days he deserts her and she is too ashamed to return home to face the questions of her parents and neighbors. She warns other women that men are deceitful and will promise a house and car to make girls give up their studies. She herself only wanted to be happy and start a family like her friends. . ."

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Arusi ya Mwanza

On Stage With Remmy Ongala unfortunately doesn't provide song translations.

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matilmila - Sauti ya Mnyonge


Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Asili ya Muziki

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Maisha

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Mama Mzazi


If you would like to recreate the original LPs using the other five tunes, the tracklistings are as follows:


Nalilia Mwana (
Womad WOMAD 010, 1988)
1. Nalilia Mwana
2. Sika ya Kufa
3. Tembea Ujionee
4. Ndumila Kuwili
5. Mnyonge Hana Haki
6. Arusi ya Mwanza

On Stage With Remmy Ongala
(Ahadi AHDLP 6007, 1988)
1. Sauti ya Mnyonge
2. Asili ya Muziki
3. Maisha
4. Kifo
5. Mama Mzazi
6. Narudi Nyumbani
The picture at the top of this post is from this site.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Pamba Moto, Sikinde, Duku Duku & More




In the last week I've been afflicted not only by writer's block but by a mild yet persistent case of the flu. So let's make a virtue of necessity - less talk, more music! Here's another helping of Muziki wa Dansi from Tanzania, one of the more popular entrees on the Likembe menu. Let's kick-start things with a classic 45 by the reigning kings of the big-band Swahili sound, DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra. This is AHD 02 in the Ahadi catalog, released in 1983:

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Matatizo ya Nyumbani Pts. 1 & 2

Here's another great track from the excellent 1986 collection Best of DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra Vol. 1 (Ahadi ADHLP 6002):

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Clara

I'm not sure if Orchestra Vijana Jazz is still on the scene, but it was formed in 1971 and has undergone numerous personnel changes over the years, suffering a major loss in 1990 with the death of its leader Hemed Maneti. Here's a rollicking 45 from 1983, Ahadi catalog number AHD 03:

Orchestra Vijana Jazz - Mama Njiti Pts. 1 & 2

Now we have this 45 from 1983 or '84 (Ahadi AHD 04), credited to Ndala Kasheba ("Freddie Supreme") and Orchestra Safari Sound (Dar). Werner Graebner writes that the OSS was dissolved in 1985 by its owner, businessman Hugo Kiisima, who then set up the International Orchestra Safari Sound, led by Muhiddin Maalim Gurumo and Abel Balthazar. So, did Kasheba keep the "old" OSS going? The release Tanzania Hit Parade '88 (Ahadi AHDLP 6005, 1988) lists two IOSS bands, subtitled "Duku Duku" and "Ndekule." Mysterious and mysteriouser:

Orchestra Safari Sound (Dar) - Dunia Msongamano Pts. 1 & 2

Here's the song that, as I've written earlier, launched my love affair with Swahili music: Remmy Ongala's ethereal "Mariamu" (Polydor POL 554, 1983). In my opinion it's superior to the
version that appeared on 1989's Songs for the Poor Man (RealWorld 91315-2), with these heartfelt lyrics: "Love burns like a fire . . . I cry for the wrong that I have done. Pity me, there is nothing I think of more than you. I am thin like a coconut palm, for the love of you. At night I dream, the whole day I can't eat. My heart is boiling, my body and blood dried-up. With the love that's burning within me. My Mariamu, my lover, you come today, you go today. I am suffering in my heart, and you are my heart":

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Mariamu Pts. 1 & 2

Finally, here's a group that I'm not actually sure is from Tanzania. Orchestra Super Sound, led by Kalala Mbwebwe, could very well be Kenyan. Their sound is closer to the sort of pop confections that were popular in the Nairobi music scene ca. the mid-'80s. But since this 45 was released on the Ken-Tanza label (KT (C) 055, to be specific), which as far as I know, released Tanzanian artists exclusively, I'll assume they're from that country. Enjoy!

Orchestra Super Sound - Fantaar Pts. 1 & 2

The picture at the top of this post is "Drummer Girl"
(2006) by Tanzanian artist Maurus Michael Malikita. Efforts to get in touch with Mr. Malikita by email to ask his permission to reproduce were unsuccessful, so I took the liberty. I apologize to Mr. Malikita for this, and if he would like me to remove it, he can get in touch with me via the comments or write me here: beadlejp (at) yahoo (dot) com. You can view some of Mr. Malikita's work at the above link (or click on the picture). Please drop in, and consider buying one of his paintings.
At the end of this week I'll be heading out East to do the college-tour thing with my daughter. We'll probably meet up with a couple of fellow African music fans that I've been in touch with, and I'm hoping to check out some African restaurants. Chances are I won't have access to a computer, so this will probably be my last post for awhile. If your musical cravings become too unbearable, please check in with some of the fine purveyors over in the left-hand sidebar. Ciao!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Some Seldom-Heard Tracks by Remmy Ongala




Swahili music was terra incognita to me until one day in the summer of 1984. I was visiting Edmund Ogutu, a Kenyan friend of mine. He'd brought out a stack of East African 45's and was playing them for me. I certainly enjoyed the sounds of the Kilimambogo Brothers and DO7 Shirati Jazz, similar in some ways to other African music I was familiar with, yet refreshing in their rustic straightforwardness. Then Edmund brought out a red-label Polydor 45. The song was "Mariamu" and it was by a Tanzanian group called Super Matimila. From the first bars I was completely transported. Here was something that clearly shared the DNA of Congo music but had mutated in various subtle ways. Obviously the fact that it was in Swahili rather than Lingala was one point of difference, but what really struck me was the singer, who had a jazzy, improvisational vocal style that was cool and warm, friendly and reserved at the same time. Looking at the record label I discovered that this person was named Remmy Ongala. Edmund couldn't tell me anything about him.

That's where things stood for a couple of years, until I read an article by Ron Sakolsky in Sound Choice, a long-forgotten music magazine. Ron had lived in Tanzania and, having been similarly transformed by the music of Remmy Ongala, wanted to tell the great man's story. It turned out that Remmy was originally from Kindu, in the Congo. He began his musical career in that country (soon renamed Zaïre), and migrated to Uganda, ending up in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania in 1978, where he joined Orchestra Makassy, a band led by his uncle. Three years later he departed to join Super Matimila and soon became its leader.

I got in touch with Ron and he sent me dubs of more records by Remmy Ongala, wonderful songs like "Ndumila Kuwili" and "Mnyonge Hana Haki." Finally in 1988, WOMAD Records in Britain released a full-length anthology of Remmy Ongala's East African recordings, Nalilia Mwana (
Womad WOMAD 010).

Remmy and Orchestra Super Matimila performed at the WOMAD Festival that year and in 1989 recorded their first "professional" album, Songs for the Poor Man (
Realworld CDRW6), followed in 1992 by Mambo (Realworld CDRW22). Both of these albums are fine, but to my mind the intimacy and immediacy, the soul of the Tanzanian recordings has been lost in the transition to a "professional," "modern" recording studio. Nalilia Mwana, which was never issued on CD, has long been out of print, and as far as I know there are no plans to reissue it, although an edited version of the title track appeared on 1995's Sema (Womad Select WSCD002).

It pains me that the general public is unfamiliar with the true, authentic sounds of Remmy Ongala and Orchestra Super Matimila, the music that is known and loved by millions of people in East Africa. To rectify this injustice I present several tracks from Nalilia Mwana and from another album that was issued only in East Africa, 1988's On Stage With Remmy Ongala (Ahadi AHDLP 6007). The song descriptions are from the liner notes:

"Nalilia Mwana" (I Cry for a Child) is the lament of a woman who cannot give birth: "Mola, I cry to you, Mola, I beseetch you, what did I do to deserve this misfortune. A child isn't something that you can buy... To the mother a child never grows up. Even if it were lame, or ugly like Remmy, it would still be a child."

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Nalilia Mwana

Our next selection is also from Nalilia Mwana. "Sika Ya Kufa" (The Day I Die) tells the sad tale of a man who is dying: "Beauty is finished, youth is finished, intelligence has left. But the house I built remains and my children are crying. A corpse has no companions - all my friends run away from me. Whereas we used to eat and drink together. Now they are frightened of me. Now I am like the devil."

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Sika Ya Kufa

"Ndumila Kuwili," (Don't Speak With Two Mouths), our last from Nalilia Mwana, deals with that age-old problem, jealousy: "We used to be friends. We lived together like brothers. But I am surprised, brother - don't speak with two mouths. Playing off one person against another. Jealousy and discord are not the right way.""

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Ndumila Kuwili

"Kifo" (Death) was my favorite song on Songs for the Poor Man, so when I received a copy of On Stage with Remmy Ongala, which includes the original, I was curious to hear how the two versions compared. This is a case where, in my opinion, the "remake" is an improvement on the original, which is a mighty fine tune already. The lyrics: "Death, you took my wife. My child cries every day. 'Father, where is my mother?' But I can't find the words. The tears just fall down my face. Because of you, Death."

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Kifo

A remake of "Narudi Nyumbabi," from On Stage with Remmy Ongala, was featured on Mambo under the title "I Want to Go Home," and here the original is clearly superior. There's just something about the "low-tech" nature of the recording, and the Swahili lyrics, that just expresses the poignancy of the lyrics so much better: "I want to go home. I need to go back home. The place that is our home. Good or bad still home."

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Narudi Nyumbani

A couple of years ago I convinced Doug Paterson of the East African Music Page to compile a discography of Remmy Ongala's many recordings for the East African market. If you'd like more information on these, you are encouraged to consult it here.


Update: Thanks to reader Daan42, who passes on a link to an article about Remmy Ongala's current activities here.