Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Dawn of the Age of the Medley

In the last twenty years or so there has emerged a trend in the African music scene toward "Greatest Hits" compilations rerecorded "Megamix" style in 15-20 minute continuous medleys. This tendency was kick-started around 1990 with the release of the Soukous Stars' smash CD, entitled, appropriately enough, Megamix Vol. 1 (Syllart 38779-2, below left). Not only is the Soukous Stars' success pegged on mixes like this, another group, Soukous Vibration, has arisen that specializes exclusively in this sort of thing, and there have been mix albums released from all over Africa: Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria, even Chad.

I'm a bit distressed at this fad (which, truth be told, has already faded considerably). One would like to see African musicians stretching themselves and developing new syntheses, not just rehashing the old glories. Still, in a way it's a good thing, because it brings the classic sounds to new generations.

Before Megamix Vol. 1, there was another great megamix-style album, probably the first of the genre. I'm talking about Syran Mbenza's Africa: The Golden Years (AMG 007), released sometime in the late '80s by the DC-based label African Music Gallery
. Although it's arguably the best of all of the megamixes and probably directly inspired the trend, it's faded completely from sight.

Mbenza, a native of the Congo, is well-known to African music fans, having been a stalwart of the Kinshasa-, West African- and Paris-based African music scenes since 1968. He's been involved with numerous groups including Sam Mangwana's African All-Stars, Le Quatre Etoiles and the supergroup Kekele.
Africa: The Golden Years is notable for its synthesis of classic Congolese rumba with West African highlife. I'm sure it had been done before, but probably not to such great effect.

Here's the album. For more information on the songs and the musicians, click on the picture at the bottom of this post:

Syran Mbenza - Adjoa-Sawale-Mbanda Kazaka

Syran Mbenza - Mabele Ya Paulo-Bottom Belly-Super Combo


Anonymous said...

Well you sure got me going with this post Jon. Immediately reached for Zaiko Langa Langa's Nippon Banzi from 1986 but realised straight away that I didn't know whether the songs on it were their greatest hits being megamixed or just new songs at the time. Also it's presented as live though a listen to the opening applause shows the applause to be a recording on a 2 second loop. I then picked up on the B side of Quatre Etoiles (FS401) from about the same time. Again I have my doubts about it being live but I guess the fake live album was the precurcer to the megamix album.

Thanks for all your interesting posts John


WrldServ said...

Franco had a megamix lp in 1987 (POP 034). Although for us, with no knowledge of Lingala, it may seem like a 'rehashing the old glories', I am told that the mix does add to the Mario and Mamou sagas.
So maybe Franco was the inventor of this -indeed rather sad- phenomenon.

Syran Mbenza has shown himself (and especially in the last decade) to be Great Guitarist in the style of Le Grand Maître.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I should have been more precise. By "Megamix" I meant mainly the practice of musicians covering other artists' tunes in medley fashion. For instance, Megamix Vol. 1 by the Soukous Stars features "Nairobi Night," a medley of great East African hits like "Dada Asha," "Rosa," etc., and "Lagos Night," with "Sweet Mother," "Aki Special" and so forth.

Of course, Megamix Vol. 1 was a huge hit; partygoers and clubbers just can't get enough of this sort of thing, and I don't begrudge the musicians for doing it. I like these records myself (especially Africa: The Golden Years). I just wonder if twenty years from now African musicians will be recycling the music that's coming out now.

The Minister of Information said...

Don't forget the mega-medleys on Kekele's Congo Life and Rumba Congo albums, revisiting Franco and Grand Kalle respectively, in an acoustic style.

Anonymous said...

Hi CC: Wasn't it Elizabeth Sobo who wrote the liner notes for this LP? I remember she used to write for The Beat and she was a one-person publicity agency for Ibrahim Bah and the African Music Gallery. God, she was obnoxious!

The Minister of Information said...

Yeah, I'm afraid so... To her credit, she did share a lot of music with me via cassette (in those ancient days before downloads and file-sharing!) and helped me learn what was what.