Saturday, October 27, 2018
Théo Blaise Kounkou is one of those African musicians who, while building substantial careers and achieving popularity throughout Africa and the diaspora, have received little notice in the broader musical community. This is a shame.
Blaise was born in Brazzaville on April 24, 1950 in the former French Congo. Here he performed with various groups, notably Les Grands As. It was in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, however, that he really made his mark as part of Sam Mangwana's groundbreaking African All-Stars. The All-Stars lasted only from 1978-79 in their original incarnation (reemerging in later years as Mangwana's backup band). They revolutionized the existing Congo music paradigm, speeding up the tempo and introducing various pop and funk influences. The group toured West Africa from Nigeria to Senegal and has had a lasting influence on the music of the region.
After the All-Stars broke up most of the members, including Mangwana, Lokassa Ya M'Bongo, Bopol Mansiamina, Syran M'Benza and Blaise, gravitated to Paris, where they formed the nucleus of the burgeoning African music scene in that country. It was here that Théo Blaise Kounkou recorded at least a dozen solo LPs. Back in the early '90s a series of three CDs, Le Plus Grands Succès Vols. 1-3, was released, compiling some of the highlights, but far from all. Not included in any of those volumes are the tracks from today's offering, Célia (Disques Sonics SONIC 79 397, 1983).
Célia is classic Blaise, showcasing not only his lovely voice but a lineup of crack session musicians, including not only Bopol Mansiamina on bass and rythm guitar but the brilliant Master Mwana Congo on lead. It's a highlight of the classic 1980s Congo sound!
Download Celia as a zipped file here.
Monday, October 22, 2018
As more evidence that the collectors' market for used African recordings has entered Dutch Tulip Mania territory, I present the following from Amazon:
Not too long ago I wrote of the ridiculous asking price for a used cassette of a classic recording by King Sunny Adé. That was absurd, but at least Sunny has been an international superstar for almost 50 years. While Obiajulu Emmanuel Osadebe came from musical royalty (his father was Nigeria's late, great highlife master Stephen Osita Osadebe), and was talented, his recording career, prior to his untimely death in 2009, had not reached a level anywhere near that of his father. I have two vinyl LPs by him from the early '90s, and the CD Ifugo America (O & I Productions OANDI 001, 1998) was recorded during a sojourn in Atlanta during the late '90s. That's the extent of his recorded outlet as far as I know. He also opened for Sunny Adé during a US tour shortly before his death.
Obialju died only a year after his father passed away. The Nation newspaper of Nigeria wrote this on the occasion of his death:
The first son of the late highlife music maestro, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, Obiajulu, is dead. According to a family source, Obiajulu, 43, died on Tuesday at Niger City Hospital, Onitsha, Anambra State, after a brief illness.
The body has been deposited at the Ozubulu Central Mortuary in Ekwusigo Council area of Anambra State. Although the cause of his death could not be ascertained as at press time, there were speculations that he died of heart failure. He had been bed-ridden for over five months at his Atani country home, Ogbaru Local Government Area, Anambra State.
Obiajulu, who came back to the country after the burial of his father on February 8, last year, stepped into his father’s shoes, remixing some of his hit songs. He also performed at some popular joints within and outside Onitsha.
Until his death, Obiajulu was married to Olayinka. They have a daughter. Besides, he is survived by an aged mother, brothers and sisters.
Ifugo America is a pretty good recording, albeit a little too dependent on synthesizer (Obiajulu's Nigerian albums used his father's backup band), but that's no doubt a matter of economics. I just don't think it's worth $1350.71. But decide for yourself!
Download Ifugo America as a zipped file here.
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Oliver "Tuku" Mutukudzi has been called "The Otis Redding of Zimbbawe," a comparison that has always irritated me. Oliver Mutukudzi isn't the Otis Redding of Zimbabwe, he's the Oliver Mutikudzi of Zimbabwe - his music stands on its own, it's unique and incomparable. Moreover, these sort of analogies, well-meaning, often made by publicists and music journalists, seem really ethnocentric, as if American or European music is the baseline against which all other music is defined.
End of rant. Born in 1952, Oliver grew up in Highfield, the historic African "ghetto" of Harare (called Salisbury under Ian Smith's racist Rhodesian regime) and learned to play a homemade instrument from a book called "It's Easy to Play the Guitar." He started singing gospel music and in 1975 joined Thomas Mapfumo in the Wagon Wheels band. By the '80s, as a solo artist, he had acheived massive fame in Zimbabwe, with many best-selling singles and albums and growing popularity across Southern Africa. By the turn of the century, several international releases and tours had made Mutukudzi, along with Mapfumo, one of the two most popular Zimbabwean musicians in the world.
Here is Nzara (Kudzanayi BL 459), a 1983 release that showcases Tuku at the peak of his powers, his soulful voice soaring above inspired arrangements and a variety of styles. Enjoy!
Download Nzara as a zipped file here. I have another album by Oliver Mutukudzi, Sugar Pie, that I'll be posting soon.
Friday, October 12, 2018
The Okukuseku International Band, led by Sammy Koffi, was a Ghanaian group that made its way to Nigeria in the '70s and built an enduring career there. In this Okukuseku was not alone: the '70s oil boom was like a giant magnet that drew musical talent from across Africa. When the Nigerian economy crashed in the '80s these musicians were all sent packing. Sammy and Okukuseku apparently also retreated to Ghana, but by 1989 they were back in Nigeria, where today's offering, Beautiful Woman (His Master's Voice/EMI Nigeria HMV (N) 061), was recorded.
Sammy Koffi himself started out with K. Gyasi's band in Ghana in the '60s, before leaving to form Okukuseku's No. 2 Guitar Band in 1969. I've been wanting to post something from Okukuseku for a while. Thing is, quite a bit of their material has been posted on various blogs already, notably Moos's Global Groove, which has an extensive selection. Beautiful Woman, to the best of my knowledge, has not been made available before. In fact, it's not even included in Discogs' extensive listing. So, double bonus!
The title song, "Beautiful Woman," seems to draw on the same sentiment as, if it's not directly inspired by, Jimmy Soul's 1963 smash "If You Want to Be Happy," but I really enjoy the extended jam that takes up Side Two of this LP. I hope you'll enjoy it also!
Okukuseku International Band of Ghana - Apatampa Bodambo / Yayi Me Mu / Oban Tokuro Nipaniwa / Aya Wo Hen / Court Bisa Me
Download Beautiful Woman as a zipped file here. Side A of this pressing was off-center, resulting in a slight "wow." My apologies, couldn't do anything about it!
Sunday, October 7, 2018
No sooner had I posted Likembe's last offering then I realized that I had another, similar pressing. Orchestres Kamale et Kiam was issued in 1981 by Rogers All Stars records in Onitsha, Nigeria on license from Editions Vévé in Kinshasa, reference number VOZ 1003. I now present Voice of Zaïre Vol. 1, VOZ 1001 in the same series. I presume there is a VOZ 1002 and even other volumes, but I've been unable to find out about any. Although they were issued in the '80s in Nigeria, the songs on these collections were all recorded in the '70s.
It all goes to demonstrate the great popularity of the Congo sound in Eastern Nigeria during the '70s and '80s, and especially the productions of Kiamwuangana Mateta "Verckys."
Perusing Alastair Johnston's excellent overview, "Verckys and Vévé: A Critical Discography," I see that the songs in this collection haven't had a lot of distribution outside of Africa. Several were featured in the Sonodisc/African "360" series issued in France, now long out of print. A couple were included on CD reissues and may still be available in that format. Nonetheless, listening to these tracks should evoke a sense of déjà vu. They've been remade numerous times and included on medleys by such artists as the Soukous Stars and Soukous Vibration. Moreover, they acheived such widespread distribution back in the day that they're part of the DNA of African music from Kenya to Senegal. A comment on YouTube about Orchestre Kiam's "Masumu" is representative: "...I was a little boy at that time when my late Daddy and his Seamen friends used to rock those songs on a 45 rpm turntable. Guinness was 30c, Heineken 25c in Sierra Leone. Music is sure History...."
All of these bands have been featured on previous Likembe posts, which you can access here. Another version of Orchestre Vévé's "Lukani" was included on this post.
Download Voice of Zaïre Vol.1 as a zipped file here.
Monday, October 1, 2018
Today's post covers some old ground - classic orchestras from the stable of wunderkind Kiamwuangana Mateta, aka "Verckys," the musician and producer who blew up the Congo music scene back in the 1970s. A lot of this music has been posted in other venues, in fact a couple songs were featured here previously at Likembe. Still, I thought it would be useful to post Orchestres Kamale et Kiam (Vévé-Rogers All Stars VOZ 1003, 1982), as it gives an insight into the sort of Congolese sounds that Nigerians were listening to in the '70s and '80s. This LP was licensed from Verckys' label Vévé and pressed in Nigeria by Onitsha-based Rogers All Stars.
Side One of the LP features Orchestre Kiam, Side Two Orchestre Kamale. As was often the case at the time, at least for Nigerian releases of Congo music, most of these tracks are not complete, featuring only one side of the 45 versions. If you're interested, I've provided a link at the end of this post so you can download the complete versions.
My friend Matt Lavoie, formerly of the Voice of America, currently proprietor of the essential Wallahi le Zein! blog and Orchestre Kiam fanatic, has done the monumental work of compiling an oral history of the band. Do yourself a favor by going to his site, downloading and reading it and also downloading an almost-complete collection of their recordings. In Matt's telling, the musicians who became Kiam were "poached" by Verckys in 1973 from Papa Noel's Orchestre Bamboula when he brought them into the studio for a recording session! He christened the group after his own first name, and under his supervision they recorded a series of hits that made them a sensation in Kinshasa and throughout Africa.
Success, and Verckys's stifling sponsorship, brought dissension, and in 1975 a group of band members decamped to form Orchestre Baya-Baya, named after one of the group's early hits. With a new lineup, and with most of the defectors returning to the band after a while, Kiam acheived even greater heights, releasing in 1976 "Kamiki," their biggest hit ever, and a pan-African smash. By 1983 Orchestre Kiam had been dissolved, but alumni have played important roles in the Congo music scene to this day.
Orchestre Les Kamale is perhaps better known internationally thanks to the success of its leader Nyboma Mwan'dido. Nyboma was a singer with the Vévé group Orchestre Lipua-Lipua in 1975 when he split off to form Orchestre Les Kamale. This group divided in turn in 1978, a number of musicians leaving to form Orchestre Fuka Fuka and Nyboma reorganizing the remnant. Nyboma then broke with Verckys and set off on a journey across Africa and eventually to Paris, in the meantime recording the classic LP Double Double, which received international distribution. He's well-known both as a solo artist and as a member of Les Quatre Etoiles, the Congolese super-group.
Likembe has had several posts featuring the classic "Verckys Sound" of the '70s and '80s:
The School of Verckys
The School of Verckys
Download Orchestres Kamale et Kiam as a zipped file here. Click here to download complete versions of "Baya Baya," "Moni Afinda," "Ayi-Djo" and "Masua."