Ali and Tam's together with Orchestre Malo wrap up our retrospective look at three interesting Congolese LP's released in the mid '80s by the Swiss label Plainisphare. Their contribution is Malo (Plainisphare ZONE Z-5, 1986), and it's arguably the most interesting and creative of them.
Aly Sow Baidy and Tamisimbi Mpungu were professors at the Institut National des Arts du Zaïre in Kinshasa and founded Orchestre Malo "...to revalue and to disseminate this authentic musical culture in the spirit of a broad openness to current movements of music." Toward this end they combined traditional Congolese instruments with modern ones "to give birth to new sounds while respecting traditional drives." In a review of the three Plainispare releases in Volume 6, issue 4 of The Beat from 1987, Elizabeth Sobo wrote:
...From the Switzerland-based Plainisphare label comes three novelty albums, all recorded in Kinshasa, Zaire, between July 1984 and October 1985, and none of which bears much resemblance to the well-known Kinshasa sound.
Ironically, the first of these is titled Kinshasa, by Kawende et ses Copains. This production is not consistently great, but it does contain two selections that deserve praise. "Ekusulu" is gentle, guitar-dominated folk music, made special by a youthful-voiced female singer who delivers the Lingala lyrics in a manner quite unlike her classy, professional counterparts in Kinshasa, but who projects an innocence that makes her one solo appearance on this lp truly memorable. "Eh Ya Ele" is reminiscent of some recent material from the Zairean group, Somo Somo, differing from the standard Kinshasa sound both in language - it is done only partly in Lingala by a male lead singer - and in its generous use of percussions. The nine tracks on this album offer a variety of music not found on many other collections (though most have an emphasis on drumming and folk guitar in common) and a mix of languages from south-central and eastern Africa.
While the Kawende disk at least presents a glimpse of some uncommon but authentic Central African music, Ali and Tam's Orchestre Malo on their self-titled lp can make no such claim. The group is apparently named for its two principals: Aly Sow Baidy (whose name strongly suggests a West African origin) and Tamisimbi Mpungu. The languages heard on the album are no help in categorizing this effort, and the music's rhythms, instruments and vocals are an odd combination that gives no hint of a dominant regional influence. Two tracks, "Tcheko" (you can hear a few words in both Lingala and Swahili here) and "Anita," include some nice horn playing. And the vocal on "Sougmad" is definitely intriguing — in fact quite likeable —but with a sound that is more like Khartoum than Kinshasa. "Tshikona," an instrumental cut, is a low point, a senseless and unsatisfying Fela imitation. This record has little to offer except its originality and even that runs thin at times...
...If these recordings suggest a trend towards the promotion of music from places we seldom hear, it is a welcome change indeed. But they also demonstrate some of the pitfalls of "mixed" music, which often ends up representing no particular region or style...
I must say I disagree with this assessment! Ms. Sobo's writings in the The Beat were often informative but just as often infused with an intolerance toward any sort of African music that didn't fit her dogmatic conception of what "African Music" was supposed to sound like. Heaven forbid that Congolese and West African musicians might want to record together, or make music that doesn't represent any "particular region or style!" In my opinion this disc by Orchestre Malo succeeds admirably. In the years since 1986, Congolese music, at least the stuff we've heard, has become hopelessly formulaic. One wishes that the example set by this disc had been taken to heart and emulated more.
Download Malo as a zipped file here.