I mentioned to someone recently that with two teenagers headed off to college soon I just can't afford to plop down $17-20 for a CD anymore. Therefore, by necessity, this weblog is devoted mainly to older sounds. That means that I haven't heard African Scream Contest, Nigeria Special, or any of the great new reissues that everybody else in the African music blogosphere has been raving about.
In my younger, more carefree days it was a different story. Back in the mid-1980s, when I first discovered Sterns in London, I made several big orders, totaling well over two thousand dollars. A favorable exchange rate didn't hurt either. At one point the Pound Sterling went for $1.03! Even taking postage and import duties into account the cost of a European-pressed LP was roughly equal to what I would pay for an American one. Not, of course, that anything I could get in a U.S. record store could equal anything Sterns had on offer!
I generally didn't order specific recordings from the Sterns people (availability of particular titles was iffy anyway). Rather I would request x number of records, with the instructions that they were to select whatever was the latest and best from each particular country. It sure was a kick to go down to the post office, pay the import duty and then rush home to hear what they'd picked out for me!
In this way I was exposed to an awful lot of excellent sounds that I might not have considered otherwise. I certainly wouldn't have heard any of the music that was coming out of Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) those days. As I noted in a previous post, that country has been host to numerous musical styles over the years. The latest is Coupé Decalé, which hit the scene around 2002.
For many years the music of Côte d'Ivoire was overshadowed by the sounds coming out of its neighbors Ghana, Nigeria and especially Congo. Imported R&B from the US was also hugely popular, as it was everywhere in Africa. Local musicians like Amadee Pierre and Anoman Brough Felix made excellent music, but their popularity was confined mainly to their home country.
François Lougah (above) was one of the first Ivoirien musicians to have an international impact. He was born in 1942 in Lakota in the southern central region of Côte d'Ivoire, and had varied careers as a mason, football player and actor before hitting the music scene. His first hit was "Pekoussa" in 1973. Countless chart successes, a brief marriage to Tshala Muana and numerous tours throughout Africa and the world followed until his untimely death in 1997. Here's a hard-hitting track from Lougah's 1976 LP Au Zaïre (Sonafric SAF 50036):
François Lougah - Saka Popia
By the mid '80s, when I got hip to their music, Ivoiriens were in the throes of Ziglibithy fever following the death of the founder and foremost practitioner of the style, Ernesto Djédjé (left). Djédjé was born in 1947 in Tahiraguhé-Ziglo of a Senegalese father and a mother of the Beté ethnic group. He conceived of Ziglibithy as the first truly "Ivoirien" popular music style, a response to the imported sounds washing over Côte d'Ivoire in the 1970s. The unique "jerky" rhythms of Ziglibithy are derived from Beté folklore and the LP Zibote (Badmos BLP 5020), the first recording to showcase the style, caused a sensation when it was released in 1977. Four more successful LPs followed, but on June 9th, 1983, while preparing for his next album, Djédjé died suddenly of an untreated ulcer.
Here is the title track from Ernesto Djédjé's second album Ziglibithiens (Badmos BLP 5021, 1977). It is included on the CD Le Roi du Ziglibithy (Popular African Music PAM ADC 305, 2001), which is available from Sterns:
Ernesto Djédjé - Ziglibithiens
And here is a video of Djédjé doing "Konan Bedié":
Ernesto Djédjé's death was deeply felt all across the Ivoirien music scene, as witness this tribute from the liner notes of the album Ziglibithy-La Continuité (Shakara Music SHA 041, 1983) by Blissi Tebil (right):
Whew! Let's hear Mr. Tebil himself, in a track from that LP:
Is it necessary to repeat pain and fear? Is it necessary to relive the condemned cyclones and dirty dreams of June? He is dead, the king of Ziglibithy, and we cried all the tears of the heart and the body. That which is important was disarming for his pious and passionate disciples, and is less about crying for help or continuing to languish and always standing up tall, face turned toward the fire of the sun is the loud banner for the master whose shining image operates in them. It is about immortalizing the art of a king.
This record attests to the hope that we bring Blissi Tebil, one of the sons of Ernesto Djedje, the only one and certainly among the most filled with promise: let's hold him in our hand in order to illuminate his way that will be long, long, long. . . in order to revive in us, eternally the voice of a dead god.
Blissi Tebil - Hommage à E. Djedje
Nor was Blissi Tebil the only aspirant to the Ziglibithy throne. Lago Luckson Padaud (left), who was also born in Tahiraguhé-Ziglo, has broadened and developed the style through the years. Here he is in a tune from his '83 album Agnon-Nouke (Shakara Music SHA 0036):
Luckson Padaud - N'Gnoa Libie
Jean-Baptiste Zibodi's take on Ziglibithy is not only inventive, as illustrated by this selection from his 1983 LP Wazie Meo (Zib Production ZIB 001), but he is a prolific music executive whose JBZ Studio in Abidjan is a leading production facility in West Africa:
J.B. Zibodi - Gnia Maka
The 1980s saw the emergence onto the world stage of numerous other Ivoirien musicians who were not necessarily part of the Ziglibithy trend but forged their own styles utilizing local inspirations. Okoi Seka Athanase (left), a member of the Atché ethnic group from Affery in the southwestern part of Côte d'Ivoire, was one of them. Here is a tune from his LP Special Album '85 (OSA 2085):
Okoi Seka Athanase - Tcho Bakou
Jane Agnimel (right) hails from Dabou, west of Abidjan, and was a child star known for her songs "Joli Papillon," "La Femme," and "Le Richman et le Racoleuse" when she joined the Orchestra of Radiodiffusin Télévision Ivoirienne. Here she was discovered by Manu Dibango and joined him in performances across Africa. In 1980 she wrote the song "Oyomiya" for the Camerounian singer Bebe Manga. This song is taken from her 1984 LP Zoum/La Fête au Village (Safari Sound SAS 055):
Jane Agnimel - Zoum
Tina Dakoury was a notable musician about whom I've been unable to find any information, although I understand she died several years ago. Her 1984 album Inokeka-Nokeka (Eska Production SK 84001), from which "Fe, Fe, Fe" is taken, is outstanding for several things, including the sparkling guitar work of Souzzy Kasseya:
Tina Dakoury - Fe, Fe, Fe
Let's conclude this overview with another tune by Francois Lougah. In 1994 he released The Best 20 Titres (Gnangui Diffusion 010LSG94), a retrospective cassette featuring rerecorded medleys of his hits, including "Saka Popia," which we heard earlier. The best track, though is this one:
François Lougah - Dehyminiké
Many thanks to my daughter Aku for translations that I used in this post. Further information was derived from the liner notes of Le Roi du Ziglibithy, Ronnie Graham's Sterns Guide to African Music and West Africa magazine. I've been inspired by my research for this post and will probably post more music from Côte d'Ivoire in the future.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Listening to Oliver de Coque for the first time in 1984, I was made aware that there was a whole lot more to Nigerian music than King Sunny Adé and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
De Coque, born Oliver Sunday Akanite, passed away of a heart attack on Friday, June 20, joining in death his colleagues Sonny Okosuns (who died only in May), Stephen Osita Osadebe, Nelly Uchendu and Warrior. With his passing, Nigerian highlife music, on life support for the last twenty years, has sustained a mortal blow. It's doubtful that anybody, or anything, can take his place.
De Coque hails from Ezinifite, Nnewi South LGA, Anambra State, and got his musical start in 1965 at the age of 17 playing ekpili, a form of Igbo traditional music. In 1970, following the defeat of the Biafran war of independence, he got a job playing with a Lagos group, Sunny Agaga & his Lucky Star Band. Shortly after he engaged with Jacob Oluwole & his Friendly Unity Band, and was featured on their hit "Agbasisi." De Coque's stint with this group was also short-lived, and in 1973 he took up with Sule Agboola & his Moonlight Star Band.
De Coque emerged as a solo artist in 1976, when his LP Messiah Messiah (Olumo ORPS 48) was released. A series of classic recordings followed, notably Identity (Olumo ORPS 108) in 1980, and a series of records in honor of the People's Club of Nigeria. His great inspiration was to combine highlife, Congolese-style guitar work and the propulsive energy of traditional Igbo music. His called his style, or "system" Ogene, after the Igbo double bell.
On my first day in Nigeria with my family in December 1994, who should I see but my hero Oliver de Coque striding through the mayhem of the domestic air terminal in Lagos. He gestured to his entourage to join him and they marched out onto the tarmac to board their plane. No standing on line for the Ogene King!
Then, in Priscilla's home town of Awo-Omamma, De Coque showed up again. The occasion was a house-warming party for one of the local notables, Chief Amukamara, who wished to proclaim his accomplishments to the world and hired De Coque to do it! Oliver took the stage and sang of the good Chief's achievements in life, even though he was still a young man. I made a video of the event, which I will post on YouTube some day (when I find it), but Priscilla did take this photograph of Oliver and me:
As the years wore on De Coque's music lost much of its edge. The once-lively rhythms became flaccid and formulaic. It did not go unnoticed that De Coque seemed amenable to singing the praises of anybody with money or power, exemplified above all by his obsequious 1996 cassette Democracy (Ogene ORMC 15), a tribute to Sani Abacha, the stupidest and most venal of Nigeria's military rulers!
Still, still. . . the last time I saw De Coque was proof positive, in my mind at least, that the guy still possessed the old magic. The occasion was a Nigerian Independence Day concert in Chicago. It was 2000, and it was one of the last shows at the old, fabled Equator Club, in fact it may have been the last show. There was an air of impending doom. The toilet in the men's room was stopped up and the floor was covered with raw sewage. The first thing De Coque did on taking the stage was denounce management for the cheap sound system they had provided. I had a feeling the owner was a couple of steps ahead of the creditors - he was nowhere to be found.
For all that, it was one of the most electric concerts I've ever been to. From the moment De Coque touched his guitar he had the crowd in the palm of his hand with stirring renditions of his hits: "Nwa Bu Ife Ukwu," "Identity," "People's Club of Nigeria" and many more. Igbos dressed to the nines jumped up on stage to spray the musicians with money. A young lady in a short, short dress and no underwear was dancing her head off, every now and then bending over to give everybody a show. It was a wild and crazy scene.
Afterwards Priscilla and I chewed the fat for a while with Oliver and his brother Eugene. He remembered us from that appearance in Awo-Omamma and I had him autograph the picture we had taken there. I gave him a printout of the Oliver De Coque discography I had posted on the Internet and he was very excited that someone in America had actually taken notice of his work. I remember thinking that here was one of Africa's greatest guitarists, and who knew it? Where was the justice?
In the end De Coque's legacy was tarnished by his embrace of some of the more negative aspects of contemporary Nigerian society: showboating, toadying to those in power, and worshiping money above all. Tarnished, but not erased. Nothing can eliminate the power of his guitar and his words.
Oliver De Coque Kwenu!Trying to come up with a "representative" selection of music by a musician like De Coque is difficult. I favor his early work, and although his praise songs like "People's Club of Nigeria" are popular, they just don't do it for me. So here are my own personal favorites. Let's start off with a cut from his 1979 LP I Salute Africa (Olumo ORPS 100). "All Fingers Are Not Equal" is a common Nigerian proverb. It expresses the sentiment that all human beings are not created equal. In the song De Coque states that some have more and some have less. If you don't have anything in this world, don't begrudge those who are rich, and if you are rich don't look down on those who are poor. It isn't God's intention for anyone to suffer:
Oliver de Coque & his Expo '76 - All Fingers Are Not Equal
"Identity," from the album of the same name (Olumo ORPS 108, 1980) is De Coque's best-known song, and shares some musical affinities with Prince Nico Mbarga's massive hit "Sweet Mother," so much so that many people think that the two songs are by the same artist! Oliver sings that he prays to God every morning and evening, that he always does his best and trusts in God. His father told him to sing his music with honesty and his mother advised him to respect his elders, furthermore he says that he always "cuts his coat according to his size" (this West African expression means that he lives within his means). He sings that sometimes he wears a suit & tie like a "boyoyo" (a man about town), sometimes he wears traditional clothing like "Chief Obi" (a village elder). He sings that he has a beard, that's his nature, and that music is his talent - that's his identity:
Oliver de Coque & his Expo '76 - Identity
Here's another tune from the same album. "Nwa Bu Ife Ukwu" means "A Child is the Greatest Gift." When a child is good, everybody says "That is my child!," but when a child misbehaves, everyone asks, "Whose child is that?" Do your best to raise your child; it will be a blessing in the end. In others words, "You reap what you sow":
Oliver de Coque & his Expo '76 - Nwa Bu Ife Ukwu
"Atutu Gepu Mpi Ekwe Gesiya Ike/Chukwu Ekwena Kifififele Meayi" from 1984's Atutu Gepu Mpi Ekwe Gesiya Ike (Ogene OGRLPS 04) has always been one of my favorite Oliver de Coque tracks for its deft use of traditional Igbo percussion. The title of the first part of the song means "A Ram Must Have a Strong Neck to Support his Horns." This typically Igbo aphorism means in essence "With great power comes great responsibility." De Coque sings, "Are we going to run away from a fight?" The title of the second part of the song means "God, Please do Not Let Us be Ashamed." De Coque calls on all who have come into this world to pray to their god:
Oliver de Coque & his Expo '76 - Atutu Gepu Mpi Ekwe Gesiya Ike/Chukwu Ekwena Kifififele Meayi
I've always loved this final selection, from 1985's Nne Bu Oyoyo (Ogene OGRLPS 06). For one thing, De Coque shows off some nice Franco-style guitar work. He also, atypically, utilizes a horn section. In "Nne Bu Oyoyo" ("Unbeatable Mother") De Coque beseeches all to never ignore their mother, for the suffering that a mother undergoes for her child is indescribable. Every time a child is hurt he or she calls for mother. When a child climbs a tree a mother holds her heart. When burning coals fall on a child and its mother she will brush it off her child before herself. Even when a child does wrong, even goes to prison, a mother will defend him or her. In the second section, "Ezigbo Nna" ("Great Father") De Coque praises the fathers of the world. A father is a child's pride, who shines like a mirror. A father leaves early in the morning to work to support his family. When a child starts school the father will pay tuition, and if he doesn't have the money he will swallow his pride and borrow it:
Oliver de Coque & his Expo '76 - Nne Bu Oyoyo/Ezigbo Nna
Once again many thanks to Priscilla for her interpretations of these lyrics.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
As I promised, here is the second installment of ground-breaking classic jùjú by the great Ebenezer Obey, his LP On The Town (Decca WAPS 30, reissued as Obey WAPS 30), recorded in London in 1970. Here we find the Chief Commander and his International Brothers stretching out with a non-stop medley on Side 1. Side 2 features two extended cuts. I especially enjoyed the highlife "Ajoyio/Ore Mi Maje Aja." For more information on the songs click on the picture below.
Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Lagos State/Ekiti/Ife/A Omo Enia Luware O/Davies/Adebayo
Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Adupe Baba/Akunle/Tonny Anny
Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ajoyio/Ore Mi Maje Aja
Saturday, June 21, 2008
From The Sunday Tribune (Lagos):
Highlife musician, Oliver De Coque is dead. Sunday Oliver Akanite, who hailed from Anambra State, died on Friday after an apparent heart attack.This is a great tragedy and loss for Nigerian music. I will shortly post my personal memories of De Coque and more news as it becomes available.
His daughter, Uju, said her late father was rushed to July Hospital in Gbagada, Lagos, after complaining of irregular heart beat on Friday.
He suddenly started complaining that his heart was beating faster than normal, and that he had problems breathing, she said, sobbing.
When the family eventually rushed him to the hospital, Oliver was said to have vomitted ten times in ten minutes before he finally died.
Tony Okoroji, who expressed shock at the death of another friend of his, said Oliver was all fun on board Soul Flight to Imo for the NMA last month and that he couldn’t believe the guitarist is dead.
Also, King Sunny Ade expressed sadness over the death of Oliver, saying he was one of the best Nigerian guitarists he’d ever known. Same for K1 and Saka Orobo, FUMAN president. Both described Oliver’s death as the final blow to highlife music.
Those of a certain age, like me, will remember when the Beatles first hit the international scene in late 1963. Within a few months Beatlemania swept around the world like a tsunami.
We Beatlemaniacs (the male ones, anyway) soon divided ourselves into two factions: "Paul Men" and "John Men." Of course, all the girls were crazy about Paul McCartney, the "Cute Beatle," and "Paul Men" loved his bitchen' bass guitar that looked like a violin. "The Smart Beatle," John Lennon, didn't get as much attention at first. But while McCartney always had a way with the catchy melody, it was Lennon who contributed the most meaningful and insightful lyrics to the Beatles canon. He had a nuanced and cynical view of human nature that struck a chord with the youthful and rebellious. That's why, even though Lennon and McCartney complimented each other perfectly, and none of the work they did on their own ever equaled what they did together, I've always been a "John Man."
I suspect that jùjú music fans similarly divide themselves into factions following King Sunny Adé and Ebenezer Obey (just for sake of argument, we will leave out of the equation I.K. Dairo, Prince Adekunle and the like, much less the silly Shina Peters!).
King Sunny Adé was the one who brought jùjú music out of Nigeria in 1982, when his LP Juju Music was released on Island Records, but of course he didn't create the style. Nor did Ebenezer Obey, but he'd been playing jùjú since the mid-1950s, and founded his International Brothers Band (later re-named the Inter-Reformers) in 1964. Following Sunny's initial success, there was a desultory attempt to market Obey to an international audience, and a bizarre record, Je Ka Jo (Virgin 205761) was released in 1983. A big glob of over-produced mush, Je Ka Jo had nothing to do with jùjú music as it was generally understood, and disappeared without a trace.
If Virgin Records had licensed some of Obey's great Nigerian releases like Current Affairs (Decca WAPS 488), Sound of the Moment (Decca WAPS 498) or Eyi Yato (Decca WAPS 508), they might have gotten somewhere. Those records, all released in 1980, with their soul-stirring Yoruba harmonies, mind-bending guitar work and echoes of American rhythm and blues, display the great Obey at the peak of his powers. In comparison Sunny Adé, as good as he is, is just outclassed.
That's why I'm an "Ebenezer man."
Nigerian fans have their own favorite recordings. Board Members (Decca WAPS 38, 1972) is probably the most popular of Obey's early releases, while many swear by The Horse, The Man and His Son (Decca WAPS 98, 1973). I myself have always been partial to two albums he recorded in London in 1969 and 1970, In London (Decca WAPS 28, later reissued as Obey WAPS 28), and On the Town (Decca WAPS 30, reisued as Obey 30). In the coming years Obey would adopt some of the innovations of the other jùjú musicians - pedal steel guitar and long, extended jams - but these albums are interesting for their blend of jùjú and highlife elements.
Here's In London. Click on the picture below to read about the songs. When I digitize it, I will post On the Town here as well.
Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Egba
Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ijesha
Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ibadan
Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Iba Foluwa/Ajo Kodabi Ile
Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ijebu
Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ondo/Ogbomosho
Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ori Mi Ko Ni Buru
Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Ore Se Rere
Ebenezer Obey & his International Brothers - Omoba Sijuade/Moti Wa E
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
My ol' buddy Ken Chitika loaned me this 45 many years ago. The Katenga Humming Bees, led by guitarist T.C. Katenga, were a popular band in Malawi during the 1970s. Other than that, I can't tell you anything about them. I love the rough and ready quality of these two tracks, issued on the Zakwathu label (MX 104) circa 1973:
Katenga Humming Bees - Musadabwe Jane
Katenga Humming Bees - Pasilya Po
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
A couple of years back people were raving about "Les Jaloux Saboteurs," the tune that opened the compilation Golden Afrique Vol. 1 (Network Medien 27677).
It wasn't only that "Les Jaloux Saboteurs," which was recorded sometime in the mid-1980s, was a great song. What folks found fascinating was the fact that the musician, Maitre Gazonga, was from a country previously unheralded for its music: Chad, in central Africa.
It turns out that Chad has a small but vibrant music industry, and many of its artists are showcased on the website Ialtchad.com. As you might expect from a country located in the geographical center of Africa, the musical influences run the gamut: from soukous and hip-hop to highlife, mbalax and even Ethiopian funk. Maitre Gazonga's LP Les Jaloux Saboteurs (Tangent/Celluloid TAN LP 7003) was recorded in Abidjan, apparently utilizing musicians from several African countries.
Ialtchad indicates that Maitre Gazonga is Chad's best-known musician, whose popularity crosses tribal and regional boundaries. All of Les Jaloux Saboteurs, not just the title track, is great. Let's give it a listen!
Maitre Gazonga - Les Jaloux Saboteurs
Maitre Gazonga - Koysse
Maitre Gazonga - Fatoumata Kante
Maitre Gazonga - Kelina
Update: Many thanks to Ronald of Vibes d'Afrique, who posts this in the comments:
Great to post all the songs of this hard to get lp. "Koyesse" has always been my favourite song.
Here's a story from 2005 and a news item I posted on my own forum sometime ago:
Maitre Gazonga and his band Chalal have found a way to tour their country and still getting paid. Gazonga knows that people in rural communities are often poor, do not have money but still want to have a good time. So when the band tour around Chad for about 3 to 4 months and give concerts in outlying villages people can get in by paying with what they have: sorgho, rice, dried fish, chickens, beans, nuts etc. His concerts turn out to be a great succes.
While the band goes from village to village 2 trucks drive back and forth to the capital N'Djaména. Most of the products are sold at the market, the money in turn is for the musicians, another part of the food is handed over directly to the families of the musicians to keep them going. From the profit they make they can rehearse for the rest of the year and compose new music.
And unfortunatly this:
Chadien singer and bandleader Hamed Gazonga died on the first of April 2006, apparently of heart failure.
Born on the 27the of May 1948 as Ahamat Salet Rougalta, Hamed studied in Fort Lamy, now Djamena, and later worked as a bookkeeper. When he was 21 he decided to become a musician and together with several others he created orchestre Saltanat Africa but before long he left them and formed his own band l'International Chalal. Hamed drew his inspiration from the folk music of all the regions in Chad.
Maitre Gazonga produced one of my all time favourite albums, Les Jaloux Saboteurs, it was recorded in the JBZ studio in Abidjan around 1984 and it is a feast from beginning to end. All the songs feature great guitar playing and nice horn work to. During the song "Koysse," Hamed says at the beginning of the sebene “Les amis, c’est pas le temps de dormir, allez tout le monde debout” and off the band goes again playing a very wild sebene.
His latest album was released last year and unfortunately not released anywhere in the West. Hamed leaves a wife and 6 children.
Monday, June 16, 2008
It's hard to believe that the great Franco, l'Okanga la Ndju Pene Luambo Makiadi, has been gone almost 20 years now (he passed on October 12, 1989). In his day he strode the scene like an elephant, or more like a Brontosaurus, really - pretty much defining modern African music, not only in his native Congo, but throughout the continent.
It just so happens that among the many hours of African 45s on tape reels that I recently digitized are thirteen tracks that le Grand Maitre recorded with his band le Tout Puissant OK Jazz in 1972-73. This era is interesting for several reasons. In October 1971 President Mobutu Sese-Seko proclaimed his policy of Authenticité, which had a number of implications. For one thing, the name of the Democratic Republic of Congo was changed to the Republic of Zaïre (it was changed back following Mobutu's overthrow in 1997). The cultural dimensions of authenticité are described by Graeme Ewens, in his essential biography Congo Colossus: the Life and Legacy of Franco & OK Jazz (Buku Press, UK, 1994):
. . . Authenticite coloured every aspect of Zaïrean culture, and Mobutu started by renaming all those places without African names, before imposing the same indigenisation on the people themselves. . . Women were prohibited from wearing miniskirts or trousers, on pain of arrest, while the approved wear was the pagne, or cloth wrapper. Taking further inspiration from the French Revolution the people were obliged to call each other 'citoyen' and 'citoyenne.'. . . Although there were no written laws on the production of music, there were constant reminders that this too should meet the criteria of Authenticity. . . (pp. 135, 137)Mobutu, of course, was the archetype of the African kleptocratic ruler (he is said to have embezzled over $5 billion from his country), and one could argue that Authenticité was a cynical diversion meant to occupy the masses while they were being fleeced by their rulers. Perfectly reasonable, but there is a lot to be said that it had a salutary effect on the development of music in Congo/Zaïre. Musician Sam Mangwana said:
. . . I am not a politician or a fan of politics, but you can honestly say that when Mobutu spoke of the need for Authenticity it gave the musicians many ideas. Authenticity never blocked musicians from playing other music, like soul or funk if they wanted. But Zaïrean musicians are very proud of their music. They play as they feel, and they don't feel the need to change for any other people. . . (Congo Colossus, p. 140)The songs presented here, then, show Franco at a major turning point in his career, when short, catchy melodies gave way to lengthy, more complex compositions. In a few years his style would mutate even further, toward baroque, almost orchestral pieces like "Proprietaire," "Tres Impoli" and "Attention na SIDA." While some of these tunes have been reissued on CD in recent years, I'm not sure that any of them are in print now. Others have never been reissued to my knowledge. All of these are Kenyan pressings.
"Siluvangi Wapi Accordeon" and "Casier Judiciare" are Sides A and B of ASL Records ASL 3245. Accordionist Camille Ferruzzi, featured in "Siluvangi Wapi Accordeon," was a contemporary of Antoine Wendo Kolosy and was one of the first Congolese musician to be professionally recorded in the early 1950s. This song and "Casier Judiciare" present Franco and the band in a more sensitive light than many associate them with:
Camille Ferruzzi & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Siluvangi Wapi Accordeon
Luambo Lwanzo Makiadi (Franco) & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Casier Judiciare
"Mbanda Nazali Nini" and its flip side "Likambo Ya Ngana" (ASL 7-3244) also feature Camille Ferruzzi:
Camille Ferruzzi & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Mbanda Nazali Nini
Luambo Lwanza Makiadi (Franco) & L'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Likambo Ya Ngana
In the early 1980s TPOK Jazz was actually two orchestras, one based in Brussels and led by Franco and a second team helmed by Lutumba Ndomamuendo, or "Simarro," which stayed in Kinshasa. I've been unable to find any mention of "Exodus" (ASL 2271) in Congo Colossus or in Naotaka Doi's extensive Franco discography. I suspect that it has been released under another title. It's just too good a song to dwell in obscurity! Note: See update below.
Lutumba Ndomamuendo (Simarro) & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Exodus Pts. 1 & 2
Likewise, I've been unable to find any mention of "Tangela Ngai Mboka Bakabaka Mobali" (ASL 7-3274, side A) in any of the literature. Check out the extended instrumental break that kicks in around the 3:30 mark! The B side, "Envoutement," features Michel Boyibanda, a talented vocalist from Congo-Brazzaville who joined TPOK Jazz around 1963:
l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Tangela Ngai Mboka Bakabaka Mobali
Boyibanda & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Envoutement
"Lezi," written by Simarro, is from the Editions Populaires pressing EP 151:
Lutumba & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Lezi Pts. 1 & 2
Bassist Celi Bitshoumanou ("Bitshou"), who wrote "Mokolo ya Mpasi" (Fiesta 51.086B), joined OK Jazz around 1965 when the band was temporarily in exile in Brazzaville following a run-in with the newly-installed Mobutu regime. He was responsible for a number of OK Jazz hits, including the classic "Infidelité Mado." Bitshou left the band around 1974 with Mosese "Fan Fan" Sesengo and Youlou Mabiala to form the first incarnation of Orchestre Somo Somo. "Fifi Nazali Innocent" is the B side.
Bitshou & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Mokolo ya Mpasi
Simarro & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Fifi Nazali Innocent
Armando Antoine aka "Brazzos," who wrote "Sukola Motema Olinga" (Fiesta 51.125B), was a founding member of OK Jazz in the mid-1950s. "Andu wa Andura," another Michel Boyibanda composition, is the flip side:
Brazzos & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Sukola Motema Olinga
l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Andu wa Andura
About "AZDA" (Editions Populaires EP 140), Graeme Ewens writes in Congo Colossus, "As if to show just how good a commercial song could be, in 1973 Franco released what proved to be one of his biggest hits outside Zaïre, AZDA.' This was the advent of the full-blown big band sound which would be the trade mark of the latter-day OK Jazz. While many outsiders thought it must have a heavily romantic lyric it was, in fact, an advertisement for the national Volkswagon dealership, whose acronym made up the title. The refrain 'Veway, Veway, Veway, Veway' is the local pronunciation of 'VW.'"
Luambo Makiadi (Franco) & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - AZDA Pts. 1 & 2
Update: Reader Peter writes, ". . . As for 'Exodus,' I don't think it was written by Simaro & performed by OK Jazz. I think it's a Youlou Mabiala track from the late 1970s." Which could very well be true, although I transcribed the recording information on the label correctly. Consulting Tim Clifford's new Kenya-Tanzania 45s, it appears that "Exodus" was issued in the late '70s-early '80s, rather than in the early '7os as I had earlier thought.
Update 2: I should have mentioned this earlier but didn't. The background information in this post came from Congo Colossus, cited above. It's a great book! You can get it from Sterns or Amazon.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Note: This post was updated and revised on July 29, 2008 and on September 19, 2009.
I wrote this on June 15, 2008:
Here's another "mystery cassette" that I was given many years ago by a friend. All I know about it is that is supposedly by the great Ethiopian singer Alèmayèhu Eshèté and the title is Amronyali or something similar. I was told that Track 2 was "Amronyali," and I was able to identify Track 5 as "Che Belew," an old standard about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. As there was no inlay card for the cassette or even a label I can't tell you anything about the songs, when they were recorded, or even confirm that the artist is Alèmayèhu Eshèté. The sparse arrangements (synthesizer & drum machine, usually the bane of my existence) are more than compensated for by the quality of the vocals. The title track in particular is just spine-chilling!Thanks to reader/listener "Ethio Jazz" I can report that this recording is not by Alèmayèhu Eshèté, but by Wubeshet Fisseha (picture at top of post). Ethio also writes: ". . . he is on Keyboard as well. This was probably recorded in the mid to latter '8o's in Washington, DC. Sadly, Wubeshet passed away in 1997." I can confirm that this tape was made in 1985 or earlier, as it was given to me in summer of that year. I've been unable to find any information about Wubeshet Fisseha, but I will keep trying.
Alèmayèhu Eshèté has been called "Ethiopia's Elvis" or "The James Brown of Ethiopia" for his musical style and manner of dress. He's been on the scene since the mid-1950s, when he revealed a talent for imitating the singers Little Richard, Elvis Presley and Ray Charles. In 1956 he joined the Police Orchestra in Addis Abeba, and from 1961 onward has formed numerous bands and recorded uncounted songs that have become popular standards.
During the "Derg Years" Eshèté seemed to drop out of sight. I heard an unconfirmed rumor that he had become a "born-again Christian" and was living in exile in Washington, DC. However, with political changes in Ethiopia he reemerged and recorded a new CD, Addis Ababa (Shanachie Records 64045, 1992). In 1998 AIT Records released The Best of Alèmayèhu Eshèté (AIT 013), featuring re-recorded versions of his hits. Most excitingly, his original classic recordings are now becoming available again through the Ethiopiques series.
If anyone can tell us more about this recording, or what the song titles are, please comment, and I will update this post accordingly.
I have changed the track titles to reflect the new information Ethio Jazz has given us. Tracks 3 and 4 are in Orimiffa and Tigrinya respectively. The other tracks are in Amharinya. A warning about the song "Shemunmunaye": At several points (4:55, 9:36, 15:30 and 16:10) the sound drops out. The defect is on the original cassette, not in your internet connection!
Wubeshet Fisseha - Abesha Nat
Wubeshet Fisseha - Shemunmunaye
Wubeshet Fisseha - Hali Meru Meru
Wubeshet Fisseha - Kab Semay Fiqri
Wubeshet Fisseha - Che Belew
Wubeshet Fisseha - Belashew
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Back in the mid-1980s if there was one musical style that rivaled Congo music in the hearts of Africans, it was makossa out of Cameroun. Given that Cameroun is a country of numerous ethnic groups, there is a constellation of musical styles there competing for attention: tchamassi, bikutsi, ashiko and mangambe among them. The music of Cameroun's largest city, Douala, makossa's international popularity can be attributed partly to one man, Manu Dibango. His record "Soul Makossa" (a song that is not even true makossa!) was a smash hit in 1972, but makossa the genre reached its apogee in the mid-1980s thanks to the hard work of another, producer/musician Aladji Touré, whose Touré Jim's Records launched numerous careers and revived many others.
In those days more often than not it was one of Touré's slick Paris productions that graced my turntable or tape deck, but I've always loved the less-sophisticated version of makossa that was popular in the late 1970s as well. About ten years ago some anonymous individual gathered together a number of these tracks in two CDs: Makossa: The Classics (A.C.F. Productions) and The Classics II (A.C.F. Productions AFC96). I present here six tunes from them. Much of the biographical information on the artists I gleaned from the liner notes of the 3-LP compilation Fleurs Musicales du Cameroun (Afrovision FMC 001/002/003, 1983).
Pierre de Moussy's fast-paced variation of makossa was a huge hit in the '80s although like many in the scene he's faded away in recent years:
Pierre de Moussy - Djomba Djomba
Jacky Doumbe likewise is a bit of a mystery to me, although also very popular:
Jacky Doumbé - Tonton a Meya
Jean Mandengue was a star of the early makossa scene who seems to have been eclipsed by the time of the mid-'80s boom. At least, I haven't been able to find out anything else about him:
Jean Mandengue - Muna Munyenge
François Missé Ngoh was born July 17, 1949 in the village of Mbonjo and was a major architect of the makossa sound as a member of the group Los Calvinos, where he replaced Nelle Eyoum. The liner notes of Fleurs Musicales du Cameroun state, "He was one of the first musicians to adopt the makossa rhythm and worked hard to escape from the three classic chords system which made makossa monotonous in the long term. He introduced other modulations."
Missé Ngoh - La Vie C'est Terrible
Eko Roosevelt was born Louis Roosevelt Eko on November 13, 1946 in Lobé-Kribi, Ocean Division, Cameroun. Fleurs Musicales du Cameroun writes, "Eko is a great pianist, an excellent organist, an accomplished guitarist and a firts-class conductor and musical arranger. And if that were not enough, he also sings."
Eko Roosevelt - Me 2 I De Try My Own
The pre-eminent "musician's musician" of Cameroun, Toto Guillaume (b. August 25, 1955, Douala) is responsible for at least two certified classic LPs, Makossa Digital (Disques Esperance ESP 8404, 1983) and Elimbi na Ngomo (Production TN TN 591, 1985). Moreover, he is an extremely popular session musician and arranger, appearing on too many recordings to count:
Toto Guillaume - Isokoloko
Makossa seems to have declined in recent years, but still has its loyal following. For your information, there are some profiles of popular Camerounian musicians here. The painting at the top of this post is taken from the LP Africa Oumba No. 1 (Blue Silver 8260, 1987).