MUSIC OF CONGO part 4

KENYA-CONGO CONNECTION
From the Archives of Audio Productions, Nairobi, Kenya (No Wahala Sounds NWS3)

Hot on the heels of the Urgent Jumping set from Stern's and Soundway's Kenya Special Volume 2 we have a third reissue compilation of classic East African oldies to celebrate. I coined the term "Congo in Kenya" a decade ago to describe the expatriate bands from Zaire who played in Kenya and Tanzania in the 70s and 80s when I launched muzikifan, and this site is certainly the only place online where you will find so much information about the genre. No Wahala (their name is Hausa for "no difficulty," I suppose Disney has copyrighted "Hakuna matata") have accessed a great lost 1983 LP from the Hit Parade label, Muziki Mix, via Doug Paterson, the acknowledged expert in the field. That album contains four tracks: "Solongo" by Bana Sambo, "Mkamba's day" by Kilimambogo Brothers, "Massa" by orchestre Shika Shika and "Bolingo ya lokuto" also by Bana Sambo. This new album contains part one of "Solongo" and "Mkamba" and both parts of "Massa." This is one of the limitations of vinyl, since the producers decided to include a few other tracks they also opted for A-sides only. A reproduction of the original album would have been welcome. But I am glad to see my favorite genre of African music get so much attention lately. The producers have managed to cram some other tracks on here also: "Mado Zaina pt 1" by Bana Likasi which you probably have on the Nairobi Beat album -- one of the first great (wonderfully sequenced) Kenyan comps which Doug Paterson put together for Rounder Records in 1989 while he was still working in Kenya. The Kalambya Sisters were also on that Rounder comp and are present here with "Wavinya." Two other A sides make the cut, both by Issa Juma and Super Wanyika who were based in Tanzania. Wanyika give us "Nifanye nini" which might be a remake of a Cuban Marimba Jazz number, and "Wafanyi kazi." These are both rarities which fans will want to hear. But fans want the full track, both parts: as one Colombian fan said, "part two is the climax of the song." So maybe No Wahala can be persuaded to offer the full versions as download or in a CD format, or if they keep making vinyl albums, consider a double album, since 40 minutes seems quite constrained when you have a lot of music to get to.

KONONO NO 1 MEETS BATIDA
CONGOTRONICS 6 (Crammed Disc CRAM261P)

After the disastrous Mbongwana Star album I approached this new release from Konono Numero Un with trepidation, after all it has that subtitle "Meets Batida," and who is this Batida whose name means to beat, rap, knock or slam? -- A deejay and producer on the Lisbon scene, so I feared another clash of cultures and a clutter of drum programs and samples over some pure likembe riffs. But I am relieved and happy to report the result is a delight. Batida is the stage name of an Angolan, Pedro Coquenão, who adds tasteful touches of electronica and brings in a couple of his Lisboan pals to toast and sing, but is fully connected to the Angolan-Congolese bridge evident in the Bazombo music they share. Angola borders the Namibian deserts and swamps to the South, Congo to the East and Brazil to the West. The borders of course were erected in Colonial times regardless of the peoples who might be divided by them. The Bakongo lived on both sides but during the Angolan war of independence and subsequent civil war many fled to Congo and then after peace many fled back when the Congo started falling apart. Then of course there's a tradition of migrant workers so we have famous Congolese musicians like Sam Mangwana and Ricardo Lemvo who are of Angolan extraction. But Konono have upset conventional notions of what Congolese music sounds like: critics can't decide whether to compare them to German bands like Can, Einstürzende Neubauten or Kraftwerk, to acid house or to Lee Perry. Whatever it is they have, they have it aplenty, even if critics may call it "sophisticated brutality." They have also recorded with Björk ("Earth Intruders"), Juana Molina and Herbie Hancock. Vincent Kenis the guiding force behind the essential Congotronics series is a Belgian musician who heard them on the famous double cassette put out by OCORA in 1986, Musiques urbains à Kinshasa (It was too long for an LP so appeared on two cassettes; even when OCORA put it on CD they had to edit it, unfortunately). When he arrived in Kinshasa in 1989, Kenis was invited to play keyboards in Koffi Olomide's Quartier Latin, which was the most in-demand band of the day. He has also performed on Papa Wemba and even Franco & OK Jazz albums. Kenis spent his spare time trying to track down the electrified folk music, or musique tradi-moderne that he loved. It took him two years but he found them, and then presented Staff Benda Bilili, Kasai All Stars and the Karindula Sessions to our music collections, much to our collective delight. After a European tour, Batida invited the band to his garage-turned-studio in Lisbon. He started playing dikanza, a big Angolan guiro, and after half an hour of repetition keeled over on the floor, as the band cracked up. After a few rehearsals they did a couple of live shows then returned to the garage studio to record this loose and lively session. It is not over-produced, but captures the direct trancelike mood of great likembe music.

SIAMA
RIVERS -- FROM THE CONGO TO THE MISSISSIPPI (siama music)

Everyone can spell Mississippi but not everyone can spell Siama Matuzungidi's last name, so he is proud bearer of a single name -- like Adele, Bono or Cher! In the history of Congolese guitar there is a distinguished line of mi-solo players: this is a style of guitar that alternates between lead and rhythm and can be the engine room of a good song. The inventor was unquestionably Mwamba Déchaud whose younger brother Docteur Nico became one of the greatest exponents of African guitar. Then there was Vata Mombasa who led Orchestre Lipua Lipua. Just as Vata Mombasa was known as "the Professor," his colleagues dubbed Siama "Mualimu" which means "the teacher," because of his intelligence on the guitar. Among the legendary Congolese bands he was part of, Siama started out in the Cavacha band of Dona Mobeti (the cavacha was a wildly popular dance in the 70s). After that band split, one faction was led by Mopero wa Maloba who created Shama Shama, but groups often fell apart on tour and Siama was asked by his friend Koko Zigo Mike to come to Kampala, Uganda, where they formed Kombe Kombe. That band got a contract at the Garden Square in Nairobi where they regrouped as Viva Makale. Further splits led to Bwambe Bwambe, Pepelepe, Shika Shika of Jimmy Monimambo, then to Moja One of Moreno, and to Lovy Longomba's brilliant work before Super Mazembe, and then to Virunga, led by Samba Mapangala. After seeing Virunga at the Starlight Club in Nairobi in 1983 I became obsessed with this sound of the expatriate Congolese bands in Kenya, and started to retroactively collect information and recordings by them. Siama's career -- as he was in many of the key bands -- is central to my research. This is his first album in many years; he is now based in Minnesota so has a cosmopolitan band featuring Indian singers and even an Indian veena, Tibetan flute, country pedal steel guitar, jazz piano, and pan-African percussion, so maybe "By Way of the Ganges" could be a subtitle to the album. His acoustic guitar is strong and the instrumentation neatly complements it without drowning him out. There's a palm wine-style song, "Yele Yele," and other West African touches. One thing about musicians like Siama is they cannot stop making music and even out of Africa he finds some sympathetic souls to join him. When the trumpet comes in on "Mpevo," I thought of Hugh Masekela -- he came from South Africa to the US but also created an Afro-beat sound when he teamed up with Hedzoleh Sounds. Among several songs Siama wrote for Shika Shika, "Sisili" is reprised here, as well as "Kueya" which he originally performed with Samba Mapangala and Virunga. This is a welcome return to the studio for one of Congo's unsung legends.

PAPA WEMBA: KING OF THE SAPEURS

There is no doubt that "Papa" Shungu Wemba was one of the most important African artists in the 1970s and 80s, even the 1990s. That he was largely ignored in the West is of no consequence. He created a youth movement called "La Sape," giving young poor Kinshasans the ability to look sharp without spending a fortune, though once he moved to Paris, he started buying suits at Gian Franco Ferre and other high-end fashion designers. Then, ironically, he would wear them inside out to show the label -- and the stitching. His oversize suits were "borrowed" by David Byrne for his own Talking Heads shows. But the stylish look was only part of the story. Wemba was part of the revolutionary movement spearheaded by college kids who created Zaiko Langa Langa in 1968: they went for a rawer sound than the big rumba bands (like OK Jazz & Conga Succès) that preceded them, abandoning saxes and going for repetition and crowd-stirring frenzy in guitars and also in the shout-outs of the "Atalaku" or animateurs -- wild dancers who exhorted the crowd and urged the singers on. But far from raw, Wemba had the angelic voice of a choirboy and the passion adopted from listening to his mother, a professional mourner, who sang at funerals. Zaiko also had six singers -- instead of just one -- and he took the stage name Jules Presley. Dancing and singing alongside him were Dindo Yogo, Nyoka Longo, Bimi Ombale, Bozi Boziana, Evoloko Jocker and later Koffi Olomide. His first hits were "Chouchouna" and "C'est la Verité." But egos swelled and in 1974 he split with several members to form Isifi Lokole, and a further split to Yoka Lokole, groups that employed the traditional slit log drum -- the lokole -- as part of its signature sound. His music was popular from Paris to Tokyo. His Nippon Banzai concert brought soukous to Japan in a big way, and he thrilled the crowd by addressing them in Japanese. But then the band dumped him after two years and he decided to start his own band, taking the name Viva la Musica from a Johnny Pacheco album. It was with this group that he would rise to fame.

I don't think you could have found a bigger Papa Wemba fan in the 1980s than yours truly. I eagerly awaited his every release and, as my disillusionment slowly and reluctantly built, I kept buying his records in the hope he would see the light and get back to the great sound that he started from. Every now and then he would throw me a bone: like the album L'Esclave (Gitta productions, 1986), one of his mid-period masterpieces, or La Guerre des Stars, where he was challenged to come up with the goods in a friendly duel with Lita Bembo, Esperant and Boziana. In fact the song "L'Esclave" is probably his greatest work and had he sung it in English it would be as big as Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." He still had Awilo Longomba on drums and Ikonola on lokole but the guitarists were all newcomers: Nguando Milos, Matianga Stella and Mukoka on bass. And I fervently hoped to see him live. Wemba did finally come on tour as opening act for Peter Gabriel at the Oakland Coliseum. I BARTed over there and bought a ticket from a scalper for $25. Wemba's show was pathetic: he was completely ignored by the fans who were hyped about seeing Gabriel so talked and milled about during his set. I had been to a few smaller Gabriel shows before "Biko" or whatever put him into the stratosphere of pop, but this one was like the Nuremberg rally. Wemba had traded in Viva la Musica for some French rockers who were awful, and I barely recognized his sound. The next Viva la Musica concert was to be a year later at Slim's in San Francisco, a perfect venue, and I hoped it would be the real band. However the show was canceled. What happened was the band showed up at SFO at 11 p.m. and called the club to say, Tell the opening act to keep going, we'll be there and ready to go on at 12. --Don't bother, we decided you were not showing, replied the promoters.
All I had to sustain my interest was the video of LA VIE EST BELLE, the 1988 film by Benoit Lamy, starring Wemba as a down-and-out village kid who (eventually, after many picaresque adventures) makes it as a singer in Kinshasa and finally gets to appear alongside his idol Pépé Kallé.

In the '80s I was in Paris and there were posters everywhere advertising a big night with Viva la Musica, but as I got deeper into the African neighborhoods I saw the posters had cancelation stickers glued over them. Every new album had one good song but it was 75% filler. Then each member of the group, even the drummer, did a solo album using the name. I began to feel I was supporting a huge extended family with my weekly cash investments. When they started singing "Get up! Stand up!" in every song, I sat down. Eventually, I culled my collection down to the essential 22 LPs & 8 CDs. I blamed the managers who try to make a crossover hit out of a fiercely original artist and lose sight of his originality in the process. When Wemba returned in triumph to tout his "crossover" album on the RealWorld label and appeared at the Fillmore doing a feeble version of Otis Redding's "Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)," I was horrified. That was the second show and the second disappointment, I felt I had really missed the boat. I refused to buy the RealWorld albums and felt betrayed by my idol. However as his popularity grew, his earlier material appeared on Ngoyarto, P-Vine (in Japan), and a set where he teamed up with Franco surfaced. So there were moments: Foridoles (Eds Esperance 1994), a return to the Viva la Musica lineup, featured a guest shot from Sam Mangwana and had a great Latin track; Nouvelle Ecriture (Eds Esperance 1997) packed the dancefloor. He returned to the Bay Area to play Ashkenaz in Berkeley in July 2001, and this time it was a reunion of his original Viva la Musica line-up, not the leather-pant Frenchmen. So I did get to experience it as it was meant to be: a small crowded dancefloor, overmodulated mikes, lots of yelling, people jumping on stage to dance, shout-outs to Bongo Wende, Awilo Longombo and there I was surrounded by happy Congolese experiencing their youth again and for me, experiencing it along with them. Now he is gone back to the idealized village he called "Molokai": Rest in Peace, Papa.

MBONGWANA STAR
FROM KINSHASA (World Circuit)

I should have expected to be disappointed by this release because I was so hyped about it before it showed up. When I saw Staff Benda Bilili in concert I felt theirs was a fragile scene and couldn't last. The documentary about the band confirmed this: the volatile young genius Roger who played their lead instrument barely seemed anchored to the earth, while the others were firmly grounded in their wheelchairs and you knew it was a massive effort to tour and even to function day to day. After two albums and a triumphant tour the band did fall apart, but two of the key songwriters, Théo Nsutuvuidi and Coco Ngambali formed a new band, Mbongwana Star (originally called Staff Mbongwana International), adding younger musicians on bass and drums. Raw footage on youtube of them jamming looked very promising. But they also decided to try a new direction and hooked up with "Doctor L, a producer on the Paris hip-hop and electro scenes." The resulting mix (the Guardian called it an "angular hodgepodge," and I don't think they were being flattering) has elements of their songs but the drumming has been turned into trip-hop or whatever you call it when things get looped and then overflubbed, layered and buried and exposed and reburied. There's even a kind of Afrobeat guitar going on in here (in "Masobélé" and hints elsewhere), so it's just a mash-up. I don't know how it will work in concert: maybe deep-sea divers wandering around out of their depth, like on the cover, will amuse the audience while preprogrammed techno beats blare from speakers. All elements of the old homespun rumba Kinois that colored their material for SBB have been stripped away and though Coco & Théo have great mournful voices there's not enough of the raw and ragged production that made their earlier band work so well. At the midpoint of the disc there is a guest shot from Konono Numero Un (who have the same management) to remind us of the raw edge of Congolese music we crave. "Malukayi" is in fact the highpoint of the disc and I will play it again mainly for this collaborative jam. There is high energy here and other individual tracks like "Kala" and "Suzanna" are outstanding, but they are more like a club track you might drop in a set to introduce a bit of African rhythm rather than part of an entire album you want to sit down with and study the lyrics (not provided in my copy). Once I get used to this diversion I may enjoy it more, but it is not the logical step forward from their debut as songwriters with SBB but another arena -- or lounge -- of world music entirely.

RICARDO LEMVO & MAKINA LOCA
LA RUMBA SOY YO (Cumbancha CD31)

Here's another well-crafted set of danceable music from Ricardo Lemvo & his crazy kinsmen. It's their first new album in 7 years and shows why they are an in-demand live band with international appeal. Like Sam Mangwana, Lemvo is of Angolan parentage and he too grew up in Congo. His music is also classic Congolese -- rumba and soukous -- and on this album he also explores zouk, merengue and some Angolan styles, like semba and kizombo, to great effect. However, unlike old-time Congolese rumba which approximated Cuban music, Makina Loca actually gets deep in the pocket on son montuno ("Kari Kuyété") and salsa tracks, thanks in part to pianist "Baby Jesus" Perez. As a bonus there's real Latinos playing the Latin horn parts! The other secret weapon in Makina Loca's arsenal is guitarist Nseka Huit Kilos who started out in Orchestre Macchi with Dindo Yogo (later of Viva la Musica) and Lovy Longomba, then for years fronted Rochereau's l'Afrisa International until an American tour left him, fortuitously, in Los Angeles. His sweet licks and bell-tones ring throughout. There's even the intermittent accordeon. The mood is uptempo and effervescent until the bolero half an hour in which slows the pace nicely and we hear moody solos on guitar and muted trumpet (Arturo Solar). But there's barely time to cool down before we launch into a wild salsa whirl on "El Caburnacho." There are a couple of cover songs on here, which Lemvo has made his own, and he reprises "Samba Luku Samba" because it has evolved in performance into a stronger number than the take on Ay Valeria! Makina Loca are not only dependable, they go from strength to strength.

KASAI ALLSTARS
BEWARE THE FETISH (Crammed Disc cram233)

Electrified likembe music is somewhat akin to the punk music of Africa: it's raw, ragged, emotional and has a real do-it-yourself aesthetic. But unlike punk it didn't arise in reaction to something else (say the smoother big band music of the Congolese bands like OK Jazz or Afrisa which could be compared to Rock, R&B and blues bands of the same era), because likembe music always existed as a folk form, a way of amusing oneself or getting together with friends. Years ago I found it in the OCORA series of folk music recordings from Africa which also included religious rituals and entrancing pygmy music. In 1978 OCORA (who are the field branch of Radio France) recorded four likembe bands in Kinshasa, among them Konono No 1 and Sankayi, one of the groups featured on this disc. Like me, Crammed Disc's A&R man, Vincent Kenis was captivated by these groups and he launched the Congotronics series of recordings of which this is the fifth installment. Congotronics 2: Buzz 'n Rumble from the Urb'n Jungle also has a DVD of these bands in performance that is spectacular. Beware the Fetish is the sequel to Kasai's In the 7th Moon from 2008. Kasai Allstars is a collective of five different bands, all from the Kasai region of DRC, but from five different ethnic groups. Many of these groups fought in the past but one thing they have in common is that their music, as played in the bush, was regularly banned because of erotic lyric content and because the trance rituals they enacted were considered "pagan" by the authorities. So they decided to unite. There is a lot of diversity on here: not just different electric likembe players, but slit & buzz drums, xylophones and electric guitars all come into play. Also it's a double disc so it's real value for money, since, I, for one, could listen to this all day. The final cut is Congotronics vs Rockers to show the influence this music has had on Western bands: on it we hear Juana Molina joining in on vocals and half a dozen Western rockers jumping in on guitars and drums. Most of the two hours, however, is devoted to songs about hardships, evil leopards, enthronement rituals and parables, such as "As they walked into the forest on Sunday, they encountered apes dressed as humans," or "The one who sets fire to the bush catches nothing, while those who are on the lookout catch game." One song has the intriguing lyric: "Mbuyamba will now dance with one side of his body, as if the dance had only been borrowed." Though these Kasai people have moved to the city for various reasons, they are keeping their traditional music vital, absorbing outside influences rather than being swayed by them.


YOULOU MABIALA
COMPLETE WORKS (Stern's digital release)

Stern's has reissued 18 albums by Congolese superstar Prince Youlou Mabiala. Fans of OK Jazz will enjoy this man's work as his sound is almost an extension of the big rolling rumba sound of the era of OK Jazz from the late 70s to the mid-80s. Youlou, who is now 66, has entrusted his back catalogue to Stern's and this is your chance to catch up if you don't have the two Best Of CDs that came out on Sonodisc in 1994 (both still available as cheap MP3 downloads on amazon). Here are his classic albums, including 1 x 2 = Mabe and the Third Anniversary album Etabe Mofude (1982). It was in 1966, while he was exiled from Zaire, that Franco heard the teenaged Gilbert Youlou in a club in Brazza and hired him, and his bassist/songwriter Celi Bitchou, for his ever-expanding OK Jazz. Youlou became one of the main singers of the band, his tenor contrasting with Franco's gruff lower register, until he was fired in 1972 for moonlighting on other recordings. At this point he formed Lovy du Zaire with singers Vicky Longomba, Kwamy, Bumba Massa, bassist Celi Bitshoumani and guitarists Pablo Lubadika, Syran Mbenza and Mose Se Sengo "Fan Fan" which later morphed into Somo Somo. A year later Youlou rejoined the fold and married Franco's daughter, Hélène, and Franco dubbed him the Prince, as future inheritor of his mantle. His song "Ibrahim" is on the OK Jazz recording Live at 1-2-3 Club in Kinshasa. Though he was featured alongside vocal stars Sam Mangwana, Josky Kiambukuta and Ntesa Dalienst, Youlou quit in 1977 and returned to Brazzaville where he formed Kamikaze Loningisa. These are his great recordings and what you should be digging out of the mound proffered on a platter by Stern's. Start with "Loufou Lakari," from Disques Esperance, 1986, with its insistent bottle percussion (joined in the outro by a cowbell). Like the songs of his mentor, this has a long long vocal intro before it gets to a roiling boil. Then dig "Carte Postale," from the 1983 album Sentimental, originally on Voix d'Afrique. "Mwana bitendi" would pass in a blind audition for classic OK Jazz. It is, in fact, OK Jazz from their Keba na Matraque album (Edipop 05 1981). I know it's not longaniza, but Kamikaze Loningisa is an odd name for a band, but you won't mind this death by sausage one bit!


MAX MASSENGO & LE NEGRO-BAND
1958-2013 RE-EDITION DES MERVEILLES DU PASSE (Cyriaque Bassoka /or/ KOS & Co)

Something I don't understand is people who claim to be into "Afrobeat" or some esoteric musical form like African psychedelic or funk but say they don't "get" Congolese rumba. I think these people are not really fans of African music at all, but twisted rock fans who have just gone off track. I love all African music with a few exceptions, but close to my heart is the pulsating throb of early Congolese bands with Latin percussion and one or more hornmen out front. However I got a little carried away by my enthusiasm here. Two competing companies have this compilation on line for download at 320 kbps. It's anyone's guess who has the rights, I suppose it's the typical African free-for-all that also has needle-drop albums of Docteur Nico appearing from the "Sukisa" label. (The latest is called Hommage à Tabu Ley, but curiously there is not one single track on there with Tabu Ley! Note for anyone interested: disc one tracks 1-10 are SAF LP 50042 with titles changed; tracks 11 -22 are Sono CD 36516, also syl 823463) While the sound could be better on this Negro Band comp (most tracks are truly thrashed), this is not merely another reissue of someone else's compilation, but collects rare tracks from singles and EPs that came out in the 50s and 60s. Sadly they seem to have come from old, decayed tapes. You can check the sound clips on line, but believe me they are rough. One for the hard-core collectors, but otherwise skip it. (Cyriaque Bassoka Productions also have a late-80s double Franco Live set on Amazon for download, if anyone is interested. Do let me know if you spring for it; I am once burned, twice gone.)


STAFF BENDA BILILI
BENDA BILILI! A Film by Renaud Barret & Florent de la Tullaye (National Geographic Entertainment, 86 mins, PG-13)

This is a shocking, beautiful and moving film. It opens with a paraplegic dancing with sandals on his hands, then we are introduced to the cast of dodgy street kids who survive by "combing" or ripping stuff off and get spare change from helping the cripples who congregate at the Sonas roundabout in Kinshasa. They get together and sing:

I used to sleep on cardboard
bingo! I bought a mattress
it could happen to you
a man's life is never over
luck shows up unannounced
it's never too late
i know we will succeed someday!

This remarkable documentary chronicles the story of Staff Benda Bilili, a group of polio victims who lived on the streets of Kinshasa until they were discovered by this film crew in 2008. We know their music now thanks to Crammed Discs of Belgium who released their CDs Tres Tres Fort and Bouger le Monde, but what is astounding is how these two documentary film makers found them and also discovered the young boy Roger who became their star soloist. The story of Cinderella has nothing on this tale (well maybe in the ugly step-sisters mutilating their feet to try to get into the glass slipper). Nothing could seem more unlikely than to go to the poorest country in Africa, after decades of war, and find handicapped men living on the streets of the toughest city, busking for change with only their talent and optimism to get by and to transform their lives by making a film about them and their plight. The film makers warned the musicians they too were broke but they had faith they could make an album and though it took five years, it came to pass. A fire in the shelter puts the cripples' families on the street also, so recording is suspended and the band disperses. The film makers have to return to Europe when their funds run out. But the seed has been sown and a year later, with backing from Crammed, the film makers are back and the band, who are bursting with ideas, are able to start recording again. Roger says he is confident he will make it, then he can go home again. His mother says, "On his first day of school he sold his uniform and said, 'School will not get me to Europe, but my satonge will.' So, now he can show his uncles he is not a delinquent." We follow their ups and downs all the way through their first trip to Europe & snowy Scandinavia: an unbelievable experience. And of course the music is fabulous. As a running motif the street kids who have no future, but play drums and dance and live by pushing the band members' wheelchairs through the streets, have little side conversations at the zoo about the fall of man, the nature of Europe and why everyone wants to go there, that are like Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern. Now if you have not seen Staff Benda Bilili in concert this may be your only chance. In my review of their concert I said how fragile they seemed, and that fame might go to their heads. But a worse scenario came to pass: a countryman of theirs, an accountant living in Paris, told them they were being ripped off by the white producers (who struggled bravely to get them visas and bring us their music), so they hired this parvenu as manager. He then tried to negotiate privately with all the musical halls on their upcoming tour to get a bigger deal and consequently most of the venues decided to cancel. As a result two of the founding members (& key songwriters), Coco and Théo, have quit the band which seems to have collapsed in entropy and greed. However the film remains and there are fine moments that show the confidence of these downtrodden figures as they emerge from nowhere. After their recording session they fire up a joint and one says, Nothing like this has ever been heard before: it's going to cause a sensation. Certainly cock-sure words. Turns out he was right.


STAFF BENDA BILILI
BOUGER LE MONDE (Crammed Disc CRAW81-P)

The 2009 debut of this band marked an incredible story of triumph over diversity: the group was formed of paraplegics and kids who lived on the streets of Kinshasa and hung out at the nearly abandoned zoo where they played for change. They were heard by Vincent Kenis, Crammed Disc's man on the spot, and almost overnight their lives were transformed. Their debut disc sold 150,000 copies and they toured Europe, America and Japan, even starring in a documentary film. Vincent Kenis recorded that first album on his laptop in the zoo, and at one point lost some overdubs when his computer was stolen. This time he has taken the band into an old Kinshasa studio, formerly used by Franco, Tabu Ley, Pepe Kalle & Papa Wemba for some of their hits. The great spirit of Congolese music hovers over the whole thing. Again we hear the homemade guitars and drums, and above all the incredible virtuosity of Roger, who plays solos on a satonge: a single guitar string attached to a tin can. They've added Amalphi, a new lead guitarist (dig his shimmering Johnny Bokelo style on "Mutu esalaka [The brains are OK]"), and have rediscovered Randy, a street kid who vanished for a couple of years but has returned on percussion. The best part of the success story is the band members now have homes and are able to send their kids to school. In addition they have started a school for homeless and disabled youth to train them in mechanics, carpentry, computer science and, of course, music. Here is "Osali mabe," the opening track. There are many moods on this album, and as SBB have evolved, different musical styles abound: check out the haunting "Djambula," with bull-roarer effect, for something completely unexpected.


MOSE FAN FAN
MUSICATELEMA (LAA Records)

"Golden Oldies" can refer to tunes or equally to performers, without being perjorative. Mose Se Sengo, better known as "Fan Fan" is one of the greats of African music. He emerged from Orchestre Revolution to play second guitar alongside Franco in OK Jazz from 1967 to 74, then took off with the cream of that band: vocalist Prince Youlou Mabiala, Celi Bittshou and Simaro to form Orchestre Somo Somo. On tour, he joined up with Remmy Ongalla to form Orchestre Matimila in Tanzania and later played with Orchestre Makassy. In 1983 he moved to Britain. At various times he has reteamed with members of OK Jazz (in Bana OK) and Somo Somo. Here some former sidemen from OK Jazz as well as some newcomers join up for a scintillating album of Congolese rumba. The opening cut recalls "Samedi soir," the Bopol hit from 30 years ago. They also reprise one of Fan Fan's many hits: "Mosese" from Orchestre Makassy's smash album Agwaya. The mood is definitely retro but the sound is clean and the guitars are not over-amped; the percussion is live (congas and traps) not programmed, so all in all it's a roaring success. The distinguished sidemen include the OK Jazz horn section of Dele Pedro on alto, the legendary Verckys on tenor, and Didan Daniel, also on tenor. Fiston Lusambo plays mi-solo and the lead vocals are shared by Malage de Lugendo and Nzaya Zayadio Paul. On "Mamisa" the jambs are out and the doors blow wide. At 8 minutes this lesson in cooking is too short. Fans of Kekele will love this set of traditional Congolese rumba done in a shimmering style with definite hints of Luambo's magical fingerwork gracing the fretboard.

BALOJI
KINSHASA SUCCURSALE (Crammed Disc CRAM183)

Baloji opened for Orchestre Baobab in January 2012 at the Barbican in London in what must certainly have been one of the great concerts of the year. I was mesmerized by the Baloji video of Independence Cha Cha on Youtube, where he was backed by Orchestre de la Katuba, so a whole CD from Crammed Disc is worth checking out. Born in Congo (then Zaire) in 1978, Baloji was raised in Liège, Belgium where he got into graffiti and hip hop. When he reached adulthood he decided he needed to go home and find his roots, hence this new album (the English translation of the title is "Kinshasa Branch Office") which remixes some of his rap material from his debut album "Hotel Impala," but adds 6 new songs written in collaboration with contemporary Kinshasan bands, from Konono numero Un, to Zaiko Langa Langa. The Konono track is excellent as is "Kesho" featuring Moise Ilunga. Baloji's name in Swahili means "sorcerer" and he works magic on the Dr Nico-Kabasele classic "Independence Cha Cha." I have a hard time with the harsh declamatory tone of rap -- and it sounds really bad in French -- but I can try to ignore that and focus on the instruments or sung vocals. The collab with Konono, "Karibu Ya Bintou (Welcome to Life in Limbo)" has also been made into a fine Youtube video. The electric numbers show the evolution of soukous (Zaiko are totally unrecognisable) while the acoustic parts remind us of the influence of French production on the work of Salif Keita and others back in the 80s. It's not a keeper, for me, but the memorable videos and window into the future of Congolese pop are worth the glance.


THE KARINDULA SESSIONS
TRADI-MODERN SOUNDS FROM SOUTHEAST CONGO (Crammed Discs CRAW70)

This CD-DVD combination is a wonderful exposition of a largely unknown style of music, a kind of jam-band with big banjo magic from the Katanga province of Congo that gave us Jean Bosco Mwenda and other heavy hitters. It is similar to other copperbelt music found in Zambia and has been around for 40 years or more. The tunes are gritty & fast-paced but show continuity with folk music from this region since recordings were first made there by Hugh Tracey 60 years ago. The Karindula is a giant home-made stringed instrument attached to a goat-hide soundbox made from an oil drum. There is a tiny instrument that looks like a cavaquinho, plus a bit of bamboo beaten with a stick for rhythm, maracas, and, among non-musical aspects of the performance, a kid who dances with a spinning bicycle wheel on top of his skull! The dancing, a robotic hip-sawing motion done in a crouch, is also unique to this region and can be seen on the accompanying DVD which puts us on the spot at a 3-day festival during which these performances were captured. The DVD also lets you know why the crowd is going nuts: various dancers, including an old woman making a fool of herself and two guys in sports bras and kilts who seem to think they are truly à la mode, do some wild dancing. There are four bands and long jams from each (The first cut is half an hour long). Vincent Kenis was busy, filming with one hand and monitoring his laptop recording deck with the other. The last track is called "Beggar's Banquet," a parable about a greedy minister, and not a reference to the Stones. It is 17 minutes of explosive joy. There are different selections on the DVD. You must hear this!


TABU LEY ROCHEREAU
THE VOICE OF LIGHTNESS VOL 2 (Stern's STCD3056-57)

The Voice of Lightness, double CD, with its 56-page booklet documents the later career of one of the greats of Congolese pop: Tabu Ley, better known as Rochereau. This is a treat, even to a collector like me (I have 30 LPs by him, not including the ten or so with African Fiesta or those with Grand Kalle), because here there are gems and rarities that rarely get aired. The first pair of discs in this series covered his debut through 1977 and ended with the triumphant FESTAC 77 concert in Lagos. This set picks up there with "Ekeseni" but instead of the Festac version gives us a different studio version (from a 45 RPM release), stripped down, with only Rochereau singing and extended sax and guitar solos riding the shuffling beat. But that band's guitarists, Dizzy and Lokassa, & drummer Ringo Moya ditched in Cote d'Ivoire to form African All-Stars leaving Tabu Ley with only Dino Vangu from among his old stalwarts. Undeterred he reached back into his Catholic choirboy repertoire for "Ponce Pilate"-- a song about betrayal, that grooves for almost 12 minutes. As Ken Braun explains in the liner notes, Rochereau took the defections to heart and back in Kinshasa built a new stronger band, poaching the great bass-player Shaba Kahamba from the Vévé stable, adding vocalist Kiesse Diambu from Les Maquisards, and building a big horn line to rival Franco's. They played for two years at a club called Type K (pronounced Tipica) & eventually the unthinkable happened: Nico Kassanda showed up to jam. Famously Nico & Rochereau had split up African Fiesta the most successful band in the Congo in 1965. But by 1980 Nico's star was in eclipse and he had taken to the bottle. "Ohambe," captured here, is clearly 100% Afrisa despite Nico's solo at the end. In addition to Tabu Ley's reunion with Docteur Nico, he collaborated with his biggest rival, Franco, in a superb session called "L'Evénement (The Event)." The two were both in Paris when news of Kabaselle's death came. They decided to bury the hatchet and recorded "Kabaselle in Memoriam," and three other tracks, laid down by Franco's guitarist Michelino (a defector from Afrisa!). That song and the equally compelling "Lisanga ya Banganga" are both included here as disc four kicks off. But Rochereau had another trick up his sleeve: his discovery of the hottest female singer and dancer in Africa: Mbilia Bel. Her story has been told on her own Stern's double disc BEL CANTO, but it came at the right time to recharge the 42-year-old singer's career and propel him to Europe and America which had long been his aim, as Congo fell apart under the decay of Mobutu's corrupt regime. (Elsewhere on this site I talk about catching their act in London; I also saw Bel the following year in Oakland when she had gone solo in what was one of the best African shows I ever witnessed.) As a singer Rochereau always knew what he wanted to sound like. He was able to record in Abidjan, Paris and Brazzaville and in the latter's IAD studios attained the big-room echo we associate with his golden period. This is a fresh look at the career of Rochereau: the hits are there, but also enough surprises to make it new.


BABA GASTON
GREATEST HITS VOL 1 (Tamasha CDTAM ASLP935)

Note that none of these tracks were on Baba's Greatest Hits album put out by Polygram and reissued by ASLP! However I have no doubt they are at least by him. And as you are doubtless aware, from a close scrutiny of my Congo in Kenya page, he is the godfather of all the great Congolese bands that ended up in Kenya with scores of musicians passing through his ranks. So it's hard to say who is on here. One assumes the African audience for the music is older and remembers the songs and follows the storylines, while the white audience wants context, lists of performers and other data to create a mental framework. It's still enjoyable with only the tunes to hang on to. There's eight songs here (but you only pay for 7: the second track is actually two tracks run together by mistake, and not an A-side B-side single), with Marie Clara, Cesar ya maobi ngai mwana nazongi [i.e. "Caesar moyibi" AND "Mwana nazongi"], Lolo Twisonge, T.P. Engelbert, Lofundu ya pamba, Mboka mopaya pasi, and Wangoya, all of which came out on 45 rpm. Starzo ya Esta sings on "Mwana nazongi," so this is early-70s, before he left to form Festival du Zaire. This third track has a credible Nico-imitation guitar solo. In fact the whole band gives African Fiesta a run for its money on the next cut "Lolo Twisonge," a dreamy number with floating vocals, congas and dancing picked guitars. "T.P. Engelbert" is almost certainly from Lubumbashi in 1970 because it is an imitation of the Danse Kono that Nico scored big with that year. In fact, I would place the whole collection there, so it probably predates Gaston's trip to Kenya by a year. Furthermore the songs are all in Lingala, and not Kiswahili. A classic collection. Please don't tell me it is a lost Nico album and has been mislabelled!

BABA GASTON
BABA ILUNGA ILUNGA

This album should be from Kenya. It also has a song titled "Marie Clara," but it is a different song from the one on the Greatest Hits album. It kicks off with "Ilunga Ilunga" which was so huge it was attached to his name from then on. It's a 6 minute version, the full 8'44 version was gathered on Greatest Hits vol 1. But then disaster strikes. "Kai Kai," is mislabelled. It is a gem, in the style of Negro Succès with Bavon-like guitar answering the vocals. Wait, it IS Negro Succès! The rest of the disc is actually Negro Succès (the first four cuts from Ngoyarto CD023)! Clearly there's no quality control at Tamasha or Limewire. I posted a comment on the review page. Maybe they will fix it. Let the buyer beware!

BABA GASTON
BIG WELCOME HOME / EKELEKELE (Tamasha)

A four song comp, recorded in Kinshasa with Starzo ya Esta, and released on ASLP in 1983 as "Condition Bi-msum." But the percussion sounds like a drum machine, and despite good twin guitar parts on there, it's not compelling.


SAMBA MAPANGALA & ORCHESTRE VIRUNGA
MABIALA (Tamasha)

The title song is not about Youlou Mabiala, but about a Gabonese diplomat who used to shower the band with money at the Starlight Club in Nairobi. It is the only track that has been reissued before, so this is a must for Virunga fans. Here is a great four-song set from the days when sugar-soul voiced Moreno Batamba was in the line-up, singing harmony (& lead on "Kimotho"), circa 1983. Result: bliss! Guitarists from Bana Ngenge or Les Kinois, who joined Virunga, brought the great dueling guitar sound of Congo and the frenzy-building sebene to the lighter Kenyan benga sound. If you get your head between the speakers the guitarwork is stunning. I think I hear four guitars in the mix! Samba does shout-outs to the band, but I miss the names (Shikito Mansita? must be Sammy on guitar). I do hear Mayumba on sax and Lava Machine on drums. Mansita and Manitcho are mentioned in "Kimotho." More to the point, these guys are a tight unit and cook along with a relaxed, assured intensity.


PROF. VATA MOMBASA & LIPUA LIPUA
PATRICIA (Tamasha)

This is Lipua Lipua after Nyboma left in 1973 to form Les Kamalé. Apparently recorded in Ivory Coast, it has good sound, if a bit too much echo on the vocals. There is also a female chorus, which strikes me as unusual for that time. On side B (metaphorically speaking), which is one long 12-minute track called "Mundial Saturday," there is nice mouth percussion in the style of Lokassa ya Mbongo's "dry" strumming in the African All-Stars breakdowns that were huge at the time, particularly in West Africa. Nyboma was there in Abidjan in the mid-70s with African All Stars, so it's possible he sent word to his old partner Vata that it was a good spot for gigs. The Ivorienne economy was booming with coffee and lumber exports and the folks wanted nothing more than to dance to Congolese music. There is a shout-out in the break announcing that Passeport music of the Ivory Coast presents Vata Mombasa in action... then a credible imitation of the African All Stars at their most grooveworthy.


PROF. VATA MOMBASA & LIPUA LIPUA
MFUENI (Tamasha)

Another of my favourites, but once again, sad to report, these recordings were made from a used copy of the LP with a lot of surface noise. If Vata Mombasa's heirs come forward I will happily give them a better rip of this from my clean vinyl copy. (Actually he may still be alive, and living in Ivory Coast where he was last sighted.) From the driving opening cut, to the mellow harmonies of the mislabelled "Namona Yo wapi (where will I find you)," I never get tired of playing this. Each track is ten minutes long. No personnel identified (I think I hear mention of Nadine and Davos), apart from Mombasa on rhythm guitar. The singers are good and one actually sounds a little like Nyboma, though his voice is a bit higher. From my own Vévé page, I learn from liner notes to the original album: "Orchestre Lipua Lipua has the best harmonized team of vocalists led by Kiloto Toko (high-pitched voice). Mbubi Malanda one of the founders of the band, Tedia, Nzaya Nzayadio (who wrote "So-Kizengi") and the newly enrolled vocalist/Composer Kien' Kiesse." In addition a songwriting credit goes to Makaya. These four cuts, with the three on Patricia, made a good hour's worth of music.



VERCKYS AND VEVE

Oh, what a tangled web we weave. I went through the Tamasha listings for Verckys and his orchestre Vévé & while most of it has really bad sound, there are some bright moments.

NDONA / TEN YEARS AGO VOLUME 1 (Tamasha)

Four A & B-side tracks, "Ndona," "Kamale," "Lossa" & "Sola." The only rarity is the first, which was a single, but it has execrable sound. "Kamale" by Orch Lipua Lipua is on CD36567; "Lossa" by Lipua Lipua was on the LP 360063; "Sola" by Bella Bella, one of Verckys's greatest singles, has also been anthologized several times before.

FIFI & TOWELI NINI (Tamasha)

"Toweli Nini" & "Belina" the first two tracks were a single. Bad sound. "Celine" sounds mighty familiar but I don't find it on my Vévé checklist. "Marcelina" was on Sonafric SAF50009; "Likambo ya somo" (note correct spelling) was the B side of "Fifi" which was anthologized on 360 106. "Ya nini" & "Mangala" parts one and two were all on Vévé hit parade vol 2 (VVLP1002). The sound is muffled.

BANA SOUVENIR - THE VERY BEST OF VEVE (Tamasha)

Six tracks here: "Nakoma juste" & "Bilobela" are on the Sonodisc CD THE BEST COLLECTION, & "Muana Mburu" appeared on LP360 106. The other three tracks have not been collected before, to the best of my knowledge, but from the samples, don't seem outstanding.

ANNA / 15 YEARS AGO VOL 1 (Tamasha CSNLP005)

This disc kicks off with two gems, "Anna" & "Lina Omesana Boye" which were both on Verckys à Paris; I have not seen any of the other tracks collected before. This looks like the one worth getting. The sound is a little crackly, often muddy, but the music is great. Although Verckys was the producer who introduced the stripped down guitar and drum sound of soukous with bands like Zaiko, his own sound was horn-driven with congas and great vocals. "Cela okeba" is the longest track, at 10'45 and rocks. "Kanyuka" is imitation Franco, complete with Franco-style guitar and what is probably one of the ex-OK Jazz vocalists!


PRINCE YOULOU MABIALA
KEBA NA MATRAQUE

A reissue of Edipop 5, "Mwana Bitendi," but taken from a cassette. Four long tracks with OK Jazz (it says), although the first cut is on Volume 2 of the Kamikaze Loningisa compilation CDS6831 from Sono.

PRINCE YOULOU MABIALA
MOTEMA NA NGAI NA TELEVISION (Tamasha CPOP022)

Also originally titled "Franco presente," but this time with his own band Kamikaze Loningisa. Four lengthy jams in the classic OK Jazz style. Although Youlou was a singer with the band for 7 years from 1965, he often found himself with Celi Bittsou and Mosese "Fan Fan" running the show because Franco was chasing women or off in Europe cutting deals or building a house. So it was quite normal for the stars of OK Jazz to perform without their leader. Finally Fan Fan broke away with Somo Somo and went East on tour; Youlou stayed in Kin with the remnants of Somo Somo but eventually persuaded Franco to let him return to the fold. Nevertheless, when he did leave and start his own band in 1977, Franco graciously put out his albums (no doubt for a sizable cut). I don't know if he was an actual prince but clearly Franco respected him and gave him as much leeway as Sam Mangwana who was also dilatory about his commitment to the band. Maybe Franco realised that if he kicked them out summarily, like Verckys, they would establish considerable rivalry with him. If you are an OK Jazz fan you will dig this, the same roiling fervor that boils over with big horn choruses, dueling guitars and fine harmony singing, plus the Kamikaze band has a distinctive percussion sound when they punctuate the beat with a bottle or cowbell.


PEPE KALLE & PAPY TEX WITH EMPIRE BAKUBA
KANDA YA NINI (Tamasha)

Again mislabelled, but this time it's not an egregious error (not as bad as that wretched cover!). The sublime title cut, "Kanda ya nini?" is by the Papy Tex Band -- a separate or nzonzing band that Tex put together when Kalle was off doing something else (He recorded with Nyboma and also appeared in the Belgian-made film "La Vie est Belle," along with his sidekick, Emoro the dwarf). Every since Meera Nair picked it for the soundtrack to "Mississippi Masala," "Kanda ya nini?" has been one of my favourite songs. Furthermore, it's the full version and therefore two minutes longer than the edit on the soundtrack album. Still, there is a problem with the highs in this recording, so it's not ideal. But it does have a classic sebene, and Tex reminds us there was a good reason he was in Empire Bakuba: it was by no means a one-man show. The other vocalists, Dilu Dilumona and Pepe Kalle, return with the guitarists (the felicitously named Elvis, Doris and Boeing 707) for "Avance loketo (Come on shake your hips)" a happy dance track. I think of Empire Bakuba as the Kinks of the Congo, for like the British rock group, they stuck together as a team, without defections for 25 years, and when one member died, the band folded. (This should have happened to the Who and the Rolling Stones whose careers were crap after the deaths of Brian Jones and Keith Moon.) Hard to date this, I'd guess mid- to late-70s from the sound (lots of echo on the vocals). The dances, the "Soumarin" and the "Kwassa kwassa" are specified: you can wing it -- or swim it.


LES NOIRS
MUNGU IKO HELENA (Tamasha CDTAM900)

With their hit "Sikiya Sauce" comes this juggernaut of classic Congolese pop. I suspect this was an LP on Pathé from 1975. Les Noirs were one of the first Congolese groups to seek fame and fortune in Nairobi. From the cover photo you can see they were a big band, with three saxes and at least three guitarists. Drummer and bandleader Chuza Kabaselle turns "Sikiya Sauce" (here mislabelled "Sikia Dance") into a slow smoker. The second song, "Mosa sa ndembo," was also originally released on Pathé-Marconi in Paris. Here, however, track 2 is actually the B-side of "Sikiya sauce." Track 3, labelled "Mungu iko Helena" is the aforementioned "Mosa sa ndembo," by Roger Ndala Mobangui. Will someone slap some sense into the chumps at Tamasha? Here "Mungu iko Helena" is track four: for the first time Kuka is trying to sing in Kiswahili, or rather shout out some simple phrases he has picked up. The ballad labelled here as "Hata Ukifanya Nini Yote Bure" (but I think is actually "Bangaye") has the chords of "I shall be released" as the structure of the first half. The last cut is labelled "Shida (problems)" and appears to be so. It's a different song from the "Shida" of Mbaraka. The promised big hit "Hata Ukifanya Nini" doesn't seem to be present. Trying to straighten out the track titles is giving me a pain, and spoiling my enjoyment of the music. If you like early 70s Congolese rhumba -- and who doesn't? -- this is a prime chunk, professionally recorded, possibly in Paris. But with Tamasha's track record, who knows?

KONONO NUMERO UN
ASSUME CRASH POSITION (Crammed Disc craw60)

We can assume that Konono are flying high these days, and are also keeping a tight grip on their title of Number One. For their latest album with Crammed producer Vincent Kenis they have added a few novelties to the line-up. Young members of a Kin-based Konono cover band have been inducted into the ranks & a few guests from Kasai All Stars, who also appeared in the Congotronics series that broke this sound to a wider audience join in for a monumental jam. Other guest vocalists and guitarist Manuaka Pepe Felly have also jumped in to augment the three electrified likembes that build the trance zone. Traditional Bazombo trance music never sounded so good. The Zombo come from the southern mountains of Congo that border Angola and their traditions are handed on by group leader Mawangu Mingiedi who is now in his late 70s. The appearance of Manuaka (a founder of Zaiko Langa Langa) is a giveaway that "Konono Wa Wa Wa" is a tongue-in-cheek homage to "Zaiko Wa Wa Wa"-- a popular theme of Zaiko's that would crop up periodically during the melody jams in their concerts. Not surprisingly Zaiko were also interested in exploring folkloric material in their music in the early 70s and the "atalaku" (or shouters) are definitely part of a much older tradition. I am so glad this sound caught on, because I have been passionate about it since the 1987 appearance of OCORA's double cassette Musique Urbain à Kinshasa. With electrified likembes, percussion, yells and whistles you don't really need guitars, there's fuzz tone to spare. The sequencing is great so the intensity is always there, but with some variety in the vocal breaks; in fact I think this is better than their 1995 debut and surpasses their live album.


FRANCO & OK JAZZ
FRANCOPHONIC 2: 1980-89 (Stern's STCD3046-47)

This is an outstanding achievement, not only in the music presented. Everyone knows that Franco was the towering genius of African popular music throughout the 1980s: L'Afrisa was falling apart because of Tabu Ley's unrequited love for Mbilia Bel, Fela was in and out of jail & getting increasingly paranoid & egotistical (reflected in his music), artists who moved to Paris for the vie en rose, like Mory Kante & Salif Keita lost touch with their traditions. Even OK Jazz lost its edge when French production values snuck in. As Franco's health declined & he shriveled, his band became bogged down in soap operas driven by syndrum loops and tedious litanies, so I really expected this second part of the Franco retrospective to come unstuck like other chronological collections that inevitably chart the decline of an artist past their peak. But not here. The first two-disc set got us up to the full flight OK Jazz masterworks from the nineteen-seventies. This golden age of Franco lasted right into the 80s. "Tokoma ba camarade pamba," which led off Vraiment en colère vol 1 in 1980 kicks things off. It is shorthand for the whole double album, though of course if you add water -- or sweat -- you can dance the night away to an hour of the En colère sessions on CDS6852 and CDS6861. "Bina na ngai na respect," sung by Ntesa Dalienst, is a massive song. It kicked off the four-volume celebration of the first quarter century of OK Jazz, and fills all of side 1 of disc 1 with its 17-and-a-half-minute workout. The "song" part is only about 2 and a half minutes, in fact, and the seben kicks it up to a full-on soukous workout for the next quarter hour. The last five minutes is an endurance test between the kit drummer and two lead guitars swapping a two-chord figure that would sound like a stuck record except the horns come back like a bullet train going 120 mph that cannot be stopped. Now you can't put on CDs and get the experience of the Quart siècle sessions because Sonodisc scattered the tracks about among 6 CDs and didn't bother to anthologize two of them (One "Belle mere" is a Haitian cover and not that great). However "Sandoka" from volume 4 is included, to give continuity to this aspect of the biggest of the big OK Jazz orchestras assembled for the session. There was a volume 5 from later years, but I am not sure Franco appeared on it: seemingly, he often left the band in the studio to record their own stuff. Like his confrère Mangwana, Dalienst went on to triumph beyond OK Jazz scoring hits again and again with "Belalo" and "Dangara," and teamed up with Josky post-OK Jazz for great sessions.

Then we get to the centrepiece of the first disc in this set (subtitled "Le grand maître"): "Princesse Kikou." This is classic OK Jazz in every respect: it only takes a minute for a drum-roll to summon the riff -- not a dance groove so much as a restrained vamp -- it goes on for ever, Franco sings and sings and finally when you have had about enough, he rips into a multi-pronged lead with at least two other guitars doing their best to outplay him (take your pick from the eight guitarists listed in the booklet!). The horns come back to calm them down, the guitars fall back to their original repeated patterns for eight bars and come out the other end into the light riffing madly into the home stretch. The horns join in for a final round, proving you can swing and sway -- and play like a fiend. Sono reissued "Princessse Kikou" on three different CDs but mostly cut down to 10 minutes: one of them stretches the song to 13'42", but here we get the full blast of 14'08". Surprisingly there is even room for another cut from this 1982 album (Se Dechainement): Josky's "Nostalgie." Disc one just has room to squeeze in another highly anthologized track, and my personal favourite of the 1980s OK Jazz cuts: "Co-operation." Though I have listened to it scores of times it was a joy to have it come on and shake my walls and scare the neighbours when "GM" le grand maître says, "C'est très simple ... on danse!" Sam yelps, and calls "Attaquer" -- and attack they do. There's a three-minute Franco guitar solo and he runs the whole gamut of his tricks on this song, inverting the chords, staggering the tempo, writing new melodies on the spot. Time stands still. Franco & Sam are reunited and it's like they were never apart. Even when Sam calls out "Sam Mangwana and OK Jazz" and forgets to include Franco he is not in danger of getting the hook, as many lesser vocalists would have. Forget "White rabbit" -- if ever there was a song to have playing when you excitedly knock the radio into the bathtub and fry yourself, this is it!!

Disc two starts with the new and improved Paris sound of the band. Franco and Michelino spent hours in the studio laying down overdubs to build a foundation for the meeting of Franco and his arch-rival Rochereau. The result was several albums-worth of new material, and from Choc Choc Choc we get the first of the four side-long "letters to the director general." A new label, Choc Records, was rolled out, and from the next release we hear Josky's "Missile." The voices of Madilu and Simaro, added to Josky and Franco and the guest shot from Tabu Ley, give a spectrum of the great vocalists of the era associated with OK Jazz. Franco started playing nylon strings to show off the cleaner sound but also introduced a metronomic bass drum bomp which controls the tempo, so the band becomes more clinical and the OK Jazz sound loses its roiling fervor. We are spared the pain of "Attention na SIDA" and the endless disco drudgery of the 20-minute epics and get a succinct view of some overlooked gems that you probably don't have in your collection. There's a 48-page booklet accompanying the discs that details the history of each track and contains more rare photos. Stern's selector, Ken Braun, has sieved the best of Franco's vast output so you only get the gold.


SYRAN MBENZA & ENSEMBLE RUMBA KONGO
IMMORTAL FRANCO: AFRICA'S UNRIVALLED GUITAR LEGEND (World Music Network [Riverboat CDTUG1050])

Hard to believe it's twenty years since Franco died. He really seemed set to go on forever. Though his music had succumbed to French discoid tendencies at the end, he had an immense body of work and put out enough great material to keep us all happy for a long time. In the later videos he really doesn't do much, the whole band is chugging along like a locomotive with others singing and even playing all the guitar parts. However, after Franco's death an attempt to keep going as Bana OK was short-lived, and other efforts to perpetuate his songs were not fruitful. One exception is Kekele, Syran Mbenza's band, who have always played "Infidelité Mado" in concert. They kept the Franco spirit vital, particularly when Syran would play a two-fingered lead guitar solo. Now Syran has gone another step and produced a whole album of Franco-related material from the wealth that exists. It's in the unplugged light rumba style of Kekele, so is in fact like another Kekele album with added guests. Bopol Mansiamina is back on two tracks, though I wish he and Syran would team up again (not necessarily as Quatre Etoiles). Wuta Mayi who has been a stalwart of Syran's bands also sang with Franco in the mid-70s (his classic "Melou" can be found on the OK Jazz 20th Anniversary album) so he is the perfect lead singer. Sharing those duties is Elba Kuluma. He sang with Youlou Mabiala's Kamikaze Loningisa and later with Les Bantous Monument. Flavien Makabi is also recruited on bass: a post he held with OK Jazz from 1976 on. Otherwise the band comprises members of Kekele and Quatre Etoiles, including drummer Komba Bellow, Jimmy Mvondo on sax, and conguero Deba Sungu.

Track 3 lights up the dance floor: this is a rip-it-up version of Ntesa Dalenst's "Mouzi" (formally known as "Liyanzi ekoti ngai na motema"). Next is a less-well-known number, Camille Feruzi's "Madeleine," which dates from Franco's authenticité period when he too was unplugged (in the early 70s). Viviane Arnoux gets to shine on accordeon muzette, while Syran shows off his impeccable double-pronged attack. The centrepiece of the programme is "Mado," Celi Bitsou's tale of a faithless woman: by now so polished as to dazzle. Fofo le Collegien gets a chance to play lead guitar on Michelino's "Salimu," originally voiced by the all-powerful chorus of Josky, Wuta, Pepe Ndombe and Youlou Mabiala, while multi-tracked Jimmy Mvondo has to stand in for the 5-piece OK Jazz horn line (of course they were dancing and waving their instruments in the air for most of it)!

Kekele did a medley of OK Jazz oldies on the Congo Life album, and after a new mix of oldies ("Rumba Odemba"), we come into the homestretch with the heartwrenching ballad "Liwa ya Wech," rephrased as "Liwa ya Franco," for which Ballou Canta is summoned to deliver the sorry saga of Luambo and Bavon, dead before their time. Synth swells add an ominous tone to it, while Syran embroiders the chords with finely detailed crewel work. A couple more hits then an original Syran Mbenza tune rounds out the set. Franco was unquestionably the most important musical figure to emerge from Congo after Kabasele, but there is continuity in many of the bands that were contemporaries or followed OK Jazz, particularly Les Bantous and Les Quatre Etoiles. This is a great tribute to the memory of Franco and should ensure that a new generation will start to discover his magnificent musical legacy.


RICARDO LEMVO & MAKINA LOCA
RETROSPECTIVA (City Hall Records)

From cooking a meal to relationships, most of us feel we could do better if we tried again. Musicians get to play their hits over and over. This can be good or bad. You can be stuck in a rut (a friend of mine's brother is in It's a Beautiful Day & they still play "White Bird" at every gig -- that sounds like purgatory to me) or you can continue to evolve. Makina Loca has the kind of creativity that allows for fluidity in performance. So now after six albums they have a retrospective album that is quite new and dazzling. The track list is familiar, from "Mambo Yoyo" to "Habari Yako," in fact it's a set that you have seen them perform live over the nearly two decades they've been touring. However they have reimagined their songs to give them a new twist. It's still Afro-Cuban with the emphasis on Afro, so that "Mambo yo yo" takes the dancefloor as a son montuno but has the mutuashi rhythm associated with Tshala Muana at its heart. "Yiri Yiri Bon," their Beny Moré cover, now has a cumbia beat and accordion lead. And with the global interest in African Lusophone music, Lemvo has gone to his Angolan roots and delivers three Portuguese classics from Africa. The Angolan tracks are taken at a slower pace (The original of Carlos Lamartine's "N'Vunda ku Muceque" can be found on ANGOLA 90s for comparison.) They've moved West across the Atlantic, so there's a Haitian feel to them, or at least a touch of zouk or kompas, more aurally evident than any sign of semba. The pan-African feel is still strong, the Latin beat is heavy and once again, Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca keep it new and vital.


RY-CO JAZZ
BON VOYAGE (RetroAfric RETRO22CD)

A second reissue of Ry-Co Jazz from Retro is welcome but it left me wondering, surely they did better stuff than this? Again there is a mix of Rumba-Congolaise with Antillean biguine, calypso and merengue, but where is the stuff that slayed them in the clubs in the 1960s? Ry-Co was a phenomenon and issued scores of singles but, from what I can make out, they have not been anthologized yet. Ry-Co was a band with a mission: to take "Rythme-Congolaise" -- or Ry-Co -- to the rest of the world. They toured West Africa from a base in Sierra Leone for years (founder Henri Bowane stayed in Ghana and Togo for 3 decades) and ended up in Paris, capital of West Africa, in 1964. That was where Jean-Serge Essous joined and they headed to the tropical island of Martinique and were resident there for three years. Jean-Claude Naimro, later a pioneer of zouk, joined them on keyboards. Things fell apart when they returned to Paris. Essous went home to rejoin Les Bantous, Jerry Malekani brought in Manu Dibango and they toured North Africa, lasting until the late 70s. This disc attempts to show all the styles Ry-Co covered, and while individual tracks are good, overall the choppy sequencing does not work. An uncharacteristic calypso (in English) is followed by the quintessential piece of malaise, a bolero in French, that is a snooze. "Eboma Africa," a 12-minute workout from their last stand, is the best thing on here, and you wonder there are not more such long jams waiting to be unearthed. The album should end there, instead there are three late tracks, including an awful reggae number. There are two albums, Fantastique & Vacancies (with Grammacks) that are worth mining for reissue. Much of this disc seems to come from a late 1977 album that was cobbled together for purely commercial reasons, five years after the band's break-up.