This is a new outfit, led by Love Lokombe and Bom Bomolo, two founders of Kokoko! which was an exciting Congolese roots band we celebrated in the year 2019 when they issued Fongola. This new project continues the feeling of that group: employing home-made guitars made with jangling wires and knackered percussion. It's an innovative blend of soukous, techno and garage. The title means "Seizing the opportunity" and they grasp it with both hands. They have brought in Diego Gomez, a Colombian dub engineer, to manipulate the tracks, but he has left it pretty straightforward with some echo here and there and, I am guessing, a few loops. There is always exciting music happening in Kinshasa and at the forefront are little informal bands jamming in backyards or homemade studios with the most basic equipment. Kinois becomes "Ki-noise" with a little switch from French to English. There's rap (but not obnoxious) on the second and third drum-driven tracks, however the meaning is not explained, so we just enjoy the sound. Words that are explained tell us to take off our shoes, kick back and relax.
Side B opens with "Bo lobi pe," which is call and response but seemingly mostly "lo lo lo!" — "La la la!" There is a simple and infectious guitar loop backing this. "Zanga mbongo (there is no money)" is a great example of the "forget your troubles and dance" genre. It's wild soukous, with an electric mbira, or maybe it's a home-made plastic marimba: whatever it is there's a lot of buzz on it. Two or three raunchy guitars chop and change in the background behind cheerful choral singing. Then the echo starts to pile up, the animator yells and they go for broke, determined to get you moving and grooving.
Meanwhile, their old band Kokoko! have a new single out, "Mokili."


To me the mid-80s in Congo-Zaire is one of the great eras of world music. Balka Sound were active in Brazzaville then, so I am surprised I have never heard of them. I have also never heard of the Beembe people, from whom the Balka musical style originates, so this album is not only a revelation it is also a great work that was missing from my consciousness. Their sound is similar to, but a little more polished than Ali & Tams, Sim-Sim Int'l, or Kawende et ses Copains, three bands that were recorded on Plainisphere in the mid-80s that I love. It's packaged as a digital album or double LP and contains 15 of their songs, starting with 1972's hit "Ah Lusiala," celebrating their singer Albert Nkibi who plays the 5-string ngonfi. (No, I am not making this up.) In addition to electric guitars and congas, there is an exciting trap drummer (Abro) who plays contrapuntal rhythms that really energize the proceedings. On top of that a superb clarinet and saxophonist (Vieux Paul), who leaves his mark on every track. A thumb piano (sanza) also appears. They are not the first group to modernize the rural sounds of Africa, by any means, but this is fresh and very engaging. You can hear that bush voice in Albert's vocals and melodies which contain parables and the trancelike reiterated choral rejoinders. Their first album was recorded in 1979 in one take after they won a cultural festival competition. In 1982 a second LP was recorded in Kinshasa. By the mid-80s they had regular gigs at tourist hotels in Brazza, but within a decade civil war engulfed the left bank country of the Congo. They regrouped to perform for a Fête Nationale in 1996 but strife broke out again and their studio and equipment were looted, forcing them to disband. Two of their LPs are listed on discogs at 200 and 400 euros each! Here we have the cream of their output, put together by Makila Nsika Nkaya (one of the vocalists) with the cooperation of the other band members, whose superb musicianship radiates from every track.

ARCHAEOLOGY (Real World Records RW247)

It's been 15 years since Björk invited the members of Konono No 1 to tour with her in 2007. She was among the first to use the gritty urban sounds (descendants of Zombo ritual music, originally played on elephant tusks) as a basis for her world music explorations. In the last two decades we have had some more or less successful forays into the trance genre of electric likembes with home-made percussion and rudimentary D-I-Y amplification serving as the basis for "world beat" improvisers. Now the Congotronix boom continues with another layer added due to a chance encounter in the Paris metro. Algerian DJ Nadjib ran into another DJ, Aero Manyelo from South Africa, in the musty Paris underground and as they chatted they discovered that their musical backgrounds from the top and bottom of Africa collided in the heart, Kinshasa, and their shared passion for the Congotronix sound. Manyelo cut his teeth in Jo'burg remixing Mahotella Queens while Nadjib was working with Gnawa Diffusion in Algeria. They found quite a few Congolese musicians, including members of Kasai All Stars, already in France and Belgium, willing to get involved. Taking tracks from recently disbanded Mbongwana Star they added flutes and beats. They created music in the studio, but also through jamming live in concert with their newfound friends from the Congo. Joining in are Wengu Waku, singer from Konono No 1, Muambuyi, singer of the Kasai All Stars and soukous guitarist Mopero Mopumba of Basokin. There are still strong folkloric strains in the vocals as the singers bring melodies from the bush, singing about animals and birds of the Kasai region in Tshiluba, or the need for community in Swahili. Their message is about survival in the midst of conflict and strife. I am not sure if the crackling on "Chibinda Ilunga" represents the fizzling surface of an old record (there is a Berber-sounding flute on here) or the sparking of a log fire. Here the ancient-to-future blend works well, though in large part because it is now quite familiar to us (In fact you will recognize the samples on "Bonjour"). This collaborative effort extends to art, photography and fashion as the two DJs present an entire aesthetic experience based around their explorations of Congolese traditions updated to the 21st century.

KEKETE BUE (No Wahala Sounds NWS17)

First, I am amazed at the energy of this album. I met Kanda Bongo Man in 1989 when he performed in San Francisco and I picked him up at his hotel to interview him on the radio, then again when he toured in 1995 I got on stage at Slim's in SF to dance the Kwassa Kwassa when he called for volunteers from the audience. A few decades and many more pounds have hampered my ability to shake a leg, but Kanda is still doing it on a regular basis as this album demonstrates with some live tracks. There is autotune on the first track vocals which turns me off – he does not need it, having a sweet voice, but I guess he thought it would be trendy. The album has all the hallmarks of soukous: intertwined lead guitars, speedy drumming, and a chorus exhorting you to get down. Most of the songs sound familiar if you know his previous albums. He hands lead vocals over to a lady, Mimitha Okako Bofando, on track three – I guess he did need a break after all. I can only take it sitting down, these days. But he is back up on the mike for "Rose Rose" another of his trademark speedy ballads, which was also on his recent live album Yolele! (also issued by No Wahala Sound). The animator takes over, and yells, while Kanda demonstrates his moves (we imagine). There is another repeated number from his live album and that is a different version of "Monie," this time from a live show at Emperor's Palace, Johannesburg in 2015.


One of the last classic stripped-down, high energy Soukous acts, Kanda Bongo Man started out in Orchestre Bella Bella of Soki Vangu. His performances brought joy and sweat to generations of Africans, and in the 80s he began touring the world taking his act to a bigger audience. I caught him in San Francisco more than once, and interviewed him on the radio (when I picked him up at the Palms motel he was still in his underwear, so I had to wait for him to get suited up: he was a sharp dresser, short and fat, but brimming with "le Sape"). I got on stage at Slim's to dance the Kwassa Kwassa with him and hung around to chat with bassist Shaba Kahamba afterwards. Here is a classic set, only available on limited-edition CD in a gatefold cover, at a bargain price (£8). It was recorded in another night on the road in the UK (where he now lives) in Summer 2016. Some of his old hits from the 90s are here, like "Monie" and "Rose" and more recent tunes like "Balobi" and the ballad "Wallow." I am not sure who the other personnel are as most of the original line-up are in their mid-to-late sixties now. But then old rockers never die: I saw him with Dally Kimoko on lead guitar, Nene Tchakou on second guitar, Komba Bellow on drums. He has also toured with Diblo Dibala and Rigobert Bamundele "Rigo Star" on guitar, and whoever is on here (he shouts out to "Cochise" and "Saddam") is up there in that league.

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.


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.


"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 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.


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!


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.


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!


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!


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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


"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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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?

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.

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.


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.

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.


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.