Mozart of Africa

I was excited to come across the short biopic below from CCTV News about Congolese musician and bandleader, Franko Luambo Makiadi. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Franco’s band, OK Jazz. And I’m not the only one. OK Jazz composer and guitarist Simaro Lutumba is seen in the clip talking about how people even died at a concert in Africa trying to get close to Franco!

Legendary though he might have been across Africa, though, Franco went relatively unknown on the global circuit, including in the US, throughout his extensive musical career. Even these days, with a revival of retro African music, he isn’t nearly as known as, say, Nigeria’s Fela Kuti, whose life was even portrayed on Broadway. And yet, the two share many similarities.

Both were musically active around the same time, and both were incredibly talented. Both of them portrayed some unbalanced criticisms and stereotypes about women in their songs. And both were politically controversial figures, albeit on different ends of the spectrum. Whereas Fela openly criticized Nigerian politicians in his songs, Franco wrote praise songs to Zaire’s self-proclaimed president for life. There are arguments, however, that Franco and other Congolese musicians couched criticisms of their government in songs about the trials of love and heartbreak, not to mention a tailor whose needle was taken away.

Regardless, during Franco’s time, most listeners around the world would have been oblivious to the content, let alone potential hidden meanings, of these songs, because they were sung primarily in Lingala. Accordingly, a language barrier has been cited as one of the reasons for the lack of wide-scale appeal of Congolese music in general. And yet, OK Jazz was and still is embraced in African countries where English is the official language and where Lingala isn’t spoken. In fact, the biopic below was probably produced in Kenya, where Congolese music has been immensely popular.

From the vintage concert clips I’ve seen, it seems OK Jazz toured outside Africa during their latter years. Incidentally, my least favorite of their songs come from this period. I don’t claim to be a music critic, but I wonder if they might have had a larger following, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, had they toured in the ’70s. They still had their horn section—replaced by some cringe-inducing synthesizer sounds in the ’80s—and the beats were more polyrhythmic and just more interesting, in my humble opinion.

Regardless of the reasons music lovers around the world didn’t get to experience OK Jazz in real time during their heyday, we can again give thanks to the internet for archiving their legacy. And what a legacy it is. The biopic mentions that Franco recorded probably around 1,000 songs during his lifetime. My collection of OK Jazz songs now numbers a little over 300, so there’s even so much more for yours truly to discover.

Especially if you’ve never before heard of Franco, I invite you to watch the biopic and learn more about the man who, as one of the commentators mentions, could easily be deemed the “Mozart of Africa.”

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The Gift of Congolese Dance

I am blessed to have friends who indulge my obsession with Congolese music. I’ve recently received an abundance of gifts from them, and I am passing this one along to you!

Way back on Episode 2, I thought I would share some old dances but realized I barely had samples of any. Thanks again to the internet and other Congolese music enthusiasts out there, we can now see what they looked like. In this clip, one of my favorite bands, Zaiko Langa Langa, displays dances from the early ’80s, including the cavacha, which I’ve been dying to see. A shout out to Lubangi Muniania for sharing!

And I found the one below on YouTube of a Zaiko concert probably from the ’90s. Not only do they sing some of my favorites from that period, but they show off all the dances that accompanied them.

I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

The Rumba Kings, or, If I were a Filmmaker

For a long time, I’ve had dreams of being a filmmaker. High on my list would be a film about the history of Congolese popular music, including interviews with musicians. Something like the audio/visual version of Gary Stewart’s encyclopedic book, Rumba on the River.

So I was beyond ecstatic to learn recently that a film is in the works! And not only that, but it features some of my absolute favorites, including OK Jazz, Verckys, and Simaro, whose work you can hear on past (and future!) episodes of Cavacha Express!

See the clip below for a preview of The Rumba Kings, scheduled to be released in late 2018. Its director, Alan Brain Delgado, describes the golden age of Congolese music as “the real treasure of the Congo.” I hope you can see why!

Soukous Par-tay

In my last post, I mentioned guitarist Beniko Popolipo’s cover band, Makutanu. They give an amazing performance in the clip below along with other Congolese music old-timers. I SO wish I could have been there!

The clip begins with one of my favorite songs by Madilu (“Si Je Savais Ça,” from Episode 12). They also cover one of my favorite Tabu Ley songs (around 14:00). One of my favorite OK Jazz songs (“Salima,” around 17:50). One of my favorite Zaïko songs (“Dede,” around 1:38:00). My beloved Josky from Episode 4  appears around 1:11:40.

AND I believe that’s OK Jazz’s guitarist Michelino in the background, along with a few others I should probably know.

I think this went down in Paris. Yet another reason to go back to Paris…

Beniko Popolipo, Guitar Legend

I was psyched to find the brief interview below of soukous guitar master Beniko, who I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with (!!!) a few years ago in Paris. In fact, you might be able to see that his t-shirt advertises Black Bazar, the band I saw him perform with, and whose song I featured on Episode 14: Congo Combo.

kimi dancing with black bazar

Showing my moves in Paris, 2012. Sadly, Beniko didn’t make it into the photo, but he was just at the side of the stage.

In the clip below, Beniko shares memories of Congolese music’s incessant band lineup changes and how he got his start. I know him best as the guitarist for my beloved Zaïko Langa Langa, so you can also hear his guitar skills on a few other episodes. Beniiiiiiko!

Interestingly, his band list drops off in the ’90s. He doesn’t mention Black Bazar but does reference his cover band, Makutanu, shown at the end of the clip doing a spot-on rendition of OK Jazz’s “Mamou.”

My only hope is that one day soon, one of these bands will make their way to NYC. Anybody out there listening? Anybody??? Sigh. It looks like I might need to get myself back to Paris, and pronto!

Les Mangelepa, Live!!, in …

I wish I could say NYC. Maybe someday. But for now, I’ll settle for “live in the studio, back in the day, on YouTube.” Here they perform one of my favorites, “Walter,” which I aired on Episode 7. See around 44:50.

And speaking of episodes, I can’t say just yet when I’ll broadcast again, but in the meantime, I’ll be posting Congolese videos I’ve discovered online. I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

xoxo,

kimi

Zaire ’74 Live!

I wish I was of party-going age in 1974. That was the year of the famed Ali–Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle” fight in Kinshasa. In anticipation of the fight, a mega-concert was held in the city featuring musicians from the US and Africa, mostly from the Congo.

I saw snippets of the concert in two documentaries: When We Were Kings (about the fight) and Soul Power (about the American musicians, mostly). If you’re anything like me, you would have been eager to see extended clips of OK Jazz and others.

I’m hoping that that film is in the works, but in the meantime, the live recordings are now available in the recently released album, “Zaire ’74: The African Artists.” Among the musicians featured are OK Jazz and Tabu Ley’s Afrisa, featured previously on Cavacha Express!, as well as Congolese female singer Abeti. Visit the Archives of African American Music and Culture’s Black Grooves blog to learn more and listen to tracks!

Congolese Dance in NYC this Thursday & Friday

Hello friends,

I’m still in love with Congolese music, na lapi! I just haven’t had time to focus on new episodes. In the meantime, if you’re in the New York City area, there will be Congolese dance lessons & a concert THIS WEEK, courtesy of the talented Nkumu Katalay.

Better believe I’m gonna get my soukous on! And maybe someone will finally take pity on me and teach me some old moves as seen below.

xoxo,

kimi

can-eh can-eh caneTON!!! à l’aisement!

Post …

Friends,

It’s been a long time. As I continue to finalize my novel, I haven’t been able to focus on CAVACHA EXPRESS! On top of it, life has felt like a cataclysm during these post-election days in my country.

Rest assured that Congolese music is always in my heart, mind, and ears. And my hope as of now is to start producing monthly shows again in January.

For now, I’m ecstatic to share with you the video clip below. On Episode 2: Yaka Tobina/Let’s Dance, I mentioned wanting to see the 1960s Kiri Kiri dance in action, and today I got my wish!

This SO brightened my day and momentarily took away my post-election blues, and I hope it lifts your spirits too.

In the meantime, if you’ve enjoyed the radio show and blog, feel free to drop me a line and say hello or mbote! I love hearing from all of you out there around the globe who have a soft spot for this music.

xoxoxo,

kimi

Franco was Here

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Nostrand Ave., Flatbush

In the early 1980s, not long before he would leave this earth, Franco set foot in Flatbush, Brooklyn. And this weekend, I was there.

I learned this amazing fact in the fall in NYC, when I visited the Pan African Space Station, a pop-up exhibition sponsored by the South Africa-based publication, Chimurenga. If this name sounds familiar, it’s because I made a post about them last September, when I lamented about not being able to go to their pop-up Congolese music performance in Paris.

Little was I to know in September that I was in for a treat here in NYC. Upon walking into the exhibition, the display of vinyls immediately caught my attention. I recognized many: they appeared in miniature in my IPod when I played my favorite Congolese songs.

I soon met the owners of this wonderful display: Roger and Rudy Francis, brothers who were instrumental in introducing Americans to music from the Congo, Nigeria, Cameroon, and elsewhere by producing records and operating a radio station and a store called the African Record Centre.

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Brooklyn’s gateway to African music

As I drooled over the vinyl display, squealing at each new record I saw, Roger and Rudy told me something that titillated me even more: Franco visited them. In Brooklyn. During my lifetime. Walking distance from my apartment!!!

I cursed the inventors of the world for not yet building a time machine. When I got over that, I did the next best thing:

I WALKED WHERE FRANCO WALKED

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Congolese music for sale in Brooklyn

And this weekend at the African Record Centre, I bought my first my first Congolese vinyl: a 1980 recording of OK Jazz’s hits. I don’t own a record player, and I already have the MP3 version, but I just had to, for sentimentality’s sake. It’s one of my favorites, and if the digital thumbprint image can put a smile on my face, imagine what this one does.

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kimi’s first Congolese record – in the flesh, that is

If you love African music and are ever in the Brooklyn area, a visit to the African Record Centre is a must! For more info, see here.