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!

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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.

Liner Notes: Episode 15: African Floor-Fillers

Aired live June 29, 2016, and available here online

Tonight’s episode—which will be the last for the summer—is dedicated to songs that have been major hits at African dance parties since the early 2000s, when I discovered the scene. I was living in Washington, DC, at the time, and I’d learned about a weekly African party at a place called the Ascot. I had gotten a taste of African club music in Ghana and Philly and wanted to expose myself to more, and a friend of mine was up for the adventure.

We arrived on time, at 10pm, and were sorely disappointed by the sparse crowd. I didn’t know anything back in those days (the normal arrival time for partygoers is typically past midnight!). But whatever—we came to dance, and so we danced, neither of us deterred by the empty floor. The music was just too good. And practically in a blink, the space was packed with other partygoers.

The dance floor felt like this famous ndombolo dance scene from Koffi Olomide’s ’90s hit, “Loi”

Soon my friend was checking her watch and telling me what I dreaded to hear: it was almost midnight. Public transportation was about to shut down soon. A look passed between us. We grinned and said at the same time, “Taxi!” and kept dancing.

I would return to the Ascot’s African night and stay past midnight many a time, loving every minute. And I was overjoyed to add new dances and music styles to my vocabulary—mapouka, makossa, soukous, mbalax, zouglou, zouk.

The guys of Extra Musica, rocking their '90s FUBU gear

The guys of Extra Musica, rocking their ’90s FUBU gear

First up is one of the songs that first hooked my ears. It was already a year or two old, and more than fifteen years later, it’s still going strong. African party DJs know to play this one when the crowd is looking a bit bored, because it will literally make people run onto the floor.

And though it’s from the Ivory Coast, it resonates with people far beyond that country’s borders, and they try to sing along even if they have no clue what they’re saying. The song is none other than “1er Gaou” by Magic System.

On dit premier gaou n'est pas gaou-o!

On dit premier gaou n’est pas gaou-o!!


Let’s move on to a Congolese song that was fairly new but quickly gained popularity when I discovered the African party scene: “État Major,” by Extra Musica.

The next several songs in tonight’s playlist were recorded in the ’80s but were still in high demand when I was partying at the Ascot. They continue to be so today, and I think it’s because they have a timeless quality in addition to infectious beats. The first of these songs is “Let Me Love You” by Bunny Mack of Sierra Leone.

Sam Fan's '80s classics are still going strong

’80s African music classics are still going strong

Next up is a song that is neither from Africa nor performed by African musicians, and I suspect this might come as a surprise to some. Even the music genre—zouk—is popular in Africa, especially amongst the French-speaking populations. But the group and the music they helped popularize are both from the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. The song is none other than “Zouk La Sé Sel Médikaman Nou Ni” by Kassav’.

If you’re not familiar with African club music, you might be wondering why many of these songs have a Caribbean feel. But as I’ve mentioned before, there has been a musical dialogue over the past few centuries between Africa and the Americas, which I think is fascinating.

Our next ’80s hit is of no exception: “African Typic Collection” by Sam Fan Thomas of Cameroon. This song is also borrows some Lingala from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. And if you listen closely, you can hear them paying tribute to cavacha music!

And now we move forward in time just a bit to the ’90s. This next singer, also from South Africa, was known as the queen of African pop music: Brenda Fassie with “Vulindlela.”

Queen of African Pop

Queen of African Pop


For more tidbits about the other songs in this episode, listen here online.

Episode 15 Tracks:
1er Gaou – Magic System
État Major – Extra Musica
Let Me Love You – Bunny Mack
Zouk La Sé Sel Médikaman Nou Ni – Kassav’
African Typic Collection – Sam Fan Thomas
Bane – Oliver Ngoma
Umqombothi – Yvonne Chaka Chaka
Vulindlela – Brenda Fassie
Loi – Koffi Olomide

June 29: African Floor-Fillers, Part 1

Episode 15 of CAVACHA EXPRESS! will feature Congolese and other African songs that are staples at African parties, making dancers rush the floor.

Create a FREE account here to listen LIVE on Wednesday, June 29, 2016, 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM EST (New York City time zone).

Missed a previous episode? Listen HERE on YouTube!

Later,

Kimi K.

Liner Notes: Episode 14: Congo Combo

Aired live May 25, 2016, and available here online

As you might know, Congolese popular music in its earliest days was heavily influenced by Cuban son, such that some songs sounded like their Cuban counterparts. Lyrics were even infused with Spanish or Spanish-sounding words. Strains of son can still be heard in soukous, including the latest releases, but some Congolose musicians have explored other music genres from Africa and its diaspora.

This amalgamation fascinates me. For one, as I’ve mentioned before, some of the diaspora music forms have Congolese influences themselves due to the slave trade. And especially as debates rage about cultural authenticity, tradition, and preservation, I think it’s wonderful when artists can appreciate other cultures—as long as it hasn’t been forced on them. Tonight, most of the lyrics are in Lingala, but we also have French, Spanish, Twi, and English. After putting together tonight’s playlist, I realized that even the band names are in several different languages.

Prince Nico and his famous white boots

Soukous Stars sampled his music but not the boots

First up is probably one of the most widely heard song by Congolese musicians that isn’t soukous. When I started going to African dance parties almost two decades ago, it was a staple, and it’s still heard on dance floors. Which is amazing, considering that the song came out in the early 90s, while the Nigerian and Ghanaian highlife songs it samples are even older. The group is none other than Soukous Stars and its legendary leader, Lokassa Ya Mbongo, with their zouk-infused mega-mix, which includes Prince Nico Mbarga’s “Sweet Mother,” itself an old dance floor hit.

Next we have another tune that I used to hear often in American nightclubs—but this time, at salsa parties. As I mentioned in Episode 8, some African salsa songs have been popular in the Latin music scene, and partygoers might be shocked to learn their origins.

Our next artist, Ricardo Lemvo, could pass for Cuban. He’s brown-skinned, wears dreadlocks, often sings in Spanish, and names Yoruba deities in his songs. But he is of Angolan Kongo descent, was born and raised in Kinshasa, and spent many years in California, where he formed the band Makina Loca (Spanish for “crazy machine”). The song is “Mambo Yo Yo.”

lemvo
Ricardo Lemvo is one of two outliers on tonight’s episode since his repertoire isn’t soukous but rather Afro-Cuban music. The same can definitely be said of the next musician, Papa Wemba, whose passing just last month was a huge blow to not only the Congolese music scene but the African music scene in general. His early music was soukous-oriented but it evolved to include other styles, particularly pop. Next up is a Latin-style song with a French title, “Référence” (“respect”), by Papa Wemba and his band, Viva La Musica (Spanish for “long live music”), with Sam Mangwana adding to vocals.

And now we’ll switch from the Latin Caribbean to the French Caribbean—the country of Haiti. The Haitian popular music scene is dominated by konpa, which is accompanied by a two-step partner dance that is mellower than meringue, the iconic dance of the neighboring Dominican Republic. Probably due to its French and Creole lyrics, konpa has been popular in Francophone Africa, and likewise, Congolese music has found its way into konpa, such that I was surprised to hear the Haitian group Tabou Combo sampling some of Pepe Kalle’s Lingala.

taboublack bazar
The title of tonight’s episode is “Congo Combo,” but it isn’t the Haitian band that inspired it but rather the next song of the same title. It’s performed by the Paris-based Congolese group Black Bazar, who I had the pleasure of seeing in Paris a few years ago.

So far, out of the hundreds of Congolese songs I’ve been exposed to, I’ve come across very little funk. Funk was very influential in West Africa, especially Nigeria and Ghana, which makes sense considering that their Anglophone citizens could understand American English lyrics. But no translation was needed for James Brown’s scream, which you can hear even in Francophone African songs from the 70s.

Verckys performing with James Brown

Verckys performing with James Brown

Much of Congolese funk seems to have been created by Congolese saxophonist and mega-producer, Verckys, who had a chance to meet James Brown during the Zaire 74 music festival intended to accompany the historic Ali–Foreman fight in Kinshasa. I was pretty amazed when I stumbled across this next song, “Bassala Hot,” by one of Vercky’s many groups, Orchestre Vévé Star.

For more tidbits about the other songs in this episode, listen here online.

Episode 14 Tracks:
Lagos Night/Sweet Mother/Christiana/Aki Special/Stella/Adwoa/Wellenga/Oh Dea – Lokassa Ya Mbongo & Soukous Stars
Mambo Yo Yo – Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loka
Référence – Papa Wemba & Viva La Musica feat. Sam Mangwana
Congo Combo – Black Bazar
Toyokanaki Boye Te – Nouvelle Géneration de la République Démocratique
Bassala Hot – Orchestre Vévé Star
Yuda – Dackin Dackino

May 25: Congo Combo

Episode 14 of CAVACHA EXPRESS! will feature Congolese songs that have flirted with other music genres such as funk, salsa, and kompa, which inspired this episode’s title.

Create a FREE account here to listen LIVE on Wednesday, May 25, 2016, 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM EST (New York City time zone).

Missed a previous episode? Listen HERE on YouTube!

Later,

Kimi K.