Aired live March 30, 2016, and available here online
Tonight I was in the mood for sharing some of the smoothest Congolese songs in my collection. As I curated the playlist, I discovered something fascinating: many of these songs are about good love.
I’ve mentioned before that the Congolese songs I’m able to translate have depressing lyrics, despite the uplifting beat. A Congolese friend of mine challenged this, telling me that he knows plenty of songs that aren’t about the blues. As I assembled tonight’s playlist, I realized he might be right.
I also realized that these “good-lovin-feeling” songs have a few things in common. Now, mind you, the statements I’m about to make are in no way statistically significant, but I do believe I’m onto something.
For one, I noticed that the musicians tend to be from Congo-Brazzaville, and that French—as opposed to Lingala—is the go-to language. Here are a few other patterns I noticed, along with possible reasons why songs like these are largely absent from my collection:
1. They’re ballads. I don’t really care for ballads sung in languages besides English. I find them too sappy. And since yours truly has been in a sort of romance desert for way too long, mushy love lyrics tend to give me more motema pasi than kizungu-zungu. The songs tonight are an exception because of the singers’ svelte voices and the rhythms like an island breeze.
2. They’re slow. I like fast. It helps shake off the blues.
3. They’re sung by Tabu Ley Rochereau, king of Congolese crooners and probably the Congo’s most beloved singer. He reportedly produced thousands of songs during his career. I have less than 50.
So, with these criteria in mind, I couldn’t put my favorite band, OK Jazz, on tonight’s list because most of the songs I adore by them are about absolute misery. But as I’ve mentioned time and again, OK Jazz had far reaches, and one of the first singers I thought to include tonight was practically the face of OK Jazz in its later years: Madilu Système.
He’s the man in the white suit on tonight’s flyer. The only thing missing from that picture is the rose between his teeth. And with a voice like his, you don’t even notice the cheese—well, yes, I know that even his socks are white, and they look to be silk, but still!
First up is one of my favorites by him, “Si Je Savais Ça” (“had I only known”). It actually deviates from my theory because it’s about a wistful reflection on a relationship, but you might not realize that from the sweet-sounding sebene at the end.
Next up is one of the few songs I adore by Tabu Ley Rochereau. Congolese people are aghast upon learning that he’s not one of my favorites, but then they tend to rave about his poetic language. Unfortunately, my Lingala is too limited as of now for me to appreciate it. For example, why is this next song called turtle heart?? “Nzenze Motema” by Tabu Ley.
Next up is Kongo Retro Band 83, who made a killer album, Escale à Brazza (“Stop in Brazzaville”), presumably in 1983. I stumbled across it recently and fell in love with their harmonies, which are reminiscent of Josky Kiambukuta and Ntesa Dalienst. This next song, “Air Fluvial,” is a tribute to San Salvador, a 1950s group formed by singers Adou Elenga, Léon Bukasa, and Manuel D’Oliveira—who I profiled on my last episode—and Georges Edouard.
I leave you with another band I also discovered recently, Orchestre Telé-Music. Like Kongo Retro Band, no one seems to know much about them. If anybody out there has information on either of these bands, drop me a line!!
For more fun facts about the other songs in this episode, listen here online.
Episode 12 Tracks:
Si Je Savais Ça – Madilu Système
Amour Quand tu me Prends – Pamelo Mounk’a
Nzenze Motema – Tabu Ley Rochereau
Kizungu-zungu – Papa Noël
Air Fluvial – Kong Retro Band 83
Foya d’Ambiance – Orchestre Telé-Music