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.”

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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.

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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.

Liner Notes: Episode 13: Something about Mady

Aired live April 27, 2016, and available here online

When I browse through my collection of Congolese music, I see that many individuals—real or otherwise—have inspired songs and their titles. Two of the most famous are probably OK Jazz’s Mario, and in the more recent years, Awilo Longomba’s Karolina.

There was also Kikam, Gaby, Doris, and Isabelle. Mimi, Lina, and Sandralina. Youyou, Sarah, and Samantha. The list goes on and on, including the anonymous Mama, Papa, and Chéri(e).

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Bimi Ombale, who sang to Sandralina, Madi, and more

But one muse reigns supreme in my collection, and her name is Madeleine. Only, she tends to go by Mady/Madi, Madia, or Mado. If you’ve been following Congolese music recently, this last name should be very familiar to you.

Fabregas le Métis Noir and crew doing the Ya Mado dance

And speaking of contemporary Congolese music, just this weekend, superstar and “king of Congolese rumba,” Papa Wemba, passed away. I don’t believe he ever recorded a song about Madeleine, but his influence on Congolese popular music, dance, and culture stretches to the present day, including probably the latest song about Madeleine.

The title of tonight’s episode, “Something about Mady,” references the ‘90s movie, There’s Something about Mary, where several men compete for the attention of you-can-guess-who. I’m not sure why so many Congolese singers devoted songs to Mady. Perhaps it’s just a popular name in the Congo. Or perhaps gals named Mady have a way of making themselves popular. In fact, I’ve already played two songs dedicated to Mado, on the first episode: one by African Jazz and another by OK Jazz.

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Dizzy Mandjèkou

First up is “Mady Motema” by Dizzy Mandjèkou, who delivers some sweet lyrics in both French and Lingala. Ma belle rose, zalaka sincère; noki nakoboma nzoto—my beautiful rose, be sincere with me, or I’m gonna off myself, Mady.


Next we have another singer whose voice I adore, Nyboma Mwandido. I might be cheating with this song because the title is “Madiana,” and I’m not sure if that’s a nickname for Madeleine. But the shoe almost fits and I love the song. Reviennes-moi; zongisa motema sima—come back to me; give my heart back, Madiana.

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Tabu Ley, who sang to Sarah, Hortense, Madia, and more

In last month’s episode I joked about how I tend not to understand Tabu Ley’s poetic lyrics, but this song I do understand [“Madia”] and it’s one of my favorites by him. Naloba te; nakotala se yo—I won’t even have to speak; I’ll just look at you, Madia.

For more of Kimi’s attempts at translating French and Lingala lyrics in this episode, listen here online.

Episode 13 Tracks:
Mady Motema – Dizzy Mandjèkou
Madi – Bimi Ombale
Madiana – Nyboma & Kamalé Dynamique
Mado Ya Sango – OK Jazz
Mado – Les Grands Maquisards
Madia – Tabu Ley
Mascara (“Ya Mado”) – Fabregas Le Métis Noir

NYC: dancing with Diblo & Papa Wemba tributes

One might think anything can be found in New York City. But some things—curiously, things I seem to rave about, like Cuban salsa and Congolese music—are too niche for NYC, it seems. So when I learned last-minute that soukous legend Diblo Dibala was in town this weekend, I rushed out to see him.

Most of my favorite Congolese musicians are no longer with us, so it was such a treat to see not only Diblo but N’Gouma Lokito of Soukous Stars fame, who joined Diblo in a rendition of one of my fav’s by Pepe Kalle (RIP), “Pon Moun Paka Bougé.”

Diblo performing Saturday night at Club Bonafide, NYC

Diblo performing Saturday night at Club Bonafide, NYC

The venue, Club Bonafide, unfortunately had little space for dancing (??!! a Congolese concert is not—I repeat, NOT—a sit-down event!!). But as I mentioned to my table-mates: there’s always the stage. And yours truly ended up there, along with several other overjoyed audience members.

The same venue is hosting a tribute concert to Papa Wemba tomorrow night, Tuesday, May 2. It’s too close to my bedtime, so I’ll be dancing with them in my dreams. BUT I’m so happy that there are Congolese dance classes every Saturday & Sunday this month in NYC, taught by Andoche Loubaki.

AND!! another Papa Wemba tribute concert is scheduled for later this month at Shrine, courtesy of the very talented Nkumu Katalay.

April 27: Something About Mady

Episode 13 of CAVACHA EXPRESS! will feature songs devoted to a gal named Mady. There happen to be many in my collection, including one released in this decade (!!), which has sparked the latest Congolese dance craze.

Create a FREE account here to listen LIVE on Wednesday, April 27, 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 12: Masters of Smooth

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.

With a voice like butter, Pamelo Mounk’a does not need a plane to propel him!

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.

kimi's favorite Tabu Ley album (so far!)

kimi’s favorite Tabu Ley album (so far!)

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.

Madilu, king of smooth

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.

Kongo Retro Band: paying homage to old-school smooth

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