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

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

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).

bimi

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.

dizzy

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.

tabu ley

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

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

Liner Notes: Episode 11: The 50s

Aired live February 24, 2016, and available here online

Tonight I’m taking us way back to the 1950s and even the 40s—the earliest days of recorded Congolese popular music. It’s quite different from most of what I’ve played so far. Back then, musicians were still closely imitating Cuban music, and some songs were even sung in Spanish. The songs are also quite short—most under four minutes. And, unlike my favorite tunes from the 70s, there are many songs about love as opposed to lamentations.

Congolese partygoers in the 50s, captured by photographer Jean Depara

Congolese partygoers in the 50s at the Oui Fifi, captured by photographer Jean Depara

A plethora of recordings exist from the 50s, and I own very few because I prefer the music styles that evolved later. If you’ve listened to my earlier episodes, you’ll know that OK Jazz is my favorite band, and I don’t even like many of their songs from that time. But recently, I found a compilation of 50s music, and four musicians kept grabbing my ears: Léon Bukasa, Camille Feruzi, Manuel D’Oliveira, and Adou Elenga.

Coincidentally, I next found a song from the 80s that memorializes all of these men, in addition to Wendo Kolosoy. If you’re a fan of Wendo, you won’t hear his music tonight because it’s not really my flavor, but I had to mention him because of his significance to the history of Congolese popular music.

He was one of the first superstars, such that this whole era of music I’m showcasing tonight became known as tango ya ba Wendo—“Wendo’s time.” And you can hear this referenced in songs even into recent times. Which is incredible, considering that at Wendo’s peak of stardom, he stopped performing in response to the Mobutu-led coup, which occurred just weeks after the country’s independence from Belgium in 1960. And he didn’t perform again until the 90s, after Mobutu was finally ousted.

The dapper men of African Jazz

The dapper men of African Jazz

As you listen to the songs tonight, keep in mind that in the 1940s and 50s, both Congos were under colonial domination: by France to the north and by Belgium to the south. And on the eve of independence for both countries, their popular music scene was already going strong, with band lineups constantly changing. In fact, most of the musicians you’ll hear tonight performed with each other at some point, including in OK Jazz.

First up is a song that I fell in love with the first time I listened to it, a few years ago. It’s one of my favorites by far from the 50s. The mighty Joseph Kabasele with “Parafifi.”

So there you heard the suave voice of Kabasele, also known as Grand Kalle. And along with it, the lovely guitar work of Nico Kassanda, who was only thirteen years old. The title he later chose for himself—docteur (doctor)—is much deserved. Next up is a song by African Jazz, the band Kabasele and Nico later formed. And the song is “Lea.”

A very young Dr. Nico working his guitar

A very young Dr. Nico working his guitar


Next up is Camille Feruzi, known for his use of the accordion. When I first heard this song, a line in particular jumped out and got a chuckle out of me: “Okoki kozua mobali lokola ngai te.” If you don’t speak Lingala, you’ll hear the meaning after this song, “Lingale.”

So, what did he say? To borrow from Lou Rawls—you’ll never find… Yes, he declares to Lingale that she won’t find another man like him! And moving right along, of course I can’t seem to make an episode without including OK Jazz, so they’re next! Franco and the fellas actually got their start in the 50s, so it’s only appropriate. OK Jazz with “Mabe Nde Kolimwa.”

Léon Bukasa, kimi's latest favorite singer from the 50s

Léon Bukasa, kimi’s latest favorite singer from the 50s

Next up are a two songs by Adou Elenga. When I listened to his “Tebo” for the first time, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the inspiration for Sam Mangwana’s “Maria Tebbo,” which I played on Episode 3, and lo and behold, it was! Following that will be “Ata Ndele,” which was banned by the Belgian colonial authorities. They probably felt threatened by what it seemed to imply—to borrow from Sam Cooke: a change gon’ come.

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

Episode 11 Tracks:

Parafifi – Joseph Kabasele
Lea – African Jazz
Coco – Tino Baroza
Lingale – Camille Feruzi
Mabe Nde Kolimwa – OK Jazz
Merengue – OK Jazz
Tebo – Adou Elenga
Ata Ndele – Adou Elenga
Basi Banso Tapale – Manuel D’Oliveira
Mama Aboti Biso – Manuel D’Oliveira
Elongi ya Cherie – Manuel D’Oliveira
Kenga Mwangandu – Léon Bukasa
Mantare Mwasi Kitoko – Léon Bukasa
Bolingo Na Biso Na Yo Esila Te – Léon Bukasa

Liner Notes: Episode 10: Cavacha Classics

Aired live Jan. 27, 2016, and available here online

The show is back! Now airing the last Wednesday of the month.

Well, it’s been a long time, eh? I didn’t think it would be this long, but I’m back now, with a show that’s a bit shorter and going live only once a month, on the last Wednesday. And I’d like to thank all my supporters near and far for their encouragement to keep this show going.

The main thing that’s been competing with my time is a novel I’ve been writing. This summer I had an amazing writing retreat in Belgium, and I was excited to hang out with some Congolese folks for a weekend in Brussels. But my transition back to New York City, after the green and peaceful countryside of East Flanders, was a bit rough, bandeko.

Congolese music, however, has always been in my heart, in my mind, and in my ears. Since you last heard my voice, I’ve added 150 songs to my collection, including some gems from the 50s, coming up on February’s show. And I was astounded to discover recently that Le Grand Maître Franco Luambo Makiadi set foot in a record store just walking distance from my apartment! More to come on that later.

Yanga-Yanga: cavacha masters. Just seeing this album cover brings me joy!

And as much as I love Franco and OK Jazz, they’re not in my playlist tonight. You see, I realized that despite the name of this show, I haven’t played much cavacha. OK Jazz didn’t do cavacha; they were already old school when it appeared on the scene with the youth bands of the 60s and 70s. Cavacha is a bit faster, a bit wilder than what OK Jazz plays. The guitar melodies that overlay that infectious clave-like beat get me high every time.

But here’s something important to note: if you don’t like the beginning of these songs tonight, just be patient. When you can anticipate that hip-shaking sebene—the second half of the song—it’s the best thing ever.

zaire ghana

Zaïko’s “Zaïre Ghana” album, which features some amazing cavacha.

The songs I’ve chosen for tonight’s episode have more than just cavacha in common. All of the bands also have double names, some of which were song titles of the band they emerged from! Most, if not all, of the bands tonight were recorded by the mega-producer Verckys Kiamuangana. More to come on him in a later episode too.

First up is Zaïko Langa Langa (and no, I didn’t stutter). I’m opening with them because they supposedly invented the cavacha beat. Zaïko from their amazing “Zaïre-Ghana” album with “Zaïko Wa Wa.”

And now we have Orchestre Bella-Bella, one of my favorite groups from this period. It was hard to pick a song for this episode because I love so many by them. Tonight I present to you “Yakani,” which has some very hypnotic call-and-response at the middle.

Bella-Bella

This Bella-Bella album, full of cavacha beats, is AWESOME!!!!


Next up is another of my favorite bands: Orchestre Lipua Lipua, which featured the amazing Nyboma and Pepe Kalle, both of whom came from Bella Bella. Not so surprising, since Bella Bella had a song called “Lipua Lipua.” Here is the group, Lipua Lipua, with “Niki Bwe.”

Next up is a group that no one seems to know much about. They apparently had only one album, and it’s a killer. The group is Orchestre Yanga-Yanga, and the song is “Yoka Olito,” about a dude who needs to take his mama’s advice.

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

Episode 10 Tracks:

Zaïko Wa Wa – Zaïko Langa Langa
Pamaphi – Orchestre Shama-Shama
Yakani – Orchestre Bella-Bella
Niki Bwe – Orchestre Lipua Lipua
Yoka Olito – Orchestre Yanga-Yanga
Pele Odija – Mose Se Sengo “Fan Fan”

Liner Notes: Episode 9: Yo, Leki!

Aired live May 27, 2015, and available here online

This show is the last for the season but I’ll be back in August or September with music by Nyboma and Lipua Lipua, Orchestre Bella Bella, Shama Shama, Pepe Kalle, and more.

Tonight’s focus is ba leki or les petits frères (or little brothers, if you don’t speak Lingala or French). The title of the show, “Yo, Leki,” is simply “you, little brother,” and it comes from the infectious 90s song “Solola Bien” by Wenge Musica. My favorite part is this moment (not to mention the awesome ndombolo dancing and the chimp that’s like what the ?!@!).

Les petits frères of Wenge make us bouger bouger!

Les petits frères of Wenge make us bouger bouger!

It sounds so endearing, like advice from a big brother to his leki, until you realize he’s probably bashing musicians who splintered from his group.

This made me to think about real-life sibling rivalry in Congolese music, and, in a more positive light, the younger generation of musicians who borrowed from their older bros, so to speak.

When I started going to African dance parties many years ago, all I knew about Congolese music was the ndombolo style of Wenge and the like. So imagine my amazement when I played some oldies and discovered they’d been sampled! Especially for those of you who listen to Congolese music but have never heard anything before the 80s or 90s, this should be a special treat.

Bavon Marie Marie and his Negro Succès

Bavon Marie Marie and his Negro Succès: inspiration for the next generation of Congolese musicians

But first we’ll begin with the tragic tale of two brothers. Franco Luambo Makiadi and his band OK Jazz had been on the scene for a while when his petit frère, Bavon Marie Marie, started stealing the spotlight. First up is the song “Etabe ya Mofude” by Bavon and his band, Orchestre Negro Succès.

I started listening to Congolese oldies on a CD somebody gave me, and it had no track names. In those days, I thought Franco and his brother were the same person because their sound was so similar. I wonder if it was due to competition between them. In this next song, “Tonton” by OK Jazz, you can hear echoes of the song I just played.

Franco and the more established Tout Puissant OK Jazz

Franco and the more established Tout Puissant OK Jazz

Bavon Marie Marie, Congolese music's rising star, gone at 26

Congolese music’s rising star, extinguished at 26

The relationship between these brothers unfortunately went beyond playful rivalry. One night, they were arguing over a woman, as the story goes. Bavon, who’d had too much to drink, drove off with her, and his car crashed into a tree.

She lost both her legs. He lost his life. He was only 26 years old.

This next song by OK Jazz is a tribute: “En Mémoire de Bavon.”

In that song we heard the voice of Vicky Longomba. If you’re familiar with Congolese music of the latter years, this name might sound familiar to you. Vicky Longomba was the father of singer, dancer, and former drummer Awilo Longomba, who incidentally sampled many old Congolese songs, including this next one from the early 2000s, “Faux Dossier.”

Awilo Longomba, petit frère & king of samples!

Awilo Longomba, petit frère & king of samples!


Well, if danse makoloba [correction: makolo pente, as in “heavy footed”??] that he sings about that makes you bouger bouger was really a dance, Awilo didn’t invent it. Check this out: Negro Succès’s song, “Nelly na Place na Ngai.”

This next song from the 90s also sampled from [“Nelly na Place na Ngai”]. Just listen carefully to the rap they do near the end. The song is “Ma Chérie” by Nouvelle Génération de la République Démocratique.

And next I present to you what is probably OK Jazz’s most famous song. Incidentally it’s one I don’t like so much, but I’m showcasing it here because Awilo uses a very famous part: “Lelo makambo, lobi makambo. Biso tokosuka wapi-o?” (Today, problems. Tomorrow, problems. Where will it all end?). Of course, that song is “Mario,” featuring the svelte-voiced Madilu System.

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

Episode 9 Tracks:

Etabe ya Mofude – Bavon Marie Marie et Orchestre Negro Succès
Tonton – Franco et le Tout Puissant OK Jazz
Libanga na Libumu – Orchestre Negro Succès
Marie Naboyi – OK Jazz
Savon ya Sika Astra – Orchestre Negro Succès
Savon Reward Chez Marsavco – OK Jazz
En Mémoire de Bavon – OK Jazz
Faux Dossier – Awilo Longomba
Nelly na Place na Ngai – Orchestre Negro Succès
Ma Chérie – Nouvelle Génération de la République Démocratique
Ben Betito – Zaïko Langa Langa
Mario – OK Jazz
Gâter le Coin – Awilo Longomba

Liner Notes: Episode 8: Cavacha + Clave = Clavacha!

Aired live May 13, 2015, and available here online

Tonight we’ll be taking a trip from the two Congos, up the coast of West Africa, to the Americas, and back to Africa. The inspiration for this trip is a 5-beat rhythmic pattern known as the clave, which might be one of the most expressive “genes” in music history, so to speak.

The clave as typically played, with two wooden sticks

The clave as typically played, with two wooden sticks

Nobody knows its exact origins. Some music scholars say Africa. Others say the Americas. Or was it the Middle East? What is known is that this beat gained prominence in Cuba and was likely brought by the hundreds of thousands of Africans who were enslaved there. Regardless of where this beat originated, it impacted music on both sides of the Atlantic.

In my earlier episodes, I mentioned how African popular music has had a dialogue with music created by African-descended people in the Americas. Cuban music in particular had a strong influence, and at the heart of it is the clave beat. And after a few hundred years, it’s still alive in both African and American music.

It was extremely difficult putting together tonight’s playlist because I have so many songs that use the clave, so I anticipate this being the first in a series of episodes.

Bel Ami, a delightful album by Congo's Papa Noël

Bel Ami, a delightful Cuban-inspired album by the Congo’s Papa Noël

First up are songs that were heavily influenced by Cuban rumba and son. We’ll begin our journey in the Congo with the lovely song, “Bel Ami,” by Papa Noël, which starts out with the clave.

Our next destination is Nigeria, where Cuban music was quite popular as well, probably because it contained such strong elements that were already from there, due to the slave trade. This next song [“Guitar Boy” by Sir Victor Uwaifo and His Titibitis] references Mami Wata, a mermaid-like deity who also crossed the ocean with enslaved Africans and ended up in the Americas.

The Congos, Nigeria, and Ghana are just a few African countries where people adored Cuban music, but it really took root in Senegal. Songs by this next band are regularly played at salsa clubs, where I’m sure many would be shocked to learn they aren’t Latino. The band is Africando and the song is “Aïcha,” first made popular by Algerian singer Khaled. This version is sung in Wolof.

Senegal's premier salsa band, Africando

Senegal’s premier salsa band, Africando


Next we’ll hop over to Peru. Before I became obsessed with Congolese music—there was a time—I was crazy about Afro-Peruvian music. This next song is by Afro-Peruvian diva Eva Ayllón, who sings: “It’s the black people’s rhythm, that flavorful rhythm.” She’s not directly addressing the clave, but the shoe fits!

Before heading back to Africa, we’ll make a stop in my home country, the United States. In the Americas, the clave is usually associated with Cuban music or Latin music in general, but it did make its way into rhythm and blues, popularized by Bo Diddley. Here is Betty Wright, giving us an example with “Cleanup Woman.”

Bo Diddley, who popularized the clave beat in the United States

Bo Diddley, who popularized the clave beat in the United States


I’m going to end tonight by staying in the Congo but skipping ahead to the present day. As I mentioned, the clave beat is still going strong in African pop music today. Coupé-décalé, an energetic dance music from the Ivory Coast, is but one example. And you can still hear it in Congolese soukous. The Congolese-Belgian rapper, Baloji, is here to demonstrate with his song, “Congo Eza ya Biso.”

For more examples of the clave beat in songs from both sides of the Atlantic, listen here online.

Belizean Andy Palacio's stellar album, Wátina

Belizean Andy Palacio’s stellar album, Wátina

Episode 8 Tracks:

Bel Ami – Papa Noël
Makambo Mibale – Les Bantous de la Capitale
Guitar Boy – Sir Victor Uwaifo and His Titibitis
Kyenkyen Bi Adi M’awu – K. Frimpong and His Cubano Fiestas
Aïcha (Wolof version) – Africando
Las Quiero Término Medio – Tio Gomez Con La Orquesta Riverside
Raíces Negras – Eva Ayllón
Wátina (I Called Out) – Andy Palacio and The Garifuna Collective
Cleanup Woman – Betty Wright
Tsy Kivy – Tarika
Motema na Ngai Télévision – Youlou Mabiala et l’Orchestre Kamikaze
Mwana Djambala – Theo Blaise Kounkou
Baya Baya – Orchestre Kiam
Congo Eza ya Biso (Le Secours Populaire) – Baloji with La Chorale de la Grâce

Liner Notes: Episode 7: Les Mangelepa v. Super Mazembe

Aired live April 29, 2015, and available here online

Tonight I have a special treat for you: a good old-fashioned battle of the bands: Les Mangelepa versus Super Mazembe! Both bands got their start in the Congo, but they eventually made their way to Kenya and became huge stars there. As a result, their rhythms and vocal harmonies have East African influences that are a bit different from what I’ve played so far, and sometimes they sing in Swahili.

Les Mangelepa on safari

Les Mangelepa goes on safari

Super Mazeme on safari too

Super Mazembe: “We can do a safari too!”

I’m counting on you, my listeners, to judge the last band standing tonight. I have very few songs by these two bands—no more than 30 each—but I adore so many of them. And I’m not alone, bandeko. I have a certain friend who has begged me many times for a certain Mangelepa song…a song I played only once for him. I myself first heard it on a defunct podcast, and I hunted down the DJ online and pleaded for a copy, which he graciously sent me.

And it made me higher than…Mt. Kenya!!

(Speaking of getting high, I nearly passed out when I learned recently that Les Mangelepa are still singing in Kenya’s nightclubs!! That means I don’t need a time machine but rather a ticket to Nairobi, and pronto.)

And you need to join the club, if you haven’t already, because I guarantee it’s great music. Especially because some would call me a music snob (I prefer “connoisseur”). You see, for some people, food is everything, and if the blend of starches and oils and spices ain’t just right, guess who don’t wanna eat?

Music is the same for me. In my humble opinion, there are so, so many Congolese songs where the elements come together in a perfect blend to make not just a dish but a five-course meal. And so many of these songs are never boring: never monotonous or monotone. They have unexpected twists and turns. With this first song I’m about to share with you, I fell in love from the very first note. First up, in the orange bellbottoms with matching suede platform shoes—don’t forget, y’all, it was the 70s—Les Mangelepa with “Walter.” Let the battle begin!

Les Mangelepa in bell-bottomed finery....it was the 70s, y'all!

Les Mangelepa in bell-bottomed jumpsuited finery….it was the 70s!


Next up, wearing polka dot bellbottoms, matching vests, and white hats: Super Mazembe strikes back with their own tribute to their man, “Kasongo.”

The guys of Super Mazembe goofing off

Super Mazembe: “We are clearly not afraid of Les Mangelepa…BRING IT ON!!!”


Les Mangelepa has changed their clothes! They’re now wearing shiny red jumpsuits with matching sweatbands and looking cool as ever, as they prepare to take us to Zimbabwe with “Harare.”

Les Mangelepa

Les Mangelepa: “A battle with Mazembe, eh? We already won, just getting dressed.”


Super Mazembe returns to the stage decked out in sky blue bellbottoms, platform shoes, and pageboy caps. And no shirts this time, folks. O la la! And saying they can be cool too, with this next one, “Samba.”

Super Mazembe

Super Mazembe: “Our beats will crush Les Mangelepa like this tractor…or whatever it is!”


So, can you name tonight’s champion??

To see how this battle played out with the other songs, listen here online.

Episode 7 Tracks:
Walter – Les Mangelepa
Kasongo – Super Mazembe
Mimba – Les Mangelepa
Lukasi – Super Mazembe
Maboko Pamba – Les Mangelepa
Nabimaka Te – Super Mazembe
Harare – Les Mangelepa
Samba – Super Mazembe
Zoao – Les Mangelepa
Shauri Yako – Super Mazembe

Liner Notes: Episode 6: Congolese Divas

Aired live April 8, 2015, and available here online

Tonight, for the first time on this show, I present to you women’s stories in their own voices. I’ve waited so long because I honestly have very few songs by Congolese women. Ironically, I was prompted to learn Lingala a few years ago because I was listening to so much Congolese music by men, and I wanted to make sure they weren’t saying anything bad about women!

M'Pongo Love

M’Pongo Love: Congolese moyembi, Congolese diva!

Now, if you know Congolese music, you might be surprised that I keep referencing OK Jazz as my favorite band. Its leader, Franco, is said to have had a bad track record when it comes to positive images of women. But, to give him some credit, I have more than 250 OK Jazz songs, and there are a fair number that speak about scandalous men (need I say Mario??) as well as women.

Or maybe my Lingala isn’t good enough for me to understand!

Congolese music superstar M'Bilia Bel

Congolese music superstar M’Bilia Bel

So why are women so underrepresented in Congolese popular music? I have no hard answers for you, but from what I’ve gleaned from the songs in my collection, the life of a moyembi (singer) was difficult. These men sing about how they make little money, how they return home from gigs to find their women in the arms of other men—hmm, curiously, their own love affairs on the road don’t bother them—and, as Tabu Ley Rochereau sings in “Hortense,” the singer’s life is like that of a soldier, always going here, going there, and leaving loved ones behind. I can only imagine it must have been harder for women, who would have spent their lives on the road, in nightclubs, unmarried…and surrounded by those men.

But some made it and became stars, such as M’bilia Bel, who started as a backup singer and dancer and moved into the spotlight alongside Tabu Ley. And they made [bad French accent] beautiful music together in more ways than one, through lyrics, vocals, and a daughter. Tabu Ley, by the way, already had a wife and several children…oh, the hard life of a musicien!

M'Bilia Bel with Tabu Ley Rochereau

M’Bilia Bel with Tabu Ley Rochereau

First up is a song by M’bilia called “La Beauté d’une Femme” (a woman’s beauty). And it’s a figurative slap in the face to her rival.

This next song [“Ndaya”] also speaks to rivals, by the sweet-voiced singer, M’Pongo Love. She was apparently only about 20 years old when this song was recorded.

And now, I have to bring my men of OK Jazz into the mix, but this next song, “Layille,” features a duet with Franco and a real-life woman for once!—Jolie Detta.

Jolie Detta with OK Jazz

Jolie Detta with OK Jazz


Now we return to M’bilia Bel with one of my absolute favorites by her, “Nakeyi Nairobi”—I’m going to Nairobi to help my friend Duni, she says.

Yondo Sister with Soukous Stars

Yondo Sister with Soukous Stars

As my music collection grows, I hope to stumble across some other female vocalists such as Abeti and Tshala Muana to add to my favorites playlist. But for now I have a backlog of over 200 songs (of course, by men!) that I need to listen to.

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

Episode 6 Tracks:

La Beauté d’une Femme – M’Bilia Bel
Ndaya – M’Pongo Love
Cadence Mudanda – M’Bilia Bel with Tabu Ley Rochereau
Layille – OK Jazz feat. Jolie Detta
Nakeyi Nairobi – M’Bilia Bel
Ede – M’Pongo Love
Yamba Ngai – M’Bilia Bel
Monama Elima – M’Pongo Love
Dunia – Soukous Stars feat. Yondo Sister