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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.

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.

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

March 30: Smooth Congolese Grooves

Episode 12 of CAVACHA EXPRESS! will feature some of the most heartfelt crooning in kimi’s collection of Congolese music. Get ready to fall in love to the voices of Madilu System (pictured), Pamelo Mounk’a, and more!

Create a FREE account here to listen LIVE on Wednesday, March 30, 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 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

Going Way, Way Back to the 50s on February 24

show flyerEpisode 11 of CAVACHA EXPRESS! will feature some catchy Congolese rumba from the 1950s. Get ready for a joyride even further back in time!

Create a FREE account here to listen LIVE on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM EST (New York City time zone).

Missed a previous episode? Listen HERE on YouTube!

Later,

Kimi K.