Mozart of Africa

I was excited to come across the short biopic below from CCTV News about Congolese musician and bandleader, Franko Luambo Makiadi. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Franco’s band, OK Jazz. And I’m not the only one. OK Jazz composer and guitarist Simaro Lutumba is seen in the clip talking about how people even died at a concert in Africa trying to get close to Franco!

Legendary though he might have been across Africa, though, Franco went relatively unknown on the global circuit, including in the US, throughout his extensive musical career. Even these days, with a revival of retro African music, he isn’t nearly as known as, say, Nigeria’s Fela Kuti, whose life was even portrayed on Broadway. And yet, the two share many similarities.

Both were musically active around the same time, and both were incredibly talented. Both of them portrayed some unbalanced criticisms and stereotypes about women in their songs. And both were politically controversial figures, albeit on different ends of the spectrum. Whereas Fela openly criticized Nigerian politicians in his songs, Franco wrote praise songs to Zaire’s self-proclaimed president for life. There are arguments, however, that Franco and other Congolese musicians couched criticisms of their government in songs about the trials of love and heartbreak, not to mention a tailor whose needle was taken away.

Regardless, during Franco’s time, most listeners around the world would have been oblivious to the content, let alone potential hidden meanings, of these songs, because they were sung primarily in Lingala. Accordingly, a language barrier has been cited as one of the reasons for the lack of wide-scale appeal of Congolese music in general. And yet, OK Jazz was and still is embraced in African countries where English is the official language and where Lingala isn’t spoken. In fact, the biopic below was probably produced in Kenya, where Congolese music has been immensely popular.

From the vintage concert clips I’ve seen, it seems OK Jazz toured outside Africa during their latter years. Incidentally, my least favorite of their songs come from this period. I don’t claim to be a music critic, but I wonder if they might have had a larger following, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, had they toured in the ’70s. They still had their horn section—replaced by some cringe-inducing synthesizer sounds in the ’80s—and the beats were more polyrhythmic and just more interesting, in my humble opinion.

Regardless of the reasons music lovers around the world didn’t get to experience OK Jazz in real time during their heyday, we can again give thanks to the internet for archiving their legacy. And what a legacy it is. The biopic mentions that Franco recorded probably around 1,000 songs during his lifetime. My collection of OK Jazz songs now numbers a little over 300, so there’s even so much more for yours truly to discover.

Especially if you’ve never before heard of Franco, I invite you to watch the biopic and learn more about the man who, as one of the commentators mentions, could easily be deemed the “Mozart of Africa.”

Advertisements

The Rumba Kings, or, If I were a Filmmaker

For a long time, I’ve had dreams of being a filmmaker. High on my list would be a film about the history of Congolese popular music, including interviews with musicians. Something like the audio/visual version of Gary Stewart’s encyclopedic book, Rumba on the River.

So I was beyond ecstatic to learn recently that a film is in the works! And not only that, but it features some of my absolute favorites, including OK Jazz, Verckys, and Simaro, whose work you can hear on past (and future!) episodes of Cavacha Express!

See the clip below for a preview of The Rumba Kings, scheduled to be released in late 2018. Its director, Alan Brain Delgado, describes the golden age of Congolese music as “the real treasure of the Congo.” I hope you can see why!

Soukous Par-tay

In my last post, I mentioned guitarist Beniko Popolipo’s cover band, Makutanu. They give an amazing performance in the clip below along with other Congolese music old-timers. I SO wish I could have been there!

The clip begins with one of my favorite songs by Madilu (“Si Je Savais Ça,” from Episode 12). They also cover one of my favorite Tabu Ley songs (around 14:00). One of my favorite OK Jazz songs (“Salima,” around 17:50). One of my favorite Zaïko songs (“Dede,” around 1:38:00). My beloved Josky from Episode 4  appears around 1:11:40.

AND I believe that’s OK Jazz’s guitarist Michelino in the background, along with a few others I should probably know.

I think this went down in Paris. Yet another reason to go back to Paris…

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!

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!

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

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

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