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.”

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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…

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!

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 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 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

Wednesday, May 27: Episode 9: Yo, Leki!

Episode 9 of CAVACHA EXPRESS! will feature Congolese music’s petits frères (little brothers)…literally and figuratively. After a face-off between brothers Bavon Marie Marie and Franco of OK Jazz, we’ll listen to the next generation of singers like Awilo Longomba, who paid respect to their “big brothers.”

Create a FREE account here to listen LIVE on Wednesday, May 27, 2015, 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM EST (New York City time zone).

After this episode, CAVACHA EXPRESS! will take a break for the summer and will be back around August. In the meantime, you can listen to past episodes on YouTube.

Later,

Kimi K.

Liner Notes: Episode 5: Love that Voice! Ntesa Dalienst

Aired live March 25, 2015 and available here online

Tonight I’m focusing on yet another of my favorite voices in Congolese music: that of Ntesa Dalienst. He built his career with my favorite band, OK Jazz, but before that, he helped launch the group Les Maquisards, which Sam Mangwana was also affiliated with.

Ntesa Dalienst

Ntesa Dalienst

So, why do I love this man’s voice so much? Like Sam Mangwana and Josky Kiambukuta, who I profiled on the last two episodes, Ntesa’s voice is distinctive and memorable, but unlike those other two, it’s high-pitched.

I mentioned in an earlier episode that men with high-pitched voices in Congolese music sometimes sing from a woman’s perspective. This gender-bending is much appreciated by me, considering I’m a soprano who loves to sing along, and considering that women are practically nonexistent in this music scene (you might have noticed that none of my episodes so far has featured a female vocalist).

one of many OK Jazz albums

one of many OK Jazz albums featuring Ntesa’s vocal talents

In the 70s and 80s, there were a few female stars—notably M’bilia Bel, M’pongo Love, and Abeti—but as much as I’m an advocate for women’s rights, I much prefer the gentlemen of Congolese music.

And gentleman Ntesa Dalienst seems to have been, at least from his musician’s persona. He penned the anthem to women, “Bina na Ngai na Respect” (dance with me respectfully), which I played on Episode 2. And photos of him show a very tall man who is always smiling. If this isn’t enough to endear him to you, hopefully the sweetness of his voice will.

Ntesa with Franco

Ntesa with Franco

Tonight I begin with the song that introduced me to Ntesa, from his time with Les Grands Maquisards. I loved it so much that it was one of the first songs I learned to sing verbatim in Lingala: “Jaria,” a plea of love to a young lady whose mama and tata don’t quite approve, unlike her Auntie Celia.

Les Grands Maquisards

Les Grands Maquisards album


Next up is another one by Les Grands Maquisards, “Biki,” a plea for marriage. I’m not sure what Ntesa is saying at the end because it’s not Lingala, but whatever it is, it makes him cry. I believe this is the only song in my collection that drives a singer to tears, by the way. Oh, mawa!

And finally, I’ll end with one of Ntesa’s big hits with OK Jazz, where he sings from a man’s perspective about a woman named Mouzi, who makes him feel, he says, as though a tick has entered his heart.

So now I hope you understand why Ntesa’s voice has entered my own heart. But unfortunately, this man is no longer with us! If they ever figure out time travel, you can bet that I’ll be headed to some nightclub in the Congo, circa 1975.

In the meantime, Ntesa lives on through the voice of his daughter, Christelle Ntesa Love, who is following in her father’s footsteps with her own version of “Bina na Ngai na Respect”!!

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

Episode 5 Tracks:

Jaria – Les Grands Maquisards
Biki – Les Grands Maquisards
Maria Mboka – Les Grands Maquisards
Tala Ye na Miso – OK Jazz
Mobali Malamu – OK Jazz
Mouzi (Liyanzi Ekoti Ngai na Motema) – OK Jazz

Maria Mboka record

Maria Mboka record

Liner Notes: Episode 4: I Love Josky!

Aired live March 4, 2015, and available here online

Josky

Josky! Nalingi yo!

Tonight’s episode features yet another one of my favorite singers, Josky Kiambukuta, during his career with OK Jazz. If you’ve listened to earlier episodes, you know that OK Jazz is one of my all-time favorite bands from the Congo.

I have to make an aside about this band, which had the great Franco Luambo Makiadi as its leader. When I’ve mentioned to some Congolese folks that I love OK Jazz, I’ve gotten distasteful looks. As one person put it bluntly: Franco destroyed other bands. You see, despite Franco’s amazing talent, he seems to have felt threatened by the competition, and as a result, snatched up talent where he could, creating his own empire of sorts.

Surely, if I had been the leader of one of those other bands, such as Trio Madjesi or Les Maquisards, I too might despise Franco. But, being far removed from the drama in so many ways, when I listen to OK Jazz, I only hear good music. I hear Lutumba Simaro’s poetry in the lyrics, even if I can’t always understand the words. I hear the infectious call-and-response between the horns, guitars, and voices. And oh, those voices—blending in such smooth harmony! Franco was genius in the lead singers he showcased: Ntesa Dalienst, Youlou Mabiala, Madilu, and Josky, to name a few.

This album is to die for!!!! Okundji nandimi te lisolo bayebisi soki ya solo, mama!

This OK Jazz album is to DIE for!!!! In Kimi’s humble opinion, at least

And it’s not just me who thinks so. I once heard that OK Jazz had a performance in Kenya, and Josky and my other favorite, Ntesa, were absent. The crowd demanded their presence, and I would have been right there with them. It just goes to show you—we can come from different cultures, with different languages and tastes and aesthetics, and yet, we can recognize something incredibly special in a voice like Josky’s, with its incredible range.

Speaking of, it was difficult to pick songs for tonight’s show, since I love so many by him, so if you enjoy what you hear tonight, there’ll be more to come!

And, unlike most my favorite Congolese singers from this period, Josky is still living!! That means there’s a chance I can hear this great man sing LIVE, for real…o Nzambe, oza yoka??

Josky in more recent years

Josky in more recent years

First up is a song that first led me to the wonders of Josky’s voice, ten years ago now, called “Serment” (oath).

Nakopesa yo motema na ngai (I’ll give my heart to you)…ah, a song about good love, and one of the few that I have by OK Jazz. I started us off on that note because it goes downhill from here, folks! But if you don’t understand Lingala, hopefully Josky’s voice will carry you away and give you good feelings, like in this next one, “Vaccination”…a prevention not against the flu but rather, worries.

Next we have the song, “Tokabola Ba Sentiments.” If you don’t know what that means, it’s a good thing if you’re trying to feel uplifted tonight, because this is also a sad song. But you wouldn’t know that from the beat.

Next up is “Mbanzi Ya Kamundele,” which I believe is a composition by Lutumba Simaro, who was known as “the poet.” And you can definitely hear the alliteration and rhyme scheme in the lyrics. For example, “Mwasi akendeke pe akoki kozonga…nyonso se na Nzambe” (my woman’s gone away, but she might come back…it’s all up to God).

Simaro, The Poet, with Franco

The Poet, Simaro, with Franco of OK Jazz


This next song is called “Alita.” Oh, ngai naleli, nabemisa nzoto, o lisuma! Kasi, tango sebene ekoya, nakosepela pe nakobina mingi, oy!

For notes about the other songs in this episode (and to hear more of Kimi’s attempts at Lingala!!), listen here online.

Episode 4 Tracks:

Serment (Kikam) – OK Jazz
Vaccination – OK Jazz
Tokabola ba Sentiments – OK Jazz
Proprietaire – OK Jazz
Mbanzi ya Kamundele – OK Jazz
Alita – OK Jazz
Momi – OK Jazz
Decision Echangé Maloba (Mbawu Nakorecuperer Yo) – OK Jazz