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!


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 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 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 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