Planet Ilunga is a Belgian vinyl label focusing on music that is at first sight untranslatable. It has a special interest for Congolese music of the 50s & 60s.
PI 01: Grand Kalle & l’African Jazz – Souvenirs from the Congo
‘Souvenirs from the Congo’ is the first release on this newly formed music label. Planet Ilunga releases will be all about music that touches you without initially understanding the singing. Music that is recognisable by its ambiance, while we can’t verbally relate to it due to the language barrier. The main language in most of the songs on this first compilation is Lingala, a relatively new language that is spoken in and around Kinshasa, but also in Congo-Brazzaville. It fits the rumba sound well. Occasionally we also hear echoes of Kikongo, Thsiluba, French and especially Spanish in these songs. Not only the Latin rhythms from the imported Cuban records sounded familiar to the Congolese musicians’ ears, so did the words. The Spanish phonetics were particularly close to their own language. Whether or not they understood the words, Congolese sometimes sang in Spanish, some even learned the basics and wrote their own songs with Spanish lyrics. Occasionally, singers playfully mixed languages, which led to new musical languages like Spangala. In an interview Franco from O.K. Jazz once said: «Well, nobody understood Spanish. Nevertheless, we took a dictionary and searched for words that would sound good and we used them regardless of their true meaning.»
After the first release on Grand Kalle & l’African Jazz , for Planet Ilunga the quest continues to recover the Congolese music history. With this new compilation we delve into the back catalogue from Esengo, one of the labels that operated in the former Leopoldville in the fifties. In a five-year time span (1957-1961) this publishing company – named after the Lingala word for ‘pleasure’ – released over 400 records, all issued on 78 rpm records. This compilation focuses on the recordings of two of the most important and earliest ensembles of Esengo: Rock-a-Mambo and l’African Jazz. Their recordings were characterized by a very melodic thinking and were often drenched in Afro-American rhythms. It resulted in an unparalleled joie de vivre, lots of pidgin Spanish and extremely danceable tunes.
After the two earlier releases on Planet Ilunga, focusing on the orchestras African Jazz and Rock-a-Mambo, it makes perfect sense that a third album should explore the treasures of that other major school of popular Congolese music. With this new compilation Planet Ilunga goes back to the very early days of O.K. Jazz, founded in 1956 in Léopoldville and disbanded in 1993. During the late fifties O.K. Jazz was the home of outstanding musicians such as Franco, Vicky, De La Lune, Edo Nganga, Dessoin, Kouka Celestin, Isaac, Brazzos, Mujos and many others. Together they created an unique and hair-raising take on rumba, cha-cha-cha, calypso, merengue and the band’s favourite rhythm: the bolero
From June 1956 to August 1961 the band recorded 320 tracks for the 78 rpm music label Loningisa. Despite earlier efforts from labels such as Crammed Disc, RetroAfric and African (thank you!), there is still a large part of the Loningisa back catalogue that remains hidden from the public. That’s why Planet Ilunga associated with Yves Luambo Emongo (son of Franco) and Julien Rocky Longomba (son of Vicky) and compiled 32 O.K. Jazz songs that were recorded between 1956 and 1961.
All songs on this compilation were originally released on 78 rpm records on the Loningisa label and most of the selected tracks were never reproduced after their original release.