If people would ask me which song to play to seduce their loved one, I would say Joseph Kabasele’s Parafifi. Few people know that there actually exists at least three versions of this beautiful rumba.
For the orginal version of Parafifi we have to go back to the early fifties, before l’Orchestre African Jazz made its official debut. Joseph Kabasele started performing and recording for the Opika label around 1950. At the same time, a very young Nicolas Kasanda wa Mikalay (Docteur Nico) and Nico’s older brother Charles Mwamba (Déchaud) came into the picture. Kabasele was eager to work with these two talented guitarists. The Belgian tenor sax player Alfons ‘Fud’ Candrix – at the time a session player for Opika – was in the game too. His merit? Being the one who introduced the saxophone in Congolese rumba. The Belgian Gilbert Warnant – who was working as a recording engineer and producer for Opika – was in the early Parafifi session too, adding a Solovox organ touch to the tune. In short, this fivesome – a mixture of Congolese and Belgian musicians – was, for the most part, responsible for recording the earliest version of the song Parafifi in 1952.
According to a 45 record on the label Pathé where this song is featured on, Parafifi was made under the name Kabaselle et son ensemble Saxo Fund Candrix – hence the error on the sleeve – (see picture below). Vinyl aficionados can find this version on the vinyl compilation with the misleading name African Jazz 1960. Misleading because it features 8 tracks which were recorded for the Opika label, the company that closed down in 1957. Or you could find the Pathé Marconi 45 record that was released in the 60s (see picture below). I would love to include this version as a streaming, ripped from my own vinyl copy. Unfortunately, due to copyright control from Sterns Music who feature this song on their wonderful anthology on Joseph Kabasele, I cannot upload it on Soundcloud.
There exists another version of Parafifi. Thanks to YouTube-user Jimmy Lusianda Mawete we can enjoy this remarkable version (see clip below).
It has a slower rhythm than the version I mentioned and Fud Candrix’s saxophone is nowhere to be heard. The studio set-up seems more primitive so you could draw the conclusion that this is a a version made in the fifties. Then again, the piano we hear in this composition only got his place in the l’African Jazz songs in 1961, when Manu Dibango joined the band. Lots of mysteries to be uncovered…
If anybody has more info about the recording that is on YouTube, feel free to share in the comments.
Scan from 78 shellac: Rumba on the river, Gary Stewart, p.39
Parafifi last version
The version you can hear on the Planet Ilunga vinyl anthology on Le Grand Kallé & l’African Jazz features the most recent version of Parafifi. It was re-recorded by Joseph Kabasele in the sixties and has been released on Kallé’s Surboum African Jazz label.The song oozes romanticism and can be considered a homage to the beauty of women. ‘Pour la petite histoire’, Parafifi is sung to Jeanne Félicité Safou Safouesse, the first female announcer and journalist on Radio Brazzaville. During 1940-1950 she was a star in both the Congos. Kabasele expresses his love for her in a superlative way.
Update: according to this radio interview with Jean-Pierre François Nimy Nzonga, author of Dictionnaire des immortels de la musique Congolaise moderne, we thank the excellent guitar in this last version, who is 2 minutes longer than the original, to André Kambete (Damoiseau).
Félicité, mwana mwasi suka botembé
Oya lelo obebisi mokili awa oh
Namopanzi tala elengi ya paradizo
Namipesi nyonso se na yo