The new Planet Ilunga is out! Gatefold 2LP edition on 180 gram vinyl with 28-page booklet. Please message me if you want a copy, there are only 500 made.
While the pressing plant keeps delaying the vinyl release of the Esengo-compilation because of “an increasing demand in vinyl orders” (will be out in 3 weeks now), Alastair Johnston’s eminent muzikifan website, already published a well-written review on the Rock-a-Mambo/l’African Jazz Esengo double vinyl compilaton:
“The formation of Rock-a-Mambo seems to have been for fun and to indulge a shared passion for Latin music. They wrote Spanish lyrics without much effort (“Yo me muero, ay, yo te quiero” — yes, really), but every groove exudes joie-de-vivre, or esengo. (…)”
Meanwhile I launched a Planet Ilunga YouTube page. I will post now and then Congolese music from the golden age that’s not on YouTube yet. I have uploaded so far two rare tracks of Le Grand Kallé & l’African Jazz, more to follow. Enjoy!
First of all, thanks to all of you for the warm response on the announcement of the ‘Souvenirs from Esengo’ compilation, keeps me going for future releases on Planet Ilunga.
Today I found a very good reason to cancel the things I was supposed to do, as the vinyl test pressing of the Rock-a-Mambo/l’African Jazz record arrived this morning! I’m satisfied about the result. A few tracks (3) sound a little bit rough as the original take in the Esengo studio in Léoville was rough too, but overall it’s sounding dynamic and warm, especially the tracks remastered from the original shellac. While I was listening and doing awkward dance moves to this joyful music, I could only imagine that the Rock-a-Mambo Orchestra had way too many talented musicians. My favorite tracks on this double lp are ‘Ya Biso Pembeni’ (l’African Rock), ‘Toca Mi’ (Rock-a-Mambo) and ‘Oye Jacquy’ (Rock-a-Mambo) and so on…
Normally I should get the finished vinyls and booklets within +/-3 weeks, so we ‘re slowly getting to the release date. I will keep you all posted of course. You can still secure your copy by sending me an email, but from now on shops and indivuals can also pre-order this release through the Rush Hour shop/distribution in Amsterdam:
Planet Ilunga proudly announces a retrospective on the short-lived Esengo label. Esengo is one of the legendary labels that operated in the former Leopoldville (current Kinshasa) 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. The 2LP Souvenirs from Esengo 1957-1961 focuses on the recordings of two of the most important and earliest ensembles of Esengo: Rock-a-Mambo and l’African Jazz. Several tracks on this compilation are remastered from the original 78 rpm records pressed in former Leopoldville. These have now been reissued for the very first time.
Out in June 2014, more details here and in the following video:
In Belgium the “mother of all elections” is coming up, meaning: hollow phrases, waste of paper and lots of casually dressed up politicians on the daily food markets begging you to vote for them. Yes, I miss something pleasant in the campaigns.
In the Congo, politics and music have been going hand in hand until today. In the fifties and sixties, songs for Congolese independence and Pan-African causes were spreading over the country and sometimes beyond, most notably just before and after Congolese independence.
The propaganda side in the repertoire of the father of modern Congolese music, Joseph Kabasele, is rather unknown. Unlike Franco, Kalle wasn’t used to sing propaganda songs. He did sing songs for Modibo Keita, the former president of Mali, and for his friend Patrice Emery Lumumba, but those songs served more collective purposes.
Since Mbokamosika’s article ‘Le Grand Kalle avait quand même chanté Mobutu !’ it is known that Joseph Kabasele got involved with propaganda, for Mobutu. Around 1966 he released two songs for this president’s regime: ‘Indépendance Economique’ and ‘Congo Centrafrique’, two themes that were part of his nationalization discourse. Included is the cover of the 45rpm record that was released on Kabasele’s own Surboum African Jazz label – the two songs are available for streaming on the Mbokamosika link. Joseph Kabasele himself and Alex Mayukuta (Alexis), one of the singers of l’African Jazz in their final period (1964 – 1969), were in charge of the vocals.
The vocal duo Kalle-Alexis also released another song that can be seen as a propaganda song. The song is called ‘President Yakubu Gowon’ and has been made in 1966. For info, in July 1966, Yakubu Gowon took power after a military coup d’état in Nigeria, making him the president of Nigeria and head of the Nigerian military army until 1975. I guess Kalle made (or better was ordered to make) this song for the self-proclaimed new president in 1966. The flip side offers another surprise, as there is a Kalle & l’African Jazz version of the ‘hymne national de la republique democratique du Congo’.
To this day, I haven’t found any more evidence of propaganda songs from Kalle, but feel free to comment if you know more. There is always more…
Gelukkig Nieuwjaar – Bonne Année – Best wishes
We kick off the year with some bakolo miziki, originally recorded for the Opika label in 1954.
On the line-up we find a singer from Congo-Brazzaville – Jacques Elenga Eboma – and the (later) African Jazz members Albert Taumani, Charles Mwamba (Déchaud) and possibly a very young Nicolas Kasanda (Docteur Nico). In the video we can hear the rework of the song by Gandou Gérard and his Orchestre Espérance Eboma De Brazzaville.
In Lingomba Ya Fiere the singer tells he is proud to sing a song from his own culture (Nzembo na ngai),
along some musicians from the other side of the river (Léopoldville).
(chorus from the original song) *thanks to Pie-Aubin Mabika*
A yo Olélaka é
Lingomba moko ya fièré mama
Ya eboma Mwana Odilo
Lingomba moko ya fièré mama
For more background on Jacques Elenga Eboma, check this excellent article on Star du Congo, coming from Clément Ossinonde (French only).
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
Published in the september issue of the Dutch/Belgian music magazine Gonzo (circus)
‘Lipopo ya ba Nganga’ is another magic Congolese production from the Souvenirs from the Congo 2LP. The song captured me, as it was different from what I was hearing in most Kalle-compositions. Lyric-wise, this is one of Kabasele’s strongest efforts.
Natiya mwa loléya na posi
Ekobima ngai awa nakozonga wele wele
Chèque na ngai ko esila kala
Mibayu nadefaka bakanga pointage kala
Mboka ko moko kombo ebele
Kinshasa Kini Malebo Lipopo Léoville eh *
In the sixties, after the independence, Joseph Kabasele composed a song that captured the zeitgeist of post-colonial Kinshasa (Léopoldville). The title of the chant, ‘Lipopo ya ba nganga, means loosely translated ‘The magic of Kinshasa’. Kalle describes the fixation on escapism, instant gratification and consumption in urban life. It now can be interpreted as a social commentary against the hedonistic way of life in former Léoville. The translation of the last line* sums it up rightly: a single city, yet many names: Kini Malebo, Lipopo, Léoville…
The picture with the weird dancing couple shown above is the standard front cover of the Série des nouveautés, a series of 45 rpm ep’s on the legendary Congolese label Ngoma. It gives a glance of the first popular bars in Kinshasa during the vibrant fifties. Orchestras from the likes of Kabasele’s African Jazz, Franco’s OK Jazz or Rock-A-Mambo were performing in those bars. The pictures below are snapshots of the nightlife in Kin La Belle – another Kinshasa nickname – during the 1950s and 1960s. When the modern world became more accessible to Congolese people, albeit the wealthy ones. They are all made by Jean Depara, an Angolan photographer who moved to the Congo in the early fifties.
Jamais Kolonga* has to be one of my favorite songs from Grand Kalle & l’African Jazz. I always go back to this little earworm. Edouard ‘Clari’ Lutula’s wonderful clarinet finesse is the one to blame for I think. Let me tell you the story behind this warm melody.
Mama fioti kanga munu e (2x)
Jamais kolonga simba ngolo e
Jamais kolonga simba munu e
Jamais Kolonga, recorded and composed in the early sixties by l’African Jazz guitarist Tino Baroza, tells the story of Jean Lema. This young Congolese had the idea to let Joseph Kabasele and his l’African Jazz play at the wedding of the daughter of his Flemish chef – Lema was working for the Congolese transport company Otraco. The ceremony took place in the white district of Port-Francqui, Kasaï. Kabasele and his orchestra were stranded in Port Francqui since they missed their boat. As they were in transit, the band accepted the offer and put on their best costumes. During the wedding party, Jean Lema stood at the bar, observing the people. Suddenly he was entranced by the way a European lady was dancing. Jean Lema asked her husband if he could dance with her. In the colonial era of Belgian Congo where even different checkouts in the supermarket segregated black from white people, this was unusual, to say the least. Nevertheless her husband approved and so it goes that Jean Lemba was the first black man who danced with a mundele, a white person. The legend goes that after his bolero all the white people were applauding. The band gave Jean Lema a pseudonym and a song with lyrics in Lingala and Kikongo after his daring adventure: ‘Jamais Kolonga’ which means ‘never to win’.
– David Van Reybrouck, Congo een geschiedenis, p.238
* At the end of the radio interview with Jean Lema on Radio Okapi you can hear a slower version of Jamais Kolonga.