New CD Reviews
On AfricaSounds !
Sam Mangwana and Dino Vangu
A highly recommended release that presents nothing but the best in Congolese rumba. Eight songs highlight the glorious guitar workouts of Dino Vangu, who played in the classic orchestras Bella-Bella, Afrizam, Makina Loka and L'Afrisa de Seigneur Tabu Ley. Mangwana's voice shines with chorus by Nana Akumu, Desse Mukangi and Baniele Bamo. A horn section rounds out this mix for some of the more stimulating Rumba music available. Not to be missed is the superb guitar work of legend Dino Vangu, who literally sparkles on each song. Music doesn't get much better than this. The only letdown is in the lyrics, which are somewhat tainted.
King Kester Emeneya
Longue Histoire Vol I & 2
King Kester Emeneya - "The King" - astounds us with his double album entry for the year, featuring his DREAM TEAM, DREAM BAND in 18 extended work-outs of the most sizzling Kinshasa-based music at this moment. "But Na Filet" starts off the collection with Emeneya listing off his band members and various geographic locales they have conquered (or aim to conquer) over tremendous guitar work. The secret with this set of songs is in the recording: sounding extremely live-format, the guitars are mixed to the forefront, and lead the mix. The two dances introduced can be better witnessed on the video, which teaches all how to mimic these startling moves. "Cigarette," is another choice rumba, while the sentimental, nostalgic track "Mademoiselle" is probably the pick of the album. Each of the 18 songs, however, should stand alone in your collection, a fantastic package of music from "The King."
This is highly recommended, if you like your mix with guitars blunt in the forefront, then this is the hard-edged disc for you. From the dancefloor numbers, to the ballads, to songs with a bottle-tapped rhythm, the variation from song to song is exceptional. I have been told by experts that Wazekwa's earlier works were even better (reviews of which will be a future feature on AfricaSounds). His style is in the Tchao Tchao vein.
(JPS Productions - CD + Single)
When AfricaSounds had the pleasure of an exclusive dinner interview with Extra Musica during their first USA tour in the summer of 1999, guitarist and composer Roga Roga expressed that this album would not only be trend setting, but that it would encompass Latin and Cuban rhythms in a new way, paving a new direction for modern Congolese music. Upon my initial listen, I decided that, sadly, this had not come to pass. This is a super-charged, high energy album, with the Extra Musica trademark sound. Roga Roga is, in my opinion, an excellent instrumentalist (although the Sabene can get repetitive), but the group breaks little new ground here. There is a second CD with a single on it, all the tracks are well produced and extremely danceable. If you need a CD to heat up a party, most of these songs will get people up and jumping on the floor.
If I hadn't been expecting something entirely new from this group, then I would probably like this album even more. But it is more of the same Extra Musica, with some more hand percussion added, and a couple songs with some Latin flavorings. Extra Musica is a very good and youthful band. They played an outstanding concert in New York and I was impressed by their thoughtfulness and clear thinking during our long interview last summer. Their two first albums still remain my favorites, but this album, upon repeated listenings, does have some interesting nuances and some nice vocals. Extra Musica will continue to be a leading force in Congolese music and we should urge them to carve some more unique sounds out, for they certainly are capable.
Manu Dibango just sparkles on this most recent release. What you get with Manu is always a sophisticated hodge-podge of music. There are so many sounds, styles and musical genres creeping up in his music. Mboa' Su is impressive and complex, upon each repeated listening there is something new to discover. And, as always, Manu Dibango includes the best of the best in session musicians from Cameroon. Features a guest vocal by Makossa star Douleur. Also, check out how Dibango throws in some funky Congolese bass lines into his rich jazz mix! Highly recommended. Songs include an Afro-beat tribute to Fela and songs that take the Soul Makossa style into the new Milenium. Clearly, Mr. Dibango shows no signs of slowing down with his age.
Note the difference !
"Nkolo Lupemba - Version Integrale" - Double CD
(Sono - Musisoft)
Take note, and skip the single CD "version radio" altogether, and instead invest in the double CD "Version Intergrale." The double CD is an outstanding release, while the single CD leaves much to be desired. If there was ever an example in a marketing rip-off, this is it. There is absolutely no comparison between the two albums. Version radio attempts to squeeze all 14 tracks onto one CD, truncating the sabene's in all the great Tchao Tchao and Ndombolo numbers. On the double release, the more commercial songs are placed on the second CD, while the dancefloor scorchers can be found on the first.
The album itself is filled with excellent studio tracks which only confirm that Koffi Olomide still rides the current wave in Congolese music. With high quality productions like this, it is easy to see why. Stay tuned for an exclusive feature on Koffi Olomide's year 2000 Birthday Party - Bash.
J. B. Mpiana & Wenge BCBG
"Live Zenith 1999 Extrait 1 & 2"
(Simon Sipe Productions)
The live releases are beginning to inundate the record shelves! JB Mpiana is, in my opinion, the more polished of the Wenge offspring. These two live concert CDs are basically straight recordings, with no track listings and no way to skip between songs. At the same time, this is perhaps the best live album that I have come across in the Congolese music genre. The CDs start off with the crowd roaring and foghorns blaring, clearly setting the stage for an exciting musical outing. Displays great energy, ambiance.
Wenge Musica Maison Mere
"Solala Bien !"
A hard driving release that places Werrason's Maison Mere branch of the Wenge Musica family tree in first place for the most "rocking" of the Wenge family. Exciting vocal arrangements and gutsy, driving guitar and bass make this a more exciting listen than the more polished rumba of JB Mpiana. Although JB Mpiana has definitely got the vocal pipes to run circles around Werrason, it is Werrason's group which is grabbing the public's attention at the moment, with excellent concert performances and a recent set of defactions of JB Mpiana's top backing singers to join Werrason. Solala Bien is a kicking album, full healthy bass and strong animations, direct guitar work and sometimes dangerous vocals. Enough to get the blood pressure moving up, and up, and up...
Wenge Musica Maison Mere
"Live au Palais du Sports
If you thought Werrason's music was hot and tepid in the studio, check out this double live album (available in at least two visual jewel case formats). The first CD includes more Sabene and material familiar from their Solola Bien session, while disc two has some beautiful rumba numbers. If anything, you can hear the skill and musical dexterity of the Werrason musical line up in this live album. They sound great, especially for a live album. Due to the long songs structures and extended Sabenes, this album is ideal for background music for hanging out around the house or in the garden.
GUY GUY FALL
FORCE DE FRAPPE
Guy Guy Fall was an original member of the youth super-group Extra Musica, he has since left to pursue a solo career. Luckily for us, the results have been fantastic. In particular, "Force de Frappe," is recommended for its excellent song constructions. Featuring guitar maestros Alexis Azulino and Caien Madoka (who recently toured with Yonda Sister on her US tour), Ramatoulai on drums and percussion, and Boss Matuta on Bass, this album is most impressive. Enjoy!
I have heard two theories on this album (play the second half only or stick to the commercial singles which litter the first half) but I would suggest that listeners check out the album in its entirety. Although somewhat more sterile than what we might be used to from Madilu, I still love his voice and the track with Nyboma is superb. I like this album and would recommend it, although it is by no means Madilu's top.
LA BIBLE DU MAKOSSA
There is some confusion on the market as simultaneously, two series of albums came out featuring long medleys of the classics of Makossa music from Cameroon. TJR Records (lead by bassist Aladji Toure) released a four CD set entitled Le Testement du Makossa, while Bobby Nguime released La Bible du Makossa. AfricaSounds would like to make the following general observations, TJR's series has stronger vocals, while La Bible du Makossa, featured in the photo above, has excellent musicianship, including scorching guitars and a real drumset. Both series are fine releases, but the nod would have to initially go to La Bible du Makossa for the sheer beauty in the guitar playing. AfricaSounds has also uncovered two videos from the TJR records series, each entitled "Le Testement du Makossa," which are recommended.
An excellent selection for your upcoming party or DJ events, as the tunes on this album swing.
ZAIKO LANGA LANGA
This is a great CD; the only thing that Zaiko fans might notice is that (a) it doesn't quite match up to the classics (b) that the harmonies and vocals are a bit more muddled than usual. However, the great guitar licks and tight band all but makes up for it. Although I love the entire album, I have heard some Zaiko experts advise me to skip the first few tracks and concentrate on the last few, which are less commercial and more interesting musically. Yet I fall for the commercial tunes as well, and like the whole album. I guess I am easy to please when it's Zaiko related.
LE GENERAL DEFAO
LA GUERRE DE 100 ANS
If you are a regular visitor to this website, you will notice that Defao is a constant feature, and rightly so. Defao is one of the bigger stars (both musically and physically) in modern Congolese music. With one of the better voices out there, Defao never seems to sing out of tune. He can hit every note, even in live performances that last hour after hour. Fans in the USA were lucky enough to witness Le General on his first trip to America beginning last summer and lasting through January. His group, LES BIG STARS, can produce music a little rough hewn around the edges, which is part of the joy of his productions, which vary in recording/production quality but always contain top musicianship and the best in vocals. La Guerre De 1000 Ans," however, is a deep album that's highly recommended. Starting with a generic animation "Guerre de 100 Ans," Defao and group get the dance floor hopping before shifting tracks to what he does best: glorious vocal harmonies. "Main dans la Main" and "Fogy" are songs that build their crescendo's until the tension is just right, and then the Big Stars treat us to their trademark Sabenes. A special treat, "Solo Eleli," catches Le General Defao singing solo, in a heartfelt ballad that gives this CD just one more of many dimensions. Finally, the inclusion of a saxophone is a treat.
(ETS N'DIAYE Productions)
This CD is a must. Blaise Bula has broken away from the Wenge Musica family (for a better description of the various Wenge Musica groups, please see the excellent column by Martin Sinnock in the June 2000 issue of THE BEAT magazine, which features Bob Marley on the cover). With Blaise Bula's departure, we catch this excellent composer and outstanding vocalist on a solo outing, which allows us to hear him in all his glory. Blaise Bula's mix includes tremendous rumba, as well as dancefloor tracks as well as Latin sounding tracks. A highlight is the fantastic youth animator who rips through several of the danceable tracks. If every band departure produced results this good, then we would be so sorry to see them leave!
Papa Wemba has come up with a fusion masterpiece on this release. This is the sort of release that you can listen to repeatedly and continue to discover new nuances and interesting musical integrations. Highly, highly recommended. Featuring Wemba backed up by Congolese vocal legends: Lidjo Kwempa, Reddy Amisi, Patcheko, Cele Le Roi, Stino Mubi, Bendo and Abby Surya on vocals, there is enough variation of sound to make each song worthy of a single. The dancefloor catchy "O'Koningana" will keep any party moving.
Les Black Styl's
Les Black Styl's come from the classic school of Makossa. Indeed, each of the members have pursued successful solo careers in the 80's and 90's. On Souvenirs, we are treated to a historic collection of some of their best tracks from the 1970s. Funky bass along with Toto Guillaume's guitar licks and the wonderful vocals of Emile Kangue. Classic Makossa is by far the best, and one of the more positive examples is surely Les Black Styls.
Hugh Tracey: On The Edge of the Ituri Forest
(North-Eastern Belgian Congo, 1952)
Hugh Tracey was a fascinating historical figure, as he traveled throughout what European's called "remote" parts of Africa on a mission of personal discovery. Much of what he found in the form of traditional music today no longer exists... due to urban migrations, rampant warfare in Central Africa, and general terms of modernization. Luckily for us, Hugh took with him one of the first successful mobile recording studios. Even if you don't like traditional, lo-fi recordings, this entire series is a wonder, due to the fact that Tracey and his troupe were able to get such clarity with such a minimal amount of equipment. Tracey has the uncanny ability to capture all the sounds with a single microphone. AfricaSounds is particularly interested in the two recordings releases in this series focusing on the Congo region. The Pygmy chants and music on this disc is a revelation - that is, if you like pygmy music. There are some very interesting moments found "On The Edge of the Ituri Forest," including a wild tune sung to likembe (thumb piano). Recommended for the archives. Features music from the Budu, Mangbele, Nande, Mbuti and Bira.
"Scenes from my Life"
Currently residing in New York, Richard Bona is one of the top bassists around. His progressive afro-jazz is as smooth as it is rooted in Cameroon's musical roots. This release has been mixed with a lean towards the easy listening public, although I find plenty of depth in the lyrics and melody upon repeated listening. For a real treat, however, be sure to catch Bona live. If you're in New York, that's easy as he often makes announced visits to the local jazz clubs. In fact, he is being highlighted in the JVC Jazz Festival 2000. His recent tours have taken him to Europe as well. Keep your eyes out for this superb musical craftsman, in the meantime, grab this CD if you are not turned off by the smoother sound of Africa.
Geo W. Masso
TJR records made an excellent choice to release this album by makossa musical veteran Geo W. Masso. There are many different sounds in the mix here, and excellent production. Masso, who can be found on several of the Makossa compilations from the golden era, still has his musical pipes and in some was age has added a sageness to his musical style.
BIBAMO (Wait For Me)
Roger Chapman resides in New York amongst the wealth of musicians from Cameroon. The mix, although eclectic, breaks new ground by offering yet one more glimpse of how diverse the music of Cameroon has become by its encounters in the Diaspora. Chapman, who puts on excellent live performances (he appeared on the same bill as Meiway last Fall in Manhattan), is also adept in the studio weaving a somewhat intoxicating mix of sounds into his fusion. Be sure to check it out: http://rogerchapman.iuma.com Featuring the single Bibamo (Wait for Me).
East of Africa
For those of you who have trouble locating the early Sonodisc releases (that's the 365 series to the musical snobs out there), which these days are getting scarce, this "East of Africa" compilation is an excellent and easy to find alternative. With ample notes on the musicians, a couple of interesting photos, and a nice varied selection of classic rumba, this is a fine release. The two songs by Negro Sucess are killers. If you are new to Congolese rumba, this is a nice compilation to pick up.