Orchestre Bantous rarities from 1961

Posted December 27th, 2007 at 12:50 am (UTC+0)
13 comments

Today I have got a few tracks from one of my favorite recordings in our collection for you. The tape (reel) in question was sent to the Voice of America by the US embassy in Brazzaville back in October of 1961. A memo accompanying the tapes (the Bantous reel was accompanied by an Orchestre Novelty reel) explains that these recordings were ‘graciously provided’ to the Voice of America by ‘the Director of Radio Congo, Brazzaville’.

I have always found Congolese recordings from the late 1950s and early 1960s frustrating. I have listened to lots of the earliest recordings of the African Jazz, the Bantous, the O.K. Jazz, and the Rock-A-Mambos and, while I love much of the singing, the ensemble playing and the compositions, I’ve often thought that these recordings sounded somewhat inhibited. Maybe it was the time limits imposed by the 78 rpm and 45 rpm-single format, or maybe the awkwardness of playing in a recording studio. When listening to these old recordings I have often wondered what the groups would have sounded like live… playing through the night in one of Kinshasa’s (which was Leopoldville at the time) or Brazzaville’s open-air dance halls. I have always wished I could have heard these great groups of the early 1960s stretch out their legs and take a few extra laps.

The tracks I want to share with you today maybe the closest I am ever going to get to being transported back in time to one of Brazzaville’s bar-dancing, circa 1961. Unfortunately, our Bantous reel did not come with track or personnel listings, and I haven’t yet been able to identify all the tracks or the exact lineup of the musicians featured on the recordings. The group probably was the lineup that included singer Edo Ganga, bassist, Daniel Lubelo aka “De la Lune”, Nino Malapet on tenor Sax, Nedule Papa Noel playing the guitar and the clarinet and alto sax of the bandleader Jean Serge Essous. This first track is a nice mid-tempo rumba.

Of all the great Congolese guitar players of the 1960s I have long found Papa Noel one of the more elusive. If you listen to O.K. jazz recordings of the early 1960s you can already hear Franco’s personality coming through in his guitar playing, the same goes for Dr. Nico. Papa Noel, on the other hand, always seemed to get swallowed up by the Orchestre Bantous horn section. In this next track, however, he jumps to the front and drags the rest of the group behind him!! Also check out Jean Serge Essous’s clarinet playing.

Like most musicians, Congolese modern musicians have been, and still are, musical omnivores. Over the course of the last seventy years they have digested many different genres; from the Cuban Son, Martiniquian Biguine and Polka Pique, to French Ye-Ye, North American Soul and Funk, through Psychedelic Rock and most recently Rap. Each of these styles has been incorporated, at various times, into modern Congolese music. There have been many questions, however, about if and/or how much influence Jazz had on the Congolese musicians of the 1960s. Were the names of the groups African Jazz, Ry-Co Jazz or O.K. Jazz intended as tributes to Duke Ellington? Did they indicate a passion for Louis Armstrong? Or, as many have reasonably argued, was Jazz simply a word that the Congolese at the time associated with ‘modernity’? All of the commercial recordings of the early 1960s seem so well arranged, so scripted that it is hard to see any evidence of a jazz influence. On the other hand, Orchestre Bantous of Brazzaville were big enough jazz fans to have worked up this arrangement of Thelonius Monk’ s composition ‘In Walked Bud’.

If you enjoyed these… sometime in the future I’ll post some of the tracks from the Orchestre Novelty reel.

13 Responses to “Orchestre Bantous rarities from 1961”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Fantastic, Matthieu. Keep up your excellent work!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’ve just discovered your website after reading about it on Likembe and Matsuli and want to thank you for posting these fantastic rarities. I remember when you played some of these on Martin Sinnock’s radio show thinking it would be fantastic if these came out on A CD, I’m glad that you are making them available here.

    not to be greedy, but please do post the other tracks!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Matthew
    Fabulous set of Les Bantous, dare we hope for more? also Orchestra Novelty: yes — whoever they are! This “In walked Bud” is clearly copied off the Blue Note disc, too bad there’s no piano & the horns don’t go to the limit, but the drummer is in the pocket, and you are right, Papa Noel really cuts the rug on this one. BTW, if you are looking to hear Noel’s true voice, his late stuff is a bit thin & the orch Continental stuff is hard to find, but the best things you might pick up are “Nono” which was two albums compiled on GEFRACO (KL090 1984) and “Haute tension” (MPK001) with Carlito and Wuta Mayi (no date).

    Fantastic site, keep up the great work!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thank you! I am amazed ith the quality of the sound, and the ambience brought through to us by these old reels. Please – post some more, and have a CD made? I agree with your comments onc the awkward sound of old Congo records. This was fun!!!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Orch. Novelty (and possibly more?): YES please!!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hi,

    Love the site. Good music and great background information. Really shows you love the music of Africa as I do.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Musicians in the Congo during the heyday often made a living as club musicians. While the greatest among them performed in touring bands that played the popular dance music of the Congo, all of them to play in those club bands were required to have a huge musical vocabulary, including American jazz. It’s important to remember that jazz in the US was originally dance music played by big bands. I personally know one Congolese musician, Modero Mekanisi, Tabu Ley’s chef d’orchestre and saxo who has told me that he would practice Coleman Hawkins riffs for hours at a time, and who is a huge Ellington fan.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I loved your music. It sounds a lot like a Marahari Band from MexicoTIRe

  9. Anonymous says:

    wonderful stuff, how do i download these clip? or can you email the clips?
    thanks

  10. Anonymous says:

    As someone who has gotten more into Congolese music through the traditional Congolese band TAMBOURS SANS FRONTIERES, I find this especially
    interesting, and your blog in general terrific!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Lovely music, I really enjoy Gongolese music from the 60′s.
    Thanks a lot for sharing these masterpieces.

  12. [...] first reel, which I posted back in 2007, features the great Orchestre Bantous de la Capitale. Its’ twin, is a recording of the [...]

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Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award-winning radio program “Music Time in Africa” and is the Africa Music Director for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with Doctorate and Master’s degrees from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987

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