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.