More Than OK

franco

It has been a long time since the last post, with time seemingly at a premium at the moment. Today’s selection may seem like a bit of an obvious choice of a band and a record but despite my love of the obscure and unknown it is definitely necessary to cover the biggest, in both popularity and personnel over their life, as well as most prolific bands in Africa.

OK Jazz was formed in 1956 and lasted 37 years before being disbanded in 1993, giving the Rolling Stones a run for their money in terms of longevity. The band’s history and changes in personnel are complex, reading like a who’s who of Congolese musicians recording hundreds of records over their lifetime. Arguably the most well known member and eventual band leader was guitarist François Luambo Makiadi, known as Franco. Franco’s period of assuming leadership of the band in the late 1960’s that transformed it to all conquering can be read about on the meticulously written and researched World Service, here.

Soukous, or Rumba, from the French word secousse, to shake, is one of the most popular styles of music in Africa, spreading from Kinshasa, in the Belgian Congo to Nairobi in Kenya, where it is known as Lingala after the dialect the songs where sung. African Rumba is said to originated when Cuban songs were played on the national radio station in Kinshasa in the 1940’s and 50’s. The typical Cuban style horns were played on the guitar and the lyrics were sung in French and Lingala by early Congolese bands and musicians like Papa Wenga.

By the 1960’s and 70’s Soukous was at the height of its popularity and Franco and TPOK Jazz were in full swing. Such was their popularity they split into two groups, with one remaining in Kinshasa playing local clubs, the other touring Africa, Europe and America. Here they can be seen playing Kinsiona in 1987 in Utrecht, Netherlands.

Today’s selections come from a 1974 LP and show the range of the band, and the power of Franco’s voice framed with blaring horns.

Kinsiona

Mambu Ma Miondo

Record details:
Franco et L’Orchestre TP OK Jazz – Editions Populaires (1974) – African (360.056)

franco1 franco2 franco3 franco4

Voodoo Two

Continuing our look at T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou and specifically the singles on the Aux Ecoutes label. Today, we will go into more depth of how the band evolved and explore the characteristics of this Voudoun music.

Clement Melone formed Group Meloclem with François Hoessou in the early 1960s. They were not so much a band as a duo that performed music for a children’s entertainment show broadcast on the radio with Melone playing accordian. In 1964 they recruited singer Eskill Lohento and later guitarist Martin Vignon to add a bit more depth to their sound. The band struggled with cash flow and often had to borrow instruments from Creppy Wallace, manager of other local band Sunny Blacks.

Sato Drum

Sato Drum

Eventually the two bands merged forming a nine piece band that initally Melone played drums in, until the arrival of drummer Armeoudji “Vicky” Joseph, forced him to pick up the guitar. Wallace’s family wanted a return from the band as they were using equipment provided by Wallace and so they were forced to find a sponsor. The band changed their names (Orchestre Poly-Disco and Orchestre El Ritmo) several times depending on the sponsor they found to repay Wallace’s family for the use of his instruments and later recruited another singer Vincent Ahehehinnou.

There are various other comings, goings and rearrangements within the band that help shape the constantly evolving and complex sound. However, a couple of elements, specifically Voudoun Rhythms, can be seen to dominate and run through the music. Sato is a driving rhythm played on a large ceremonial drum, and Sakpata is a rhythm played for the divinity who protects people from smallpox.

Sakpata - Divinity of Smallpox

Sakpata – Divinity of Smallpox

Today’s single is the last of the Aux Ecoutes releases and is a later version of Gerdarme Si We that was posted last week. I have posted the B side, which is a nice pounding Afro Beat tune.

More Aux Ecoutes singles to follow shortly!

Thanks to Analog Africa releases for some of the information on Poly-Rythmo. There are now 3 volumes on the band, all of which are highly recommended.

Gerdarme Si We

Ahou Gan Mi An

Record Details:
Clément Mêlonê et L’Orchestre Poly-Rythmo – Gendarme Si Wè / Ahou Gan Mi An (197?) – Aux Ecoutes (LA 741)

poly1 poly2

Voodoo Music

At long last, it was inevitable, we come to one of the greatest bands in Africa, the wonderfully named T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou. Actually if you break down their name you get a good sense of what they are about. “T.P.” stands for “tout puissant”, meaning “all powerful”, “orchestre” being a large contingent of musicians, “poly-rythmo” is many rhythms, and the band is from Cotonou in Benin.

For several years I knew of the band as one of the greats but never really fully appreciated their quality. Sure, I knew they were a huge presence in West African music, at least judging by the number of compilations and reissues that have been released on them alone. However, I found the music daunting and almost too powerful. Maybe it was the band’s use of Vodoun based rhythms that made the music scarily complex, and with over 500 tracks spread over numerous LPs and 45s to choose from, pretty overwelming.

Melone Clement

One of Poly-Rythmo’s founding members was Clement Melone, in what seems to be a trend, decided to pursue a recording contract rather than his studies; we will go into details of the founding of the band in later posts – there will be several. The band’s first major break came when Benin record label, Albrika Store, a folk and traditional music shop, signed the band. The label had connections with big recording studios and pressing plants in Lagos and were therefore able to offer the band access to state of the art recording equipment as well as transportation. Their connection was local businessman Seidu Adrissa, who made the connection and also funded the band and helped them buy new instruments.

However, the income of a recording artist was never enough and so to supplement their income Poly-Rythmo, recorded on the side at several of the local labels that were emerging in Benin in the early 1970s. One such label was Aux Ecoutes, and is the label that released today’s single.

I have posted both sides from the 45, the first being an Afrobeat number and the B side an Afro-Latin style track. The pressing and recording demonstrates the difference between these local Benin labels, that used primitive recording equipment, with the band reportedly huddled around a Nagra 4 -track, and the records on released on Albrika Store and the use of the latest technologies.

Nagra 4 Track

Personally I find the Aux Ecoutes singles to have a lot of raw rustic charm and will be posting several more of them shortly – bear in mind the sound and pressing quality leaves a lot to be desired but the music shines through regardless.

Zoun Mi Bo

Gendarme Si Wè

Record Details:
Clément Mêlonê et L’Orchestre Poly-Rythmo – Zoun Mi Bo / Gendarme Si Wè (197?) – Aux Ecoutes (LA 40)

Zounmibo Gendarme Si We

Cock-A-Doodle-Doo!

In 1960 Senegal gained independence from its colonial master France. To celebrate this event a band was formed to play at the Miami Club in Dakar. The band was known as The Star Band of Dakar, and such was its legacy that several other bands were born out of the comings and goings of its members.

Arguably, Africa’s most famous singer, Youssou N’Dour, started his career in the band before forming, Étoile de Dakar with some of Star Band’s members. He went on to become a huge star after his move to Paris and commercial success came with the hit 7 Seconds, with Nenah Cherry, in 1994.

youssou-ndour-3

Another one of the bands that came out of the Star Band family was Orchestre Laye Thiam, named after one of the vocalists and arrangers of the songs. Today’s selection, Kokorico, the sound of the cockerel (Cock-a doodle-do), is a classic Afro-Latin track.

The organ dances, horns sing, vocals soar and screech, and the song changes direction several times, like a cockerel strutting around a yard. It is wonderful stuff.

For a detailed discography of Star Band of Dakar and all their variations please see here.

[audio http://k003.kiwi6.com/hotlink/g036j9az16/thiam.mp3%5D 

Record Details:
Orchestre Laye Thiam – S/T (197?) – Soumbouya Musique (IK 3024)

P1020021 P1020022 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA