Monday, February 25, 2008

Ready for Veve Star?

I met up with Jontwa, a good friend, here in Mwanza. Jontwa loves my music collection; he's especially blown away by the second Congotronics release (which you should get, if you haven't already).

A while ago, Jontwa had called and said he'd found an mzee (Swahili for old man) with a big box of records. After several missed meetings, we finally managed to visit the old man, Janepaa (Jean-Pierre), quite a character: born in Mbandaka, Equator Province in Congo, sometime after WWI, adventured to Tanganyika after WWII, worked as a airplane/helicopter mechanic, and was also connected with Orchestre Makassy in some shape or form. I'll have to visit Janepaa again soon to hear all his stories (and he's got more music).

The big box of records had about 300 45s, some in plastic sleeves (as well as a bible in braille!). Lots of Congolese stuff and Kenyan-Congolese bands like Les Mangelepa. Most are in need of a very thorough cleaning but not all: I couldn't resist putting one 45 up even though there's some crackle here and there. Orchestre Veve Star's Nitarudia (I'll Come Back). You may have heard Veve Star's Bassala Hot before (on Frank's Voodoofunk) but I hadn't yet heard this track. Veve Star is probably an off-shoot of Verckys' Orchestre Veve. 'Verckys' Kiamuangana Mateta plays the saxophone. Verckys has been one of the most infuential music producers in Congo and scored many hits on his label, Editions Veve. Verckys continues to be involved in the music scene, as president of the Congolese Musician Union. A great retrospective reissue is this Vintage Verckys compilation, but this gem wasn't on it...

Orchestre Veve Star - Nitarudia Pt.1 & Pt.2

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Keba, Mama, Keba!*

(*Watch out, mama, watch out!)

In the 1950s, Lipopo (aka Leopoldville, now Kinshasa) saw its population swell to 400,000. More than half were under 18. There were already few economic opportunities for them and, with rebellion and war in the interior, even more youth ventured to the capital.

At the end of the 1950s, several movie theatres opened up in the popular neighborhoods and youth flocked to them. Westerns, especially those with the adventures of Buffalo Bill and Pecos Bill, were wildly successful. So much so that youth gangs popped up, taking on American names like Bills or Yankees of Ngiri-Ngiri and riding bicycle-horses through the streets and chanting Bill-Oyee! Young delinquents found their culture hero in the buffalo hunter Bill. This phenomenon of the Bills who spoke Hindoubill had a wide impact: the late Mzee Kabila was also known as Sheriff and favored Stetson hats (and, in the past weeks, you may have seen Raila Odinga with a cowboy hat in Kenya).

At about the same time, Jef De Laet, a Belgian Scheutist, arrived in Lipopo. After teaching in Matete, he became the parish priest of Ngiri-Ngiri where the Bills roamed and started working with the youth. Father Jef quickly became known as 'Pere Buffalo' through his work of channeling youth energies into a positive and more organized movement, following the example of the Flemish 'Catholic Worker Youth'. In the latter half of the 1960s, he helped start Minzoto Ya Zaire (and its successors), The Stars of Zaire, as well as a cultural centre, Cabaret Liyoto, which featured a recording studio.

Out of the Bills, with Minzoto as one example, arose a new generation of musicians and bands, like Zaiko and Bozi Boziana, livening up the Kinshasa scene. Pere Buffalo continued to work in Zaire/Congo into the 1980s, had to leave a while because of troubles with Mobutu, and returned in the 1990s to the Equatorial forest. Health problems caused his return to Belgium where he lives today, as a parish priest, and once again he started up a multicultural centre, Nganda (The Bills used to hang out in houses, first called 'ranches' or 'temples', then 'nganda', a hang-out near a bar or restaurant).

The Minzoto sound is much different from the Congolese 'rumba' most people know. There's much inspiration and borrowing from folklore, traditional music, and reworkings of religious hymns like Kyrie Eleison.

Below are 4 tracks from two albums, the self-titled Minzoto Ya Zaire and Zaire Folk Pop.

Pictures are by Depara, Angolan-born photographer, who set up his 'Jean Whisky Depara Studio in Kinshasa in the 1950s. The official photographer of Franco (who also showed some Bill-traits in early shots with checkered shirts), Depara became the chronicler of Kin's nightlife. He passed away in 1997. Check Gallery51 or Contemporary African Art Collection for more information.

To read more on the Bills:
Filip De Boeck & Marie-Francoise Plissart's Kinshasa: Tales of the Invisible City. Read/download the last chapter here.
Ch. Didier Gondola, 1997. Villes Miroirs: migrations et identites urbaines a Brazzaville et Kinshasa, 1930-1970.

Minzoto ya Zaire - Ilunga
"The girl is called Ilunga. We know each other since the days we sat on the school benches. Be careful now that you are grown up. The love we had for each other from childhood days on cannot get lost, but let it grow and blossom into a happy marriage. (Soul rhythm)"
Minzoto ya Zaire - Kayamba
"Be good to strangers. Look at them as people without skin and bones. (from Kasai region)"
Minzoto ya Zaire - Koni Vuka
"A song from a legend. Ivuka has been murdered of jealousy. His wife chants the glory of her murdered husband. (from the Bandundu region)"
Minzoto ya Zaire - Male Male
"Twins bring happiness to the village, if all prescriptions are followed. It is a great honour for parents to have twins. Let us celebrate them. (Folklore from Bandundu: Transition to modern jazz)"