DR Congo: A musical roundup

With so much bad news coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo lately, we decided to show a different perspective on the country and looking at a completely different type of blogs for a change – those highlighting Congolese music.

In a recent roundup, El Oso recently recommended exploring African music:

If you’re looking for ways to cut down on the budget this year, stop downloading from iTunes and start exploring the world of African music. But be ethical. You should use at least half the money you save to support African music, arts, and culture. Calabash Music is an excellent resource for fair-trade music.

Tambour d'Afrique is a weekly radio show entirely devoted to Congolese music on Radio Triomphe in Haiti, and also a blog where the show can be heard as a podcast. For example, the one for January 4th. Occasionally, Tambour d'Afrique also shares music videos, such as the rap below against AIDS:

Ambiance Congo is another radio program entirely devoted to Congolese music on WRIR 97.3 FM Richmond Virginia, USA. And it is also a blog about the music of the show, such as the one of December 21 featuring the music of Les Bantous de la Capitale, or the most recent one which is a selection of 2008 Congolese music:

There has been a lot of talk about the style and quality of Congolese music released during 2008. A lot of that talk has been pretty negative, but I submit here that there were some very good CDs released despite all the flap. […] Even with the general opinion that there were a lot of less-than-stellar releases, on many CDs there were a number of really good songs. Hopefully you will hear something in this program that will make you smile!

The US National Public Radio (NPR) doesn't seem to agree with the negative talk about Congolese music released during 2008, since their Top 10 African music albums of the year are headed by a Congolese band – Kasai Allstars. For NPR, the trends of the year have been:

This has been a strong year for African music, with two big trends emerging. The first is the continuing integration of African music into the U.S. and European mainstream. Nigerian Afrobeat is played in virtually every major Western city these days. Africanized blues and rock acts continue to emerge in the U.S. and the U.K., while African-inspired riffs have turned up in the hands of indie-rock outfits like Vampire Weekend and jam bands like Toubab Krewe. Hip-hop is surging in Africa, but now African rappers in London (Emmanuel Jal) and Toronto (K'Naan) seem to be figuring out how to translate it successfully to the international stage.

The other trend is the ongoing unearthing of treasures from Afropop's “golden era,” particularly the '70s.

Fader Magazine described Kasai Allstars as follows, including the video of a rehearsing session in Kinshasa seen above:

A couple of years ago, music nerds (FADER employees) went nuts for the likembé jam sessions of Konono No 1, the first in Crammed Discs’ Congotronics series and an intro to the DIY trance joints that we still put on when we need to totally divest ourselves from 3-minute pop songs. The newest Congotronics release, coming in September, is from Kinshasa's twenty-five strong supergroup the Kasai Allstars. Allstars is not a rhetorical device intended to make them sound awesome (they sound awesome), they are the best of five different bands from five different ethnic groups in the Kasai region who've decided that the world is mentally ready for overwhelmingly shredding electric guitar/thumb piano/lokole/likembe/xylophone/resonator drum/mult-vocalist dance numbers. We are ready. You are ready.

African Music Treasures is a blog that features rarities from the Voice of America (VOA) African music collection. A few months ago one of its authors, Matthew LaVoie, explained described his fascination with the band Konono No 1 in a post about Bakongo music:

One afternoon a friend-and fellow music enthusiast- came in to browse through whatever new releases had arrived that day, and as he made his way through our large collection of African music, he pulled out a CD called ‘Musiques Urbaines à Kinshasa’. […] I listened to it for the next four hours straight, turning up the volume every twenty minutes. By closing time it felt like ‘Le Tout Puissant Konono # 1′ had replaced my brain; the bass-Likembe runs rippled through my nervous system, every cymbal crash soothed the muscles in my neck, and the rhythmic accents of the whistle made my ears prick up like a hunting dog's.

When I finally made it to Kinshasa, in November of 2003, I hassled my hosts, and everyone else I spoke with, until I found a cassette vendor who could scratch my itch for more ‘urban’ roots music from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. My obsessive-and I imagine, annoying- behavior led me first to a market stall in Matonge (the neighborhood that has long been Kinshasa's musical heart) with shelves full of cassettes, mostly of religious recordings.

Following the aforementioned trend of “unearthing treasures from Afropop's golden era”, there are several blogs devoted to sharing digitized versions of old tapes or vinyl records of vastly undiscovered African music recordings. A very popular French blog entirely devoted to Congolese music is Mbokamosika, that recently posted some classic songs by one of the pioneers of Congolese music, Léon Bukasa (born in 1925).

Another such blog is Matsuli Music, that in this post shared a double CD retrospective of Franco Luambo Makiadi, the “king of Congolese rumba”. Another such blog is Likembe, that takes the name of a traditional musical instrument consisting of a wooden board to which staggered metal keys have been attached. A while back, the blog also paid tribute to Franco with about a dozen of old recordings, saying:

In his day he strode the scene like an elephant, or more like a Brontosaurus, really – pretty much defining modern African music, not only in his native Congo, but throughout the continent.

Freddy Mulongo of Réveil-FM [Fr] features Michelino Mavatiku Visi, a famous rumba guitarist that played in Franco's orchestra, and posts a video of a recent French documentary about him titled “Michelino, star de la rumba” [Fr]:

In a different post, Likembe put up several 45s of classic music from the Congo (then known as Zaïre), all issued in Kenya in the early '80s.

Another blog that occasionally puts up digitized 45s is Sea Never Dry. In a post where you can hear a recording by Orchestre Veve Star, he explains how he found many of those records:

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. […]

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.

Kenyan blogger Steve Ntwiga, who is an occasional Global Voices contributor about music, reports that Congolese singer Samba Mapangala begins 2009 with a new digital album release and a series of high-profile performances:

Samba and his U.S.-based Virunga contingent have been invited to play at one of the Presidential Inauguration Balls in Washington DC on Jan. 20. And not just any one, this is the invitation-only black-tie gala “Africa on the Potomac: The Pan-African Inaugural Celebration of President Barack Obama,” co-hosted by the Government of the Republic of Kenya, African Diplomatic Corps, African Union, African Professionals in Washington DC, and the Corporate Council on Africa.

Other interesting blogs devoted to African music archaeology are Awesome Tapes from Africa, Analog Africa, Africolombia [Es] (that is focused on Afro-Caribeean music), Global Groove or African Sound System, among others.

If we speak about current Congolese music, one of the most interesting blogs is probably Ndule2Kin that showcases Congolese hip-hop artists such as Al Resis in the video below:

Some Congolese hip-hop artists have their own blogs, such as Kaysha, Marshall Dixon [Fr] or Baloji [Fr], among others. These are a few verses [Fr] from the song by Baloji in the video below:

Même si l'Occident a bon dos
Ça ne vous rendra pas le Congo
Le pillage de nos mineraux, de nos lingots
Ça ne vous rendra pas le Congo
Reproduire les schémas coloniaux
Ça ne vous rendra pas le Congo
Car la terreur vue d'ici c'est comme la terre vue du ciel
Ça paraît loin de nous, ça paraît irréel

Although it is easy to blame the West
This is not going to give us the Congo back
The plundering of our minerals, of our ingots
This is not going to give us the Congo back
Reproduce the colonial structures
This is not going to give us the Congo back
Because the terror seen from here is like the earth seen from the sky
It seems far away from us, it seems unreal

And to close this post, something completely different: a video about the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra -seen at the blog Africa is a country:


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