Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Wax d’Afrique Vol. 1 — African Fiesta Club
Over my years of record collecting, one of the biggest frustrations has been the phenomenon of “the partial series.” I’d find Volume 1 of some collection and Volume 2 would never appear. What was worse was finding Volume 2 and never seeing Volume 1. At least when I had a Volume 1 I could assume that Volume 2 never came out, which would allow my jackdaw habits a little rest. When there was only a Volume 2, I was left with the completist hunger unassuaged, nagging at me constantly. I would spend weeks, months, years, searching through dusty record stores for the elusive Volume 1. I’d say I hate record collecting, but that would be a complete bloody lie.
Given the ways of certain record companies, announcing releases that never appear and occasionally putting out the second in a projected series before the first and then dropping the series, I suspect that some of those Volume 1’s do not exist. That is not the case with the Wax d’Afrique series, and Volume 1 is hereby made available again for those who missed it on its first appearance through the Matsuli site, where it was accorded the honour of a place in the African Serenades series as Volume 36. And let me tell you, as a latecomer to the African Serenades series—I checked in around Volume 20-something—I was frustrated as hell to have missed the first volumes. But you already knew that, didn’t you?
Matsuli, being a true believer in spreading the good stuff around, later made all the African Serenades available for a while on their very own site. There is no doubt that Matsuli deserves the love of all lovers of African music for the Herculean effort of organizing the multiple compilers of the series and for continuing efforts to keep the spirit of the music alive in these times of cultural restriction by commercial interests. Matsuli’s site was the direct inspiration for BlackMagicPlasticBullet. It showed me the way and I shamelessly copied whatever techniques seemed useful. My thanks are profound.
African music swept me off my feet in the early 1980s. King Sunny Ade’s Juju Music, with its psychedelic funk, opened my ears as they hadn’t been opened for a year or two. I even managed to move my feet despite the often-repeated assertion that people couldn’t dance to it. Maybe some people couldn’t—but I’ve seen the floor packed and moving when I put it on the decks. Following Juju Music, there was a long series of musical revelations provided by the Sound d’Afrique titles on Mango, the various early WOMAD compilations, and, of course, the mighty GlobeStyle releases. EarthWorks, at the time, was not only a nascent label but also a source of French LPs that could be found in the Rough Trade store in San Francisco. Soon, it became obvious that most of the interesting releases came from Paris first. Even my first Fela Kuti records came from a French label.
It also became apparent that a good portion of these interesting, and then current, releases were made by musicians from Francophone African countries, playing principally either Zairean soukous or makossa from Cameroun. The musical archaeology into the funky Nigerian and Ghanaian styles of the earlier 1970s, the resurrection of Ethiopia’s music scene, or the multitudinous wonders of Mande music were all yet to come—or I suppose to be more accurate in the case of the Mande glories, had not yet become apparent to those of us on the West Coast of America rather than Africa.
Today, the African music of the early to mid 1980s is not the most fashionable around; primarily, I think, for the usual reasons of cyclical musical tastes. It tends to exhibit a slight tang of disco’s shiny style and thump, which still suffers from rockist disdain, and which, itself, has never had a strong resurgence of interest beyond its core community base. Of course, once past its early underground origins, disco did become a rather bland and formulaic musical pabulum, more of a commercial craze than a genuine musical movement. However, the African styles somehow avoided this fate even though Graeme Ewens reports in Africa O-Ye! that “some cynical observers have stated that all Congo-Zairean music is the same; that the guitarists only play three notes.” As ever, it’s playing the right three notes that matters. In addition, it occasionally—but only very occasionally until later in the decade—suffers from the fascination of the times with the new and aurally unpleasant technologies of bad synthesizers and programmed drums. However, at its best, it’s simply wonderful music, full of life and joy with stunning guitar, sophisticate horns, and soulful singing; one of the great classic forms of popular music that appear every so often around the world to lift our spirits and bind us together as humans.
Wax d’Afrique Volume 1 — African Fiesta Club is a quick tour, a very quick tour, through the music of Congo, Zaire, and Cameroun with a side trip to Kenya. It includes some of the best known of the old names and some relative unknowns from more recent times. It is not mixed, each track is separate, but I conceived it as a DJ set that I might have played back in the day with a receptive audience who wanted African music and nothing but African music— an African fiesta club!
The posting for Wax d’Afrique Volume 2 — Ambiance! Ambiance! has a few further details on the history of the music. This Wikipedia page provides a brief introduction to Zairean musical history. As always, in this day and age, if you want to know more, there is this giant reference machine called the Internet. Copy any name that interests you into your favourite search engine—that would be Google, right?—and spend the day and the night clicking away while the music plays. Once you've downloaded it, anyway.
As will be always the case with the Wax d’Afrique series, all tracks are taken from original vinyl of the time. You will hear a couple of crackly spots and distortion despite my best efforts to clean them up with SoundSoap—that’s the nature of the wax, or the deficiencies of SoundSoap, or my own limitations in using it (although really I don't think it's as good as its hype). Perhaps one day, a professional sound restorer will be able to do a proper job and these tracks will see the light of day with a commercial release. They deserve it. That's the goal of BlackMagicPlasticBullet.
This is the second edition of Wax d’Afrique Volume 1 — African Fiesta Club. The only differences from the first are that I added the Wax d’Afrique graphic to each individual track as well as crediting myself for the selection in the Comments box. Original discographical information is also included in the Comments box.
1. Nico — African Fiesta Congo (from Kwamy Nico Rochereau — Les Merveilles du Passé 1965, African 360.145)
2. Kabassele — African Mokili Mobimba (from Joseph Kabassele et L’African Jazz — Hommage Au Grand Kalle Vol. 1, African 360.142)
3. Pamelo Mounk’a avec Les Bantous — L’Amour et la Danse (from Pamelo Mounk’a avec Les Bantous — L’Amour et la Danse, Black Music BM 002)
4. Nino Malapet — 5e Dan (from Nino Malapet — Mokilimbembe, Music-Press 33004)
5. Tchico — Nostalgie D'Afrique (from Le Commandant Tchico — Full Steam Ahead, GlobeStyle ORB 007)
6. Zao — Moustique (from Zao — Moustique, Bleu Caraïbes 82418-1)
7. Golden Sounds — Casque Colonial (from Golden Sounds — Casque Colonial, Vol 2, DTC 021)
8. Black Styl — O Sambo (from Black Styl — Golden Collection Vol.1, TN 594)
9. Prince Lessa Lassan — Djalenga (from V/A — Swahili Records Presents Djalenga, Albion SWAH 001)
10. Tjahe — Afric' Ambiance (from Tjahe — Afric' Ambiance 1000% Makossa IV, General Modern Enterprise 005)
11. Kwamy — African Club (from Kwamy Nico Rochereau — Les Merveilles du Passé 1965, African 360.145)
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