I once worked with guy named Ladisi. He was a Kenyan water engineer and we worked together for some months in the Rwandan refugee camps in northwestern Tanzania. Ladisi was the quiet sort. Smart but not vocal, in most of our meetings he would sit hunch shouldered taking everything in but rarely commenting on proceedings. Working long days and long weeks is the norm in refugee camps. But every few weeks a huge party would be organised on a Saturday night and aid workers from all the surrounding villages would dance and drink the African night away.
Preparing for these parties was like mounting an expedition down the Zambezi. Crates of Primus beer would be laid up for days before. The cooks would set up a huge open air nyama choma spit on which they would grill mounds of sausages, chops and steaks. The lines outside the shower blocks (looking over into the gorgeous green mountains of Rwanda) moved slowly as everyone scrubbed hard to get the week’s dirt from every crevice and orifice.
The music, always Congolese soukous, began early. No one took to the dance floor before 1000pm when the speakers really began to crack. Old cassette tapes would be stuffed into and snapped out of a couple decks by a driver or guard, to create an atmosphere as hot and jumping as any club in Nairobi or Dar es Salaam.
It was on these nights that Ladisi came into his own. Around 11 when most of the non-African guests had driven home, the dance floor belonged entirely to the Africans. Ladisi, cool as the Kilimanjaro snow, Primus in hand would begin, ever so slightly, to move his hips. He moved closer to the center of the hall and obviously oblivious to all others would find his groove. Soukous, especially, since the early 80s is music played at lightening speed. Guitars lay down the basic structure of the piece early. It is repeated over and over again. Note for note, perfect. The only thing that changes is the intensity and pace of the riff which by midway through the piece fills any dance hall with the most intoxicating looping stuttering music ever invented. It is elegiac and almost symphonic in its aural presence.
Musical mercury mixed with cold beer. The perfect recipe for distressing.
|Kanda Bongo Man|
And there is Ladisi hardly moving his hips, just twitching, it seems to us amazed foreigners, but man have you seen anyone dance like this?! So sexy, so fluid, so inviting and somehow in perfect sync with the lickety split trilling of the Zaire soukous wizards such as Kanda Bongo Man, Madilu System and Loketo. We gather round in admiration and awe. The guitars are relentless, the drums insistent and the singing gloriously harmonious in the way only Africans can sing. We gawk at Ladisi, who is now very aware of what’s going on. And loving it. He smiles, takes a sip of his Primus and shimmies for us a while longer before slithering off into the darker corners of the hall. We simply laugh in love and whistle and clap.
Tonight’s post is a wonderful collection of that most addictive and amazing of musics, soukous. Performed by the one and only Kanda Bongo Man a Congolese singer/dancer who shot from obscurity to international stardom in the early 1980’s in partnership with the truly amazing guitarist Diblo. Together they changed the face of soukous, moving it once and for all from its lazy latin Rumba roots to the land of machine gun fast guitar runs and frenetic rhythms.
If you are not familiar with Congolese music you may find it a slightly hard nut to crack. But don’t give up quickly because once that nut is cracked and you find the groove…believe me, you just won’t turn back.
05 Lela Lela
06 Yesu Christu