Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Spiritual Sons: Pepe Kalle and Madilu System

Pepe Kalle & Madilu System

It is hard to over state the influence that the popular music of Congo/Zaire, from rumba to soukous, has had on modern African culture.  Singers and bands from Cote d’Ivoire to Kenya not to mention Paris and Brussels have all incorporated its fluid high-on-the-neck guitar loops and rapid fire rhythms into their own musical forms to create one of the most recognizable and addictive sounds in world music.

And within the star studded universe of Congolese rumba/soukous no two diadems shone brighter than Grand Kalle (Joseph Kabasele) and Franco (Francois Luambo Makiadi).  Kabasele was the great master who through his band African Jazz  (arguably the first full time professional band in Africa) set 1950s and 60s Central Africa afire with his Cuban influenced rumba dance tunes. Like many great musical adventurers before and after, Grand Kalle’s band was the nursery and incubator of several waves of mighty musicians, including the guitarists Franco and Dr. Nico and singers Tabu Ley Rochereau and Pepe Kalle.

Franco was a genius who could not be constrained by playing for others. In 1955 he left African Jazz to start a regular gig at the OK Bar in Leopoldville (Kinshasa). Soon his band, with its electric guitar wizardry and smooth vocals of Vicky Longomba, became known as OK Jazz and was African Jazz’s main rival.  (Kabasele eventually formed a record label which recorded OK Jazz and exposed Franco to the non-African world.)

Like African Jazz, OK Jazz, which in 1956 was renamed le Tout Pouissant Orchestre Kinois (the All-Powerful Kinshasa Orchestra), was in its prime a mighty generator of talent.  Jean Serge Essous, Mose Fan Fan, Sam Mangwana, Papa Noel and Madilu (to mention but a handful) all went on to stellar careers in their own right after learning their trade with ‘Grand Maitre’ Franco and TPOK Jazz.

Tonight’s post highlights the debut solo albums of two of Grand Kalle’s and Grand Maitre’s musical sons.  Pepe Kalle, popularly known as la Bombe Atomique struck a deal with the most celebrated Congo singer of the day, Joseph Kabasele, Le Grand Kalle. In return for working around Kabasele's place, young Pepe got a place to stay, and singing lessons. Up to that time, the boy had been singing hymns in Catholic school, an experience he used to say explained the melancholy character of his angelic voice. But it was the experience with Kabasele that gave him his sense of melody, and prepared him to become one of the most beloved singers Congo music has ever produced.

Kalle began his career in the 70s group Bella Bella, which also served as proving ground for Nyboma and for Kanda Bongo Man. Kalle and Nyboma continued to harmonize their rich voices from time to time for years to come. But as the rocking, youth-oriented soukous sound began to take over in Kinshasa, Kalle formed the band that he would lead for the rest of his life. Empire Bakuba took its name from a Congolese warrior tribe, and it pointedly incorporated rootsy rhythms from the interior, sounds that had long been sidelined by popular rumba. At the same time, Empire Bakuba was as hard-driving a soukous band as you'll find, with the inimitable Doris on lead guitar, and a surreal frontline that juxtaposed the elephantine Kalle (300 lbs and 6’3” of pure love) with a dancing dwarf named Emauro.

Empire Bakuba remained active and relatively stable during years of tremendous turbulence in Congolese music, and Congolese life. At a performance in Harare, just months before Kalle died of a sudden heart attack, the band had sprawled to the size of an orchestra. Emuaro, who passed away early in the 1990s, had been replaced by three Pygmee dancers, and the performance had the feel of a musical circus. Empire Bakuba had clearly peaked by then, but there was no denying the sense of community the band generated. (http://www.afropop.org/explore/artist_info/ID/229/Pepe%20Kalle/)

            Track Listing:
            01 Moyibi
02 Amour Perdu
03 Eve Matoko
04 Nina
05 Likambo
06 Prés du Coeu
07 Reviens Alima
08 Pamelo Okemena Ngambo
09 Tika Makanasi
Listen here.

With a husky tenor blessed with a distinctively taught, tremulous vibrato, and the trademark chuckle that peppered his later work, the Congolese singer known as Madilu System was the brightest vocal talent of the legendary TPOK Jazz during his mid-1980s heyday. Arguably the most influential African band of the second half of the 20th century, TPOK Jazz were led by "Le Grand Maître" Luambo Makiadi "Franco", the formidable guitarist, singer and composer who spearheaded the craze for rumba Congolaise, which dominated African popular music in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
At their peak, le Tout Pouissant Orchestre Kinois ("the All-Powerful Kinshasa Orchestra") really justified their grandiose name; they numbered around 40 musicians, half of whom would stay in Kinshasa holding sway at one of two venues Franco owned, while the other half went on tour – each with ranks of horns, guitars and vocalists.
As one of their several featured singers at the time, Madilu System made his mark on a series of stunning vocal duets with Franco, most notably the epic quarter-hour-long "Mario" (1985), their biggest hit ever. Following Franco's death in 1989, Madilu continued to lead TPOK Jazz until its eventual dissolution in 1993, after which he pursued a moderately successful solo career in Europe, finally achieving recognition as "Le fils spirituel de Luambo Makiadi Franco" ("Franco's spiritual heir").
He was born Jean de Dieu Makiese in 1952, in Léopoldville, the capital of the Belgian Congo, later Zaire (and now the Democratic Republic of Congo). During the late 1960s, when Jean came of age, the city had a vibrant and highly competitive music scene. In 1969, he joined a rumba band called Symba, and spent the next few years honing his vocal skills in Papa Noël's band Bamboula, Festival des Maquisards (with Sam Mangwana) and Fiesta Popular.
In 1973, newly christened "Bialu" under President Mobutu's "authenticité" programme, Madilu formed the band Bakuba Mayopi along with the guitarist Yossa Taluki and a singer called Pirès – "Mayopi" being a nonsense word derived from the first two letters of each of their names. Though never exactly major players, they scored a significant hit with the song "Pamba-Pamba" in 1976, after which Bialu left, forming his own group with Soki Vangu, which they called Orchestre Pamba-Pamba. However, they met with no success, and Bialu spent the last two years of the 1970s in relative obscurity as a member of Tabu Ley's band Afrisa.
In the wake of a humiliating career low-point, which saw him abandoned at Kinshasa's Ndjili airport as Tabu Ley and his entourage jetted off to Europe, Bialu joined Afrisa's main rival, TPOK Jazz in April 1980, and his luck soon turned. He became the first member of the band to be invited to introduce himself in the course of a song, trading verses and harmonising with Franco over the 18 minutes of the slow-burning classic "Non", which took up the whole side of the 1983 album Chez Fabrice A Bruxelles.
The following year, he cemented his position as their rising star on "Tu Vois?" (popularly known as "Mamou"), a conversational duet focusing on sexual mores, typical of Franco's oeuvre at the time. The upbeat "Pesa position na yo" ("State your position") and "Makambo ezali bourreau" were other 1984 hits featuring Bialu. TPOK also visited the US and the UK that year, with Bialu fronting the band at their gig at the Hammersmith Palais. In a 2003 interview, he claimed that it was during this time that Franco nicknamed him "Système" (or "System," as he came to be known outside Francophone Africa), explaining that the two had an almost father-and-son relationship, and that Franco had empowered him to lead the band in his absence.
With backing by Franco's hypnotic, cascading guitar riff, "Mario" was a soap opera-like narrative about a gigolo, which juxtaposed Franco's gruff spoken-word exhortations with Bialu's precise singing. It made him the group's most popular singer with the public, both in Zaire and on their frequent tours to other African countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. "La Vie des Hommes" (1986) continued his purple patch and the snappy "Tala merci bapesaka na mbua" from the same year showed that he could effortlessly go it alone with no need of Franco as a duet partner.

Franco's death in 1989 – most probably from an Aids-related condition – was a body blow from which TPOK Jazz never recovered, although they continued to perform to considerable acclaim, appearing in London the same year. Under pressure from Franco's family to relinquish the name, the poet Simaro formed Bana OK ("Children of OK Jazz") in Kinshasa at the start of 1994, taking most members of TPOK Jazz with him – except Madilu System, who resolved to start a solo career.
Basing himself in Geneva, (he had married a Swiss woman in 1985 under controversial circumstances) Madilu System divided his time between there, Paris and Kinshasa, working mostly with expatriot Congolese musicians to perpetuate Franco's classic "odemba" style of rumba on a series of solo albums, backed variously by the bands Multi-Système, OK Système and Tout Puissant Système. These began in 1994 with the zouk-flavoured Sans Commentaire. Subsequent solo releases included Album '95 (1995), L'eau (1999), Pouvoir (2000), Tenant du Titre (2003), Bonheur (2004) and most recently Le Bonne Humeur (2007). (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/madilu-system-403130.html)

            Track Listing:
            01 Ya Jean
02 Pie Mboyo
03 Autoroute
04 Biya
05 Apula
06 Blessure d'Amour
07 Paradiso
08 Nzele
09 Fluer du Ciel
10 Beau Souvenir
Listen here.


Apurva Bahadur said...

Ajnabi - a sincere word of thanks even before I download the albums. Post the download, I will drown myself in the inspiring Dally Kimoko guitar work in Paradiso and Eve Matoko.

ajnabi said...

Apurva...most welcome. Great guitar work!

kidloco said...

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ajnabi said...

Kidloco, Thanks for your kind words. Have included your blog on my list!

kidloco said...

Merci et beaucoup de visites...