Friday, November 27, 2009

Afropop Extravaganza I: Mambomania in Another Continent

From the Honest Jon's label two compilations of Afro-Latino cuts that the Prof can't stop sneaking back to the player.

The first chronicles the Congolese love affair with Cuban rhythms and recordings just before the rise of the local style known as Rumba (a style which would develop into soukous by the end of the 70s and conquer the rest of the continent in popularity). The disc seems to capture the ineffable moment when folk styles metamorphose into "pop." You can hear the various indigenous forms in the acoustic strums and tentative vocal style meeting Cuban son montuno (itself an folk music form come into the city and turned into a virtuoso small-band format that influenced the Latin big band crazes to come from "El Manisero" ("The Peanut Vendor") to mambo mavens such as Miguelito Valdez, Machito, and beyond).

Two examples from guitarist Adikwa Depala make this mix clear. The plaintive tune of "Akei Cimetiere" would have been at home in a bolero-son you might hear from sextetos or septetos from the 30s and 40s in Cuba. But where the vocals there would be keening and penetrating, here the voice is more falsetto and even breaks in a few spots. The accompaniment by a raspy fiddle seems a rural throwback in a music now playing in Havana and imitated here in the urban explosion of Leopoldville (later Kinshasa) and Brazzaville.

In his excellent liner notes, Gary Stewart, author of Rumba on the River:A History of the Popular Music of the Two Congos, evokes the sights and smells and sounds of a city night's Saturday entertainment beautifully. His comment on "Moni" serves for the other example from Depala:

"Local musicians swapped the Spanish of the originals for Congolese languages like Lingala or Kikongo. In his version of Peanut Vendor, included here, on top of his musical changes Depala replaces the seller's cry of 'mani', or peanut, with a lovelorn lament for a woman named Moni — a neat encapsulation of one step in the evolution of Congolese music."

Every track reveals a group of young musicians trying to create an appropriate soundtrack for their new environment, and they cobble it together from local traditions, newly imported styles from the immigrants from the coast, and the beloved Latino forms they'd been playing on 78s.
There are a whole handful of percussion instruments--shakers, claves, tambourines--flutes and whistles, and even kazoos! Throughout it all run guitars that haven't quite reached the assurance and intensity they'll have when the rumba craze arrives, but you'll probably feel you don't quite want it to come as long as you can keep playing this blessedly sweet CD.

(Here's the label's own blurb, most of it excerpted from Stewart's liner notes.)

Or that's what I thought all through the summer as I played The World Is Shaking over and over, never suspecting that October would bring the next volume, Africa Boogaloo.

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