Popular African Music V.A. : Ngoma : The Early Years (CO,1948-1960)****
Popular African Music V.A. : Ngoma : Souvenir ya l'indépendance (CO,1960-1995)****
Ever since radio was introduced in (at that time Belgian) Congo, since World War II, certain music was introduced to the population with an interesting evolution. Several foreign popular styles from abroad were introduced and quickly adapted, which included jazz, rumba, rock’n roll, cha cha cha and even Latin rhythms, which were all recognisably mixed within the local patterns and colours that actually make every interpretation sound pretty global and typical African. The first steps were set by a private radio with their own label ‘congolia’ (1946-1948), an initiative which stopped after the introduction of national radio. When Nico Jéronimidis, a Greek businessman who provided all things the mining company needed, arrived to Leopoldville (now Kingshasha) he was so enthusiastic about the local music he started to record the music, until friends advised him to found a record company, which he did. This label was called ‘ngoma’, a local Congo term for music symbolised by the drum, while he himself was quickly called ‘tata ngoma’. Nico lead the recording company until he suddenly died when in Belgium in 1951. His brother, Alexandros brother in law Nikis Cavvadias, until then a bank business man, took over the commercial side of the job, became sound engineer, a&r man and advisor. In cooperation with Belgians from the radio station the discs were pressed in Europe. But because of high import taxes the label was forced to choose France for the production of their records, leading to the buying of a shellac disc factory, where also other African records were soon to be pressed. Nikis had a good talent how to make the record company work, with some minor failures (like launching his own gramophone turntables) which still didn’t influence the success much, which was due to the quality of the music, the recognisable factor for all Africans, and the promotion given to all local stations all over Africa.
The two discs give an idea like a tip of the iceberg, with 25 tracks of the earliest recording period and 26 more of the second period, to think that by the end of the 50’s the collection was already about 4000 songs. However the original master tapes were destroyed in a fire in the pressing plant in France, and also the complete collection of Nikis was later destroyed in 1989 during the political troubles, so the collection from this CD had to come entirely from a small choice of what could be found of original singles, often in a overplayed shape from some radiostations abroad. The liner notes say that some of the most prominent names could not even be found now. Never the less the music is surely successful and interesting. I mostly like all the the crossover interpretations with chachacha, rumba and other styles, especially noticeable on the second disc. The music is always happy and played in a rather happy mode, almost like a street brass band. The liner notes of the second CD explain how music in Congo before that had the purpose of court music. And also later the idea was settled in that music should provide a positive energy because that gives more success and a better social status. Also with the search for independence, music accompanied in a rather political way, with some diplomacy reflects the searching elements for freedom and social confirmation, often making the musicians work like accompanying ambassadors to show certain ideas and providing it with a feeling of comfort. The compromising effect and positive energy surely makes affection to the music almost like a logical result. I'm not sure how much the styles influenced things like 'highlife' in Nigeria. Besides the recognisable African repetitive rhythmic colourful patterns the jaz, rumba, cha cha cha and so on that comes adding something new, balancing between being clever, mixed with a garage-like primitivism makes this also rather unique.
The label itself had introduced new instruments like bass (in the beginning it was a self-made bass instrument), clarinet and sax.