While previously listed releases featured music from the Ngoma label (1948-1995), this features music from the collection of the Loningisa label in the fifties. While Ngoma, Olympiaand Opika were run by Greek businessmen, Loningisa was the first real African label. While before, some musical forms were used to entertain the white citizens, a change of direction was at hand, with the musicians themselves deciding which other styles they would incorporate. This new style was heavily influenced by Afro-Cuban music, which was sometimes played over the radio. Afro-Cuban music was considered to have African roots, because two decades before there existed a slave route that brought many black people -most often from the Congo region- to Cuba, who had started their new musical forms, fitting to these islands. When the styles were boomeranged back, they were going to be transformed into an African form. The experience which the musicians had with relatively new instruments were now foundations to develop new styles with. The guitar was imported much longer ago (with the Portuguese), bringing, according to the liner notes, their portion of old Mediterranean influence ; and also occasional Greek bouzouki music must have brought some new thoughts, -introduced by the first leading music traders, which were Greek-. The Cuban style ‘son mutuno’ its piano rhythm was originally inspired by the likembe (or thumbpiano) sounds, now found another new sound in the guitar. The tuning for the guitars in this period was the “Hawaiian” open tuning (DGDGBD) with capo and with buzzing left over strings. The brass instruments had been associated with marching bands, but also with jazz. The importance of the guitars expressions was going to grow from this. The booklet mentions that several great Belgium jazz musicians had found homes in Congo. The term “Jazz”, according to Jesse Samba Wheeler, was more commonly used in Congo as a symbol of an awareness of modernity, of self-awareness and cultivation of this in group, other than a direct jazz style approach. Other instruments I hear are accordions, an instrument introduced by Stanley who once gave many to local chiefs. Also heard once is a solovox, one of the first synthesizers. Also according to the liner notes, for the vocal harmony styles the missionary choirs might have had their share of influence. The language the musicians sang was ‘lingala’, which can be considered as a slam language mix, with ways to say things that sound self-conscious, finding words that sound more popular. It was especially since the Loningisa years, that musicians started to find their own ways of expressions without the restrictions of commission based experiences.
The styles :
The styles featured on this album were ‘biguine’ (a style originating from Martinique, a mixture of polka with a local traditional style, in form related in sound to New Orleans jazz music, dance related), ‘rumba’ (one of the most popular Afro-Cuban music styles ; in Congo this new kind of rumba was in fact called ‘rumba lingala’), 'sebene' (a new Congo style, also influenced by Afro-Cuban styles, invented in the 40s by Henri Bowane where one or two musicians develop arpeggios in circular progressions while another improvises around them, played originally by Congolese harps, lutes, thumb pianos and xylophones, then by guitars ; During the sebene the dancers would try out new steps, and musicians often shouted animating/instructing words how to perform them, or to encourage performance), polka piké (a local urban style which I think has something of the polka, I am not sure), with one song listed as 'folklore'.
The Congolese rumba interpretations or the ‘rumba lingala’ style pretty much made a growing consciousness that Congo could make it to work from one identity (Congo before colonilizating was just a nature area with hundreds of different tribes and languages), even when during the independence the new governments became still tribe-minded (the dominance of the Kongo tribe), it continued trying to unite with this.
The double album : -(cd1 : 1953-1954, cd2 : 1954-1955)-
Especially the early tracks on the album are highly original for its use of Hawaiian tuning of guitars mixed with soft and fast wooden rhythms, musically a very fresh and original style. Some guitarists are known to be influential for this, like Adikwa. The (upper) bass is usually played with honky tonk stomp rhythms. Also some brass or trumpet arrangements occur just here and there, and you can also hear the very different sound of the accordion added a few times, once like a more weeping sounding instrument to the dance tunes (on disc 1), then oddly happy elsewhere (on disc 2, Austrian folk-like). Thoroughly I have the feeling the guitar is used to create certain recognisable patterns of repetitive rhythms, which brings their sound closer to the highlife style, with more focus on the vocals in harmonies than to exploration of the new, with a more recognisable, rather happy sound that you can hear up to today. More and more the group performance with song very much sound like one entity of an expression.
Most often on the continuation of the second album the music gives the impression of being feel free happy party music. One of the things that were introduced in this period was of course the electric guitar, which in those days was only sporadically used, but which was going to lead very soon, in the light-and-happy repetitive pattern form. Two more details I will still lift out : very happy-funny is the (not mentioned in the extensive liner notes) keyboard with the guitar on the track by De Wayon. Also remarkable is beautiful brass arrangement done by Kalima Pierre, a real composition, which I can also consider as a crossover between classical and African. The booklet gives many explanations and translations of the lyrics. Extremely great I found a cynical text like “white men eat margarine fine”, only full line for a song.
A great, highly enjoyable compilation, and from a period where all this was fresh and new. But even here, in this very interesting period, the search for a common sound is a bit bigger than the research for new sounds. The expressions were more and more to be comprehended and lived for directly, in life and with joy.