Troubadours Du Roi Baudouin

Christmas in the Congo

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In the mid-'50s, a Belgian missionary named Father Guido Haazen took a position at a school in what was then the Belgian Congo. He assembled a male choir, largely consisting of Congolese boys, along with 15 men and several percussionists. Under Haazen's direction, the group that became known as Troubadours du Roi Baudouin developed an African mass based on shared improvisations and traditional song forms. The resulting piece was called Missa Luba and its 1958 recording became an international success throughout the following decade. Its pairing of Catholic liturgical forms (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, etc.) and jubilant Congolese folk music provided major crossover appeal, and over time the record became quite influential. In 1963, Haazen and the choir made a second attempt at a Western-influenced mass with the beautiful album Christmas in the Congo. Opening with "Siku Kuu," a Congolese version of "Silent Night," the gentle choral hymns that begin the record slowly blossom into exuberant, celebratory pieces sung over vibrant tribal rhythms. It's easy to get swept up in the joyful noise of a track like "Munafika," and the young lead voice on "Mwendele Baki Binda" is achingly pure and disarming. Christmas in the Congo is hardly just a holiday album; it's a celebration of life. With the entire 16-track album clocking in at under 30 minutes, a 1968 recording of American jazz singer Eartha Kitt reading African folk tales has been added rather incongruously at the end of the CD. The six additional spoken word tracks from Folk Tales of the Tribes of Africa are unique and well-told, but seem much too jarring after the lovely mood set by the Troubadours. They might have been better served attached to a different recording, but as it stands, Christmas in the Congo is a beautiful collection of music with or without the bonus tracks.

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