Various Artists

Congolo-Zairoise, Vol. 1

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This eight-group compilation is an early release in the Merveilles du Passe series, the first comprehensive effort to bring the recorded legacy of major African groups from Zaire and Congo to a world audience. Bantous Jazz excepted, these artists are a virtual compendium of major minor bands from the late '60s and early '70s. That's major in terms of popularity at home, and minor in not lasting to the mid-'70s new wave of Papa Wemba and Zaiko Langa Langa, or the music's arrival on the international scene in the mid- to late '80s. Most were led by veterans of the bands of the twin towers, Franco and Tabu Ley Rochereau, spinning off on their own, and young Turks looking to bring fresh influences like James Brown's soul into the rumba-based style. The liner notes supply the basic musical context for the period, but be sure to head to Gary Stewart's excellent history Rumba on the River for the details on musician movements and the various schools that emerged. Orchestre Conga Succes and Vévé impress the most musically here. The former's "Nalingi Yo," with potent guitar, horns, and a strong lead vocal squad goes rave-up with a sax and guitar duel, and "Sango Nini?" brings a sprightly, vital bounce to the ounce, too. Orchestre Vévé's "Mfumbwa" starts mellow and melodic vocally before the horns kick in behind the guitar solo and the intensity builds to a horn bridge that leads to an even more arresting groove. Bantous Jazz features prominent sax in a fairly up-tempo, raucous attack, while Negro Succes is restrained in the classic rumba mold with a pretty absorbing guitar on "Ngai Mwana 15 Ans." Orchestre Cobantou goes from rough and rowdy -- pushing the amps on "Tangana" -- to in-the-pocket sedate, while Vox Africa is all sweet, soothing unison vocals and light guitars, music to make you sway, not sweat. Les Maquisards offer the very tasteful, measured "Tito" and then immediately re-incarnate as Les Grands Maquisards with horns, a more forceful lead singer, and some crystalline licks when the guitarist takes his time and doesn't rush to jam everything into his solo spot. The big surprise is what you don't find in the music -- real drum drive (since kit drums are almost non-existent) and the overall sound is very light and upper register. Congolo-Zaroise, Vol. 1 serves its purpose as a sampler and consumer guide -- it gives the listener a solid enough grounding in how the different bands sound so they can decide which ones are worth checking out more deeply.

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