Bozi Boziana

The Collection Featuring Jolly Detta & Deesse, Vol. 1

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Bozi Boziana was a founding member of '70s Congo/Zaire upstarts Zaiko Langa Langa, teamed with Papa Wemba when the latter first went to Paris, and maintained a high profile in Europe with Zaiko offshoots like Langa Langa Stars, Choc Stars, and Orchestre Anti-Choc during the '80s. He's a singer with plenty of history and he's plenty popular in Europe and Africa (the 1989 Musician of the Year in the Congo), so when he decided to pioneer bringing female singers into the largely male preserve of Congolese music, people paid attention. These are some of those pioneer recordings, almost certainly cut in the late '80s and perhaps with Boziana's group at the time, Orchestre Anti-Choc (but no liner notes to tell you). The singers come from different camps -- Jolly Detta was a veteran backing singer who subtly blends her voice with Boziana's pleasingly smooth vocals on long melody lines, while Deesse Mukangi was a young unknown who just steps up and wails for spitfire contrast. And the latter is ultimately the more impressive of the two female voices, although Detta starts off strong among the intertwined guitars of "La Reine de Sabah." All the songs are seven and a half to eight and a half minutes long, plenty of time to lock down a groove and wear down dance resistance, but there are some odd traits to what shapes up as pretty straightforward disc of African pop, Congo division. Every instrument is mixed at the same high level so there's not much shading or color, but even stranger is that the singers keep singing for most of the song without taking it into the double-time sebene instrumental rush. And that's a pretty central element to the Congo/Zaire style, especially the Zaiko Langa Langa school that Boziana comes from.

"Masumu Akeyi" has a strong vocal contrast with a near-South African harmony blend on the chorus, some nice hooks, and an insistent conga instead of the usual four-on-the-floor disco beat and you keep expecting it to go over the top, but the vocals keep going on and on and...it never does. "Parmis les Roses" actually does hit guitar liftoff but an extremely overbearing synth kills the momentum, and "Ba Bokilo" motors along with funky guitar lines and punchy synths, hinting at the guitar overdrive but settling for constant chatter until the seven-minute mark, nails it when they do take it over the top but...synth overkill again. Kinda frustrating and most of the tracks promise a bit more than they ultimately deliver but also have something to recommend them, be it the groove and spacy synthesizer on "Evelyne" or the guitar-lick and hard-percussion drive of "Santa." "Luke" is fairly downtempo at first, but the strong vocal melody sustains interest until the guitar hits a magic lick for the sebene section, and the repeating figures from a light uptempo guitar are persuasive enough to make "Wakamba" work. Bozi Boziana was making this music with his core African audience in mind, so that may account for some of the things that Western ears might find strange. There's no reason to suspect these tracks aren't pretty representative of Congolese/Zairian music of the late '80s. Ultimately, the music on Vol. 1 is almost always good but rarely great, and more session details and liner notes to provide a historical context for it would be a big plus.