The World Is Shaking

by

The World Is Shaking Cubanismo From The Congo, 1954-55

“The World Is Shaking:
Cubanismo From The Congo, 1954-55” (HJRCD40)

edited from HONEST JON’S RECORDS (http://www.honestjons.com):

This highly recommended collection of commercial 78 RPM recordings could be subtitled instead “early acoustic guitar bands from The Congo.”  Although the bands were supposedly inspired by Cuban records, the music here is wholly African.  Five of the cuts also include a fiddle, and at least three include likembe (thumb piano).

The recordings display a euphoric explosion of creativity just a few years before The Congo’s independence from France.  The gorgeous vocal harmonies and consistent guitar virtuousity  uncover the dizzy beginnings of the golden age of African music — zinging with the social and political ferment of the independence movement and anti-colonianalism, after the Second World War — and the daredevil origins of Congolese rumba, the entire continent’s most popular music in the sixties and seventies.

The astonishing inventions of Europe and America  played an important role in the music’s development. Echoes of music exported in the slave trade came home on radios and records. Congolese musicians who strayed from the traditional realm with its plethora of lutes and likembes (thumb pianos) — all the various indigenous instruments — began to master imported guitars and horns by mimicking what they heard.

The jazz of Louis Armstrong and the ballads of European torch singers like Tino Rossi captured the imagination of the rapidly expanding working class — and then the familiar-sounding music of Latin America, in the form of the shiny shellac of HMV’s GV series of 78s (G for the English Gramophone Company; V for Victor in the US). Local musicians swapped the Spanish of the originals for Congolese languages like Lingala or Kikongo.

Listen to likembe player Boniface Koufidilia as he makes the transition from traditional to modern in the first few seconds of Bino, which then hits you with a vamping violin whilst he muses about death. Andre Denis and Albert Bongu both echo the the sounds of palm-wine guitar brought to the Belgian Congo by the coastmen. The sweet vocal harmonies of Vincent Kuli’s track were learned perhaps in a mission church. Rene Mbu’s nimble, likembe-like guitar plucking shines on Boma Limbala. Is Laurent Lomande using a banjo as a backdrop to Elisa? Aren’t those kazoos, buzzing along on Jean Mpia’s Tika?

It’s as if the musicians, fired up by the times in their zeal for experimental self-expression, tossed into a bottle some new elements and some old, some from near and some far, and then shook it hard, to see what would happen.

“Yaka Ko Tala” by Vincent Kuli, from “The World Is Shaking”:

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