Ngoma: the Early Years

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L2RhdGEvd2ViL250YW1hL3dlYi9udGFtYS9pbWFnZXMvc3Rvcmllcy9yZXZpZXdzL25nb20xY3YuanBnNgoma, the Early Years , 1948-1960 (Popular African Music CD):

from www.uni-hildesheim.de and www.allmusic.com:

The liner notes tell a fascinating story of a family of Greek import-export traders who started at mines in the then-Belgian Congo, and branched out to open up the Ngoma label in the mid-1940s. Ngoma may have been the very first label recording early Congolese artists, and the label’s unusual push to promote and distribute its music was apparently fundamental in Zairian/Congolese rumba becoming a pan-African sound more than a national one.

The master tapes were lost in a pressing plant fire, and a pristine vinyl collection destroyed in Kinshasa, so the songs here were transferred from old discs, and the sound quality is fairly rough and very compressed. More important, this music is very much pre-full-band-rumba-phase that took off with Franco and others in the mid-’50s, so there aren’t any flashy rave-ups.

It’s dominated by lilting acoustic guitars backing singers, with the Cuban influences pretty implicit. If anything, it sounds like a parallel to pre-electric band pop stages, like mento in Jamaica, or pre-Mighty Sparrow calypso in Trinidad (Some rural Cuban styles would probably fit the profile, too).

The disc is bookended by two versions of Congolese legend Wendo’s “Marie-Louise”: the 1948 track plaintive with guitar, the 1958 one with a full band in cha cha mode. Camille Mokoko contributes two strong songs — “Ekoko Bata” is an ad for Bata shoes — and the first taste of light electric guitar surfaces on “Yen Vavanga,” by Manuel D’Oliveira. There are faint traces of the Franco sound-to-come here, and “Njila Ya Ndolo” features Antoine Moundanda’s high-pitched voice, answering group harmonies, and introducing what sounds like a marimba.

The big expansion comes on Leon Bukasa’s tracks. A “solovox” organ comes out to play on “Tokanista Tata Ngoma” (which might be a 1952 funeral tribute to label owner Nico Jéronimidis) and some clarinet-saxophone duels on “Bibi Yangu.” A full horn section flavors the melody to “Bibi Bertha Mosoko,” and prominent organ dominates “Congo Ya Biso Basi Bayebi Kolata.”

Other highlights: Camille Feruzi’s instantly catchy blend of sax, singing, and accordion on “Nabala Muluba”; Fylla Guy Léon’s trio, with their lively rumba and vibrato-laden sax, and Adou Elenga’s early version of “Maria Tchebo” (aka “Maria Tebbo,” a big hit for Sam Mangwana 20 years later) with faint “La Bamba” touches.

Ngoma: Early Years scores big for historical value, and those liner notes are a goldmine bonanza for African music historians.  In the 1950s the eminent Hugh Tracey was perhaps the first to point out the historical significance of the work by the Greek brothers Alexandros and Nico Jéronimidis in the then Belgian Congo, recording popular urban music and publishing them for the central African market on their label NGOMA.

When I crossed a quarter of Africa on a Solex autocycle in 1963/64 the music played on the NGOMA label was in full blast and songs by the guitarist Wendo, especially his wonderful “Kame Rumba” and “Marie-Louise” had become symbolic of the Kinshasa Lingala-language based style of modern Congolese guitar music of the 1950s. And so was the music of Paul Kamba, Léon Bukasa and many others.

This CD is a short selection — considering the fact that the number of recordings by the Jéronimidis brothers exceeds several thousand items and many can no longer be traced (although a catalogue has been found), but it is very well documented. Not only are facts about the various groups , their song texts in Lingala and English translation made avaialble for the first time, but also substantial information about the history of the Firm Jéronimidis and the two enterprising brothers who instigated this program in the first place. This CD is to be highly recommended to everyone interested in the history of Congo music during the period 1948 – 1960.

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