Mose Fan Fan: Musicatelama
Considering the barbarism of Congo's Belgian colonial regime, which stripped the country of everything bar the light bulbs when independence was won in 1960, it is a wonder that music as beautiful Congolese rumba was created in the late 1940s and 1950s. But the style transcended the circumstances in which it was born (and went on to influence popular music across much of west, central and east Africa during the belle époque of the 1960s and 1970s). Veteran rumba guitarist Mose Se Sengo Fan Fan's Musicatelama is a blissful romp through those glory days, a mix of classic material and new songs fashioned from the same template.
Fan Fan, born in 1944, was in the forefront of the new-wave rumba which emerged in Leopoldville (as Congo's capital, Kinshasa, was formerly known) in the early 1960s. In 1967, after spells with Jazz Baron and Orchestra La Revolution, he joined OK Jazz, the pre-eminent band led by Franco, "the sorcerer of the guitar." Franco (Francois Luambo Makiadi) regularly featured Fan Fan as a soloist, and Fan Fan also contributed songs to the band's book, including "Djemelase," one of the pieces revisited on Musicatelama. Fan Fan quit Franco in 1974, following disputes over money, and struck out on his own, leaving Kinshasa in 1975 and living in Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania before settling Britain in 1984.
Fan Fan's regular band is augmented on Musicatelama by a horn section comprised of three OK Jazz alumni: alto saxophonist Dele Pedro Isac and tenor saxophonists Verckys Kiamuanga and Didan Daniel. The album is firmly in "belle epoque" rumba style, from the instrumentation, which is a smaller version of OK Jazz, through to the arrangements. Most songs start with a vocals and full-band performance of the main theme, before kicking into the sebene section: the tempo picks up a little, the rhythms shift, and the focus is on a densely textured jam between the lead, mi-solo and rhythm guitars, sometimes followed by horn solos.
Musicatelama (which is released on the LAA label and is distributed through Sterns) comes with a DVD, a low budget affair which presents Fan Fan and some of the band members in a bar, miming or dancing to three of the album tracks. It has a certain charm, but will not be a contender at this year's Cannes film festival.
Congolese rumba is minutely and precisely codified, leading some listeners to say it all sounds the same. To which the retort must be: who would want to change even one note of it?
Tracks: CD: Africa Moto; Engombi; Buka Bisengo; Mamisa; Kebo; Ambalona; Cele; Djemelase; Mosese. DVD: Africa Moto; Ambalona; Buka Bisengo.
Personnel: Mose Fan Fan: lead guitar, vocals; Fiston Lusambo: mi-solo guitar; Laddi: rhythm guitar; Malage de Lugendo: lead vocals; Nzaya Zayadio Paul: lead vocals; Fabien Monga Gianni: vocals; Jean Claude Bula: bass guitar; Saidi Tumba Salum: conga, percussion; Padou Machine: drum kit; Dele Pedro Isac: alto saxophone; Verckys Kiamuangana: tenor saxophone; Didan Daniel: tenor saxophone.