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Le Grand Kalle: His Life, His Music

Chris May By

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Singer and composer Joseph Kabasele, aka Le Grand Kallé, is widely credited with the creation of "Congolese rumba," the most popular style in Central and East Africa during the 1960s and 1970s. In reality, Congolese rumba was born of several parents, but Kabasele's role in its creation was far reaching and has become the best documented. He was instrumental in blending traditional Congolese music with Cuban dance music—which was rooted in the music Congolese slaves had brought to the island during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—and, in 1956, he was the first Congolese bandleader to include an electric guitar in his lineup. With Dr Nico and Papa Noel, Kabasele's band, African Jazz, included two of Congolese rumba's finest electric guitarists of the 1950s and 1960s. Kabasele himself was blessed with a gorgeous tenor voice, and wrote great songs, too.

This beautifully packaged and well researched 2CD compilation set includes a bound-in, 104-page book written by Congolese-music historian Ken Braun, who comments on all 38 tracks and puts them in their social and political contexts. The first CD spans 1951-1962, the second 1964-1970.

The first disc is the strongest. It includes some of Kabasele's most enduring recordings including his biggest hit, "Independance Cha Cha," released to celebrate Congo winning independence from Belgium in 1960. It is sublime and essential listening for anyone interested in the birth and early development of electric Congolese music.

The second disc is patchier. Kabasele seems to have been an extraordinarily nonchalant bandleader and on occasions during the 1960s he allowed his bands to drift away from him. The developing political situation in Congo was for him a destabilising factor: Kabasele had been a high-profile supporter of independent Congo's first leader, Patrice Lumumba, who was assassinated by the CIA in 1961, and Joseph Mobutu, who took power in a US-backed coup in 1965, was suspicious of Kabasele's political allegiances. (The guitarist and bandleader Franco, whose TPOK Jazz became Congo's pre-eminent band during the 1960s, was more careful not to provoke Mobutu's displeasure). Flashes of brilliance continued through the 1960s—"BB 69" was a well deserved hit in 1968—but as the decade progressed, Kabasele sometimes sounded like he was simply going through the motions. In 1969, feeling himself to be under surveillance and his freedom of movement limited, Kabasele left for Paris, where he formed the short-lived, Afro-Latin fusion band African Team with saxophonist Manu Dibango. From then on, Paris was his base. He returned home in the late 1970s, but worked and recorded in Europe. He died in Paris in 1983.

Despite parts of disc two being rather forgettable, the quality of the 68 minutes of music on disc one makes His Life, His Music a five-star contender for best Central African archive release of the year.

Track Listing: CD1: Valerine Regina; Kale Kalo; Parafifi; African Jazz; Baila; Tujala Tashibemba; Mokonzi Ya Mboka; Tembe Nye; Table Ronde; Naweli Boboto; Independance Cha Cha; Jamais Kolonga; Africa Bola Ngombi; Malalnga Ya Mobido; Kamulanga; Bana Na Nwa; Naboonnngisa Kala; Tika Ndeko Na Yo Te; Mama Ngai Habanera; African Jazz Mokili Mobimbo; Miwela Miwela; Bodingo Suka Te. CD2: Mindule Mipanzana; Jolie Nana; Nzambe E Mungu; Makwela Ya Bana Mboka; Merengue Fontaine; Biwela Biwela; Carrefour Addis Ababa; Butsana Mama; Lipop Ya Bolingo; Moselebende To Bolingo; Mbombo Ya Tshimbalanga; BB 69; Ko Ko Ko Qui Est La; Suzi Na Edo; Africa Boogaloo; Mokili Zala Ala Juste.

Personnel: Collective Personnel: Joseph Kabasele Tshamala (Le Grand Kallé), Marcellin Laboga, Dechaud, Rossignol, Roger Izeidi, Rochereau, Vicky, Jeannot Bombenga Wewando, Mathieu Kouka, Rolly, Freddie Nkounkou, Casino, Manu Dibango, Alexandre, Mayukuta, Mujos, Kwamy: vocals; Georges Doula, Albert Yamba-Yamba, Dechaud, Tino Baroza, Dr Nico, Dicky Baroza, Papa Noel, Damoiseau, Casino, Jerry: guitar; Albert Taumani, Roitelet, Joseph Mwena, Brazzos, Jeannot Dikoto Mandengue: bass; Fud, Isaac Musekiwa, Jean-Serge Essous, Nino, Andre Menga, Edo, Manu Dibango, Joseph Munange Ndosimao, Michel Yuma Kasongo, Don Gonzalo Fernandez: reeds and flutes; Willy, Jeef, Alphonse Bialo: trumpet; Gilbert Warnant, Many Dibango: keyboards; Baskis, Depuissant, Saturnin Pandi, Roger Izeidi, Petit Pierre, Charles Henault, Pepito, Casino: percussion; other unidentified personnel.

Title: His Life, His Music | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Sterns Music

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