If you’re interested in the musical development of the popular music of this vast, troubled, yet joyously vibrant country during the golden years of the early pre- and post-independence era from the mid ’50s to the mid ’80s, you’ve been more than well-served these last eighteen months or so. Tracing a line back from Network Medien’s glorious Golden Afrique Volume 2 (which took us from the late ’50s through the to the early ’80s), via Syllart’s recent Rumba on the River (covering the ’60s in the main, and the four giants of Congelese music during that period: OK Jazz, African Jazz, Tabu Ley and African Fiesta), with this beautifully packaged and lovingly annotated double CD release we are treated to the best music from a few seminal years when Congolese musicians took the jazz and Cuban-influenced music of their predecessors, mixed it with a new guitar style that imitated the Cuban son mutano piano style and the traditional sound of the likembe, and produced an exhilarating dance music that was about to take the continent by storm.
Biguines and rumba rhythms were still dominant during this period, but the emergence of irresistibly dance-friendly sebenes were beginning to take root, leading eventually to the soukous dance style of the ’70s and ’80s.
The occasional European-style polka piké and folkloric song betray the uneasiness of the nascent cultural and political semi-autonomy in the country, but the confidence of hugely influential artists such as Bowane (the biggest of the pre-OK Jazz era stars) and Liengo (next largest, and producer of timeless hip-shaking rhythms) clearly lay the path to the likes of Franco and Tabu Ley a few years later. The former appears as a teenage prodigy on a number of tracks, including purportedly his first ever recording, on 'The Priest’ De Wayon’s captivating Esengo Ya Mokili.
A historical and musical delight.