Thursday, February 28, 2008

WENDO KOLOSOY - On The Rumba River (Marabi)

After more than 60 years of making music, octogenarian Congolese singer and guitarist Antoine “Wendo” Kolosoy is still going strong, and this half-retrospective/half-soundtrack is a welcome primer on his remarkable career.

The album is named after the 2004 film made about the ex-boxer who became one of Congo’s early recording stars with the 1948 rumba classic Marie-Louise, the song on which many claim guitarist Henri Bowane introduced the sebene, the point at which slow to mid-tempo soukous numbers are ratcheted up into speedy dance tunes. A delightfully fluid 1993 acoustic version of that classic track opens proceedings, and the collection then weaves its seductive way between live recordings from the film and highlights of Wendo’s resolutely old-school Congolese rumba albums of the past.

Wendo frequently takes a back seat on the live numbers as various cohorts and colleagues work their way through a series of rudimentary praise songs, likembe (thumb piano)-led improvisations and horn-led rumbas. But thankfully his frail but still affecting voice is to the fore on the best of the 2004 batch, and although Kolosoy has never been the greatest of African singers — lacking the sweetness of many rumba singers or the power and poise of the more declamatory West Africans — there’s a delicate woody timbre to his singing that suits the earthy yet beguiling nature of the music.

The older tracks swing blissfully around that voice, an uplifting marriage of horns, acoustic guitar and percussion that bring a welcome levity to the album as a whole. All we really need now is a truly definitive collection of the great man’s work.

This review first appeared on

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