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Since 2009, I have been working with Stern's Music to release a series of compilations from the audio archives of Nairobi's AIT Records (now called AI Records). Mazembe @45rpm Volume 1 is the sixth CD release, available from 2nd April, 2013. Mazembe @45rpm Volume 2 is a digital only release available online from all the major download stores.
Orchestra Super Mazembe
Stern's STCD3063 in CD format and digital download. AIT Digital - Available as a digital download only. 1. Kingo Mwambe 8:29
2. Izabela 8:33
3. Amina 6:19
4. Mwana Mazembe 9:34
5. Na Bimaka Te 8:32
6. South View 7:55
7. Okova 9:26
8. Naleli Libota 9:11
9. Naleki Na Ba Zone 9:32
1. Ndona 8:35
2. Yo-Mabe 8:53
3. Presto 8:28
4. Nganyiemu 8:59
5. Mwana Nyiau 9:20
6. Aleisia 9:09
7. Prekete 8:00
8. Sala Keba 7:42
9. Mungu Mkubwa 9:13
The was quite a fun project for me, another labor of love with hundred of hours spent in research and audio restoration. The goal was to recover as many of the 42 or so Editions Mazembe singles that we could find, especially the songs that have not been featured on the Kenyan AIT LPs or other international releases. (Since the Mwana Mazembe LP on EMI was also long out of print, we also considered those songs fair game as well.) The A and B sides of the singles have been lovingly stitched together to make complete, full-length songs.
Here are my notes from the CD booklet:
After a five-year venture that took them from southern Zaire to Zambia and through Tanzania, in 1975 the Congolese band Orchestra Super Mazembe finally arrived in Nairobi. Kenyan audiences were slow to react initially, but in 1977 the émigrés from Zaire scored a huge hit with their single Kassongo, and from that point on their fame and fortune lay in East Africa. They were incredibly productive; by 1984 they’d released 42 singles under the Editions Mazembe imprint alone, in addition to recordings for other labels, and they toured Kenya relentlessly – a significant factor in their immense popularity throughout the country.
Orchestra Super Mazembe has had some international exposure with the release of their Giants of East Africa compilation in 2001 (Earthworks, STEW45CD), and before that a couple of vinyl LPs in the early 80s and 90s, including one released by Virgin. However the LPs are long out of print and the eleven numbers on Giants are but a small fraction of the Mazembe catalogue. In fact, despite their fame at the time, very few of their singles can be found anywhere today, whether in the used vinyl market or as unauthorised uploads on the Internet. Mazembe @ 45rpm, Vol. 1 is a sampling of this rich legacy of the Editions Mazembe singles recorded and released in Nairobi. In Kenya during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, the single was king. Sure, there were a few groups who recorded with the notion of releasing an album but, in fact, there were very few locally produced LPs and that figure is minuscule compared to 45rpms. The typical scenario would be that bands went into the studio and recorded a halfdozen songs that were then released during the year as a series of singles. This made a lot of business sense as, for example in Kenya in 1980, the average music fan might not have found it too difficult to come up with 10 shillings for a single, but it would have been much harder to find the 55 shillings necessary for an album. Super Mazembe did release six LPs in Kenya, but these were essentially afterthe- fact collections of singles plus their one recording prepared for the European market, ‘Kaivaska’, released by Virgin in 1982.
As singles, all of the songs in the Mazembe @ 45rpm collection conform to a fairly standard pattern where one song is divided into two parts for the A and B sides of the record. At just under five minutes long, the A side starts off in measured pace with all the verses. About 2 to 2˝ minutes in, there is a musical shift often preceded by a brief pause. Here we get an elaboration of the verses or a chorus with a rhythmic augmentation. At around four minutes into the side, the song evolves into a fast-paced dance section often with instrumental solos and vocal interplay. At the five minute mark the band is playing a repeating instrumental or vocal chorus as side A of the record fades out. Side B fades in, picking up where side A left off, and then moves on to embellish earlier verses and/or the chorus. The last two or three minutes of side B become an exhibition of guitar solos, vocal interjections, and additional choruses that carry us to the end of the song. For our Mazembe compilation, the A and B sides have been combined without fading at the midpoint.
The selections on Mazembe @ 45rpm, Vol. 1 come from different recording sessions and feature several distinctive lead voices. For example, in one of the early recording sessions circa 1977-78, Samba Mapangala of Les Kinois and, later, Orchestra Virunga, lends his voice to “Mwana Mazembe”. In other sessions, you hear bandleader Longwa Didos or the distinctively piercing voice of Lovy Longomba in the songs “Okova” and “Naleli Libota”. These songs are all in Lingala, a language of the Congo that few Kenyans understood, but that didn’t seem to matter much. In my own case, while I knew a fair amount of Lingala vocabulary, the meaning of a song was mainly left to my imagination, and I suspect it’s that way for non-Lingala speakers everywhere. For our album, Samba Mapangala has graciously assisted in giving thumbnail sketches of the song contents. I must say, my imagination was often far off the mark. More often than not, what I thought might be love songs turned out to be poignant stories of suffering or of difficult personal relationships.
My selection was based on the music and without reference to a song’s meaning. However, now that I have a better grasp of the content I am struck by their expressions of sympathy and concern for women, the poor, and those suffering (often one and the same). The lyric synopses are based on Samba Mapangala’s descriptions of the songs which are included in the notes for the CD release.
In more recent times the Super Mazembe name has occasionally disappeared from the Kenyan music scene only to reappear a few years later. The early 2000s had Loboko Pasi’s group Mazembe Academia holding down the fort. By around 2006, Kasongo wa Kanema began putting together the latest version of Super Mazembe with a younger line-up that includes the sons of Kasongo and the late Longwa, and which, along with new songs, features a contemporary take on the vast Mazembe musical legacy.
CD notes by Douglas B. Paterson ©2013 Stern's Music.
See the Discography of Super Mazembe Singles from Editions Mazembe.
See the Discography of Super Mazembe Albums.
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To contact Douglas Paterson, send email to DPaterson@EastAfricanMusic.com.
Last updated 15 May, 2013.