While all types of Congolese popular music are usually lumped together as soukous for marketing purposes, it is crucial to distinguish between the gracious, melody-drenched rumba congolais and the fleet, far less organic "speed soukous" styles that eventually eclipsed it. Kékélé most definitely harks back to the former, recalling the sixties-and-seventies heyday of Ry-Co Jazz, Les Bantous de la Capitale, African Jazz, and OK Jazz. The band is nothing less than a super-session, a gathering of luminaries from two generations. Among the singers, Nyboma Mwan Dido, Jean Papy Ramazani, and Wuta Mayi achieved international fame during the mid-to-late eighties as founding members of the Quatre Etoiles-Kass Kass cell; but Bumba Massa (Lovy du Zaire) and Loko Masengo (aka Djeskain - Trio Madjesi, Les Trois Freres) are genuine sixties veterans. Sexagenarian lead guitarist Ndule Papa Noel passed through several ground-breaking outfits before becoming Franco's trusty lieutenant in OK Jazz.
Syran Mbenza is heard on lead and second guitar in Kékélé, but he is also a legendary rhythm and mi-solo (in Congolese music, a third guitarist who interacts with both the lead and rhythm players) virtuoso as well as a founder of Quatre Etoiles and Kass Kass. Rather surprisingly, the core group is rounded out by Yves Ndjock, a famous Cameroonian keyboard ace, singer, and arranger whose work usually displays a decidedly modern bias. The semi-acoustic ambiance is further enhanced by the ten additional performers who sit in on accordion, sax, clarinet, flute, percussion, violin, up-right bass, and back-up guitars. The tunes uniformly reflect the languid yet well-marked Cuban clavé beat, chiming strings, and close-harmony vocals that characterized the older, more classic styles. There is not a single rough edge or hurried tempo within earshot. Ultimately, the project comes across as a mellifluous living history taught by those who know. The whippersnappers of soukous could do worse than to unplug their synths for a hot minute, have a listen, and remember where it all came from. - Christina Roden
"Baninga" (Papa Noel)
"Pinzoli Ya Africa" (Wuta Mayi)
© (p) 2001 Stern's Music, used by express permission
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