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The father of Congolese rumba Born to sing.

Le Grand KaIle: His life, his music

Joseph Kabasele


Cat: STCD3058-59

WITHIN THE GALAXY OF Congolese music there are many stars, but Joseph Kabasele's particular brilliance shines brighter than most. A singer, composer, band leader and in many ways a social leader--Kabasele's early years established that he was born a singer. Having sung in church choirs, he might have entered a seminary--both parents had close connections with the church, and an uncle became a cardinal, but it seems that after a less than glittering spell at Catholic school, where he cut classes to follow his musical vocation (he was expelled), his fate was to become a shorthand typist.

But any chance he got, after work, he would continue to hang out at the Opika recording studio in Kinshasa, then Leopoldville. One thing led to another, and he soon began to sing with other like-minded young men, borrowing the studio's instruments.

Ken Braun, who writes the extensive notes to this double-disc release, tells us that Kabasele particularly sought out the young troubadours--singers and guitarists only four or five years older than him but already composing their own songs and telling their stories. "These were the performers he wanted to emulate, not the choir soloists or church cantors".

And he got his wish. Shortly after making his first recording he hired younger musicians to form his very own seven-piece band--Orchestre African Jazz--and with careful planning and strategy made it arguably the top band in Leopoldville. At its height, the band had attracted musicians of the calibre of Doc-teur Nico Kasanda, Tabu Ley, Manu Dibango and Jean Serge Essous. And with this band, Kabasele fused Cuban rhythms with African traditional beats to create what is now universally known as Congolese music.

Within a decade, the swelling "independence" movement met up with popular African dance music. Kabasele (who was now being affectionately called Le Grand Ka11e) met Patrice Lumumba in a Leopoldville club--Lumumba was then a beer salesman--and the two men struck up a friendship. It is said that Lumumba and Kabasele would cruise the streets of the city in the musician's much-admired white convertible saloon car. Lumumba was jailed for a short time by the Belgian authorities for "instigating unrest".

But the call for the Belgians to quit the Congo grew ever louder, and forced the Belgian government to hold a round-table summit in Brussels, which Lumumba and other notable Congolese leaders attended, as did Kabasele, as the leader of Orchestre African Jazz, who were taken to entertain the African delegates.

Kabasele used the opportunity of being in Europe to negotiate (with his compatriot Izeidi) an agreement with Fonier (a Decca subsidiary). The result was African Jazz, the first label run by a Congolese. With an advance in his back pocket, Kabasele booked studio time and brought his band into the Gramophone Studio.

Against most people's expectations, the round table achieved an agreement that the Congo would become independent. And to celebrate, Kabasele wrote and recorded perhaps his best-known song--'Independence Cha Cha'. He had also recorded 'Table Ronde', to mark the summit being held, and both these tracks (recorded in Belgium) are included in this 38-song two-disc compilation.

Rather than fly immediately home Kabasele and his band embarked on a mini-European tour of Belgium, the Netherlands and France.

Gary Stewart (the author of Rumba on the River) by Ken Braun in the excellent booklet that accompanies these two discs. Stewart recalled Kabasele's recollection of the 1960 European audiences as: "All could well believe that we were from the Congo, but not that we were capable of making such beautiful, such impressive music. I assure you ... we confirmed for the other nations that the Congo was old enough to enjoy independence".

And for the next 23 years, Le Grand Kali& despite all the country's vicissitudes, helped the Congolese enjoy life.

Stephen Williams

Lumumba and Kabasele would cruise the streets of Kinshasa in the musician's convertible
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Title Annotation:MUSIC
Comment:The father of Congolese rumba Born to sing.(MUSIC)
Author:Kabasele, Joseph
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Dec 1, 2013
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