No sooner was The Wire kind enough to spotlight this page as a good source both for African music and the Trivial Pursuits data accruing thereto, than NCIP took off for the Caribbean. This should not be taken as a measure of contrariness. Then again, were this so, I probably wouldn't admit it. In essence, my site follows the weather, with drinks, snacks and shoes to match in the best-case scenario.
This week's entry marks a return to soukous, the up-and-at-'em dance music of Zaïre and the Congo covered in our initial posts. Latinate by inspiration, purely African in its inventiveness and zest, Congolese 'rumba rock' still sounds new with each play. Musician and arch horn-dog Pablo Lubadika Porthos was featured in an earlier entry on the subject; today's offering, En Action, is his magnum opus, the album for which he should best be remembered.
Gary Stewart's history of Congolese music, the indispensable Rumba On The River, follows the peregrinations of Pablo's career, tracing steps from his mid-'70s tenure as guitarist in Vicky Longomba's Lovy du Zaïre and that group's next iteration, Orchestre Kara; Syran M'Benza, future member of Les Quatre Étoiles, was Pablo's bandmate during this era. Following his next bandleader, vocalist Sam Mangwana, young Pablo left a hardscrabble existence in Kinshasa behind for Lomé, Togo. Membership in the African All-Stars was a significant entry in Pablo's curriculum vita; the band was together less than a year, but as Stewart describes its legacy, the All-Stars recorded eight albums' worth of music and determined the future course of soukous itself in the process.
After recording the album Matilda in Lagos, Nigeria with the African All-Stars, Pablo moved west to Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire, in the company of Mangwana and a core group of former All-Stars. He then would migrate to Paris; there, while still playing with Mangwana's group, Pablo became part of a stable of Congolese expatriate musicians haunting local studios. His guitar was a key component on the best recordings by Pamelo Mounk'a, as produced by Eddy Gustave. Pablo began devoting increasing amounts of time to his solo career. With producer Richard Dick at the helm, Pablo completed several extended dance tracks at Studio Laguna, some of which found their way onto Island Records' two-volume soukous anthology, Sound d'Afrique.
Pablo sussed out the advantages that Parisian studios offered circa 1980 and soon was overdubbing multiple guitar and bass parts himself. He was helped in no small measure during the solo sessions by Ignace Nkounkou, better known as Master Mwana Congo, a wizardly guitarist, maybe the Congolese conterpart to Teeny Hodges from Al Green's band. Master's sparkling ostinati (as I've long ago concluded, the sound of a guitar telling itself a dirty joke) embellished recordings by Pamelo Mounk'a, Lea Lignazi and many others among the Kinshasa-in-Paris ex-pat set. Also on board were drummer Domingo Salsero and Priso 'en sax.' The four tracks recorded for En Action were issued as two 12" singles by Island, but were never released as a consolidated album in the West. Gary Stewart offers the best description of that album:
"Pablo's new work delivered the latest increment in the music's evolution, a ménage à trois of of old-school musicianship, the African All-Stars' faster paced new beat and the repetitive guitar phrasing of Kinshasa's youth bands. The music aimed below the waist, and it succeeded famously."
Should anyone have had possible cause to doubt the latter ambition, Pablo's best solo album was adorned with what amounts to photography-as-mission statement. The women pictured in Pablo's company, incidentally, were styled by skilled hands from Parisian salon Coiffure Marceline, “Chic African Hair Dress,” at 56 rue des Poissoniers. Labor-intensive hair is much appreciated here at NCIP. Not to put too fine a spin on the issue, I'll exert my flair for the obvious by pointing out the visual evidence of Pablo's credentials as a hedonist non pareil; his unassuming expression on the cover of En Action more and less says it all. Monsieur Pablo, wherever you may be in the present moment — whether on earth or in the aether — rest assured that you've earned our respect.
[Today's vinyl courtesy of the Tony Conrad collection.]