Orchestra Super Mazembe, Kaivaska

ORCHSUPMAZfrnt by you.

Joe Boyd, the American expatriate record producer, was once asked why contemporary English folk music — many of the best examples of which were produced by Joe Boyd — didn't resonate with most American record buyers. In response, he cited the African origins of most American pop music, and described music based in African idioms as 'a passport to fun.' By that consideration, your average Fairport Convention album might as well exist on a different planet than the one hosting either Africa or today's subject, Kaivaska.

Orchestra Super Mazembe reissue the passport to fun with each spin of Kaivaska, their 1982 album released in the U.K. by Virgin Records. The nine songs comprising Kaivaska are of consistent quality, energizing and vibrant. Collectively, they commemorate an African dance band at the top of its form connecting with the recording studio. Which hardly ever happens.

A friend (of Danish decent, so she really meant it) once described Orchestra Super Mazembe as "the happiest band in the word." Its membership might argue otherwise, as they weathered much of the grief routinely visited upon working musicians in Africa. Orchestra Super Mazembe — the latter portion of its name an homage to earth-moving equipment — relocated to Eastern Africa, specifically Nairobi, to establish itself at a remove from the highly competitive scene in its native Zaîre. Earlier on, the band had its instruments repossessed by its first patron immediately prior to crossing the Zambian border; fortunately, the club owner in Zambia owned gear they could use. Subsequent morbidity and mortality influenced Super Mazembe's shifting membership. By the mid-'80s, the group was effectively out of the running.

Factoring in these career speedbumps, my friend's words hold true. There probably isn't music much happier sounding than that played by Orchestra Super Mazembe. As one might expect of Congolese natives, Super Mazembe dealt in Congolese rumba (or soukous), the Latinate sound that still remains the Congo Republic's great contribution to music, one that could be described as salsa with the hysteria filtered out. Super Mazembe augmented their rumba template with elements of the local music in their adopted home, Kenyan benga. They weren't the first or the last band to do so, but may have been the best at it. Ultimately, theirs was indisputably an African music, with contours somewhat more linear than its Afro-Cuban antecedents, yet every bit as sensual.

Those readers interested in the greater history of Orchestra Super Mazembe should investigate Giants Of East Africa, a career-spanning overview of the band's music from the mid-'70s through the subsequent decade, as issued on a compact disc a few years ago by the Earthworks label. Trevor Herman's liner notes for this collection are the defining historical account this splendid band deserves. Even as he recounts their success on the hotel and agricultural fair circuit — really — Herman observes that Super Mazembe's timing for success outside of East Africa could have been better. The band peaked in the era of Kaivaska's release, then disintegrated shortly thereafter, a few years in advance of the coming world music boomlet.

ORCHSUPMAZbk by you.

Herman also makes note of one of the band's best performances, "Maloba D'Amour," being their cover of Buddy Holly's "Words of Love." The song is not included on Giants Of East Africa, which I find curious as it clearly was the centerpiece of Kaivaska, despite its being tucked away on the second side of the original vinyl disc. Anyone within my acquaintance who has heard Kaivaska remembers "Maloba D'Amour" with much fondness. The song is a holographic shard with hooks, one that enables both a view of the band's history and the extraordinary potential of its membership. More importantly, the song embodies — and then some — the fun alluded to by Joe Boyd. A solo guitar rephrases Holly's trademark hook with a borrowed Spanish accent. Drums and grouped voices slam in to a groove that, as was said of early singles by the Kinks, could be the sound of musicians running the four minute mile. Or jogging the four minute mile with spliff in hand, as I'd prefer to imagine Super Mazembe. The horn section blazes with authority, and the rolling groove seems altogether unstoppable. "Maloba…" ends with an out-chorus repeatedly hummed by the singers. I can think of only one other example of humming used to such great effect, by another group named after a bulldozer(!), Buffalo Springfield. (The latter's song, "Merry-Go-Round," was included on their third and final full-length, Last Time Around; Richie Furay sings lead, but Stephen Stills' timbre is unmistakable even when humming.)

Next on deck, the hottest identical twins ever to cut an album in Nigeria. Please stay tuned.



Anonymous said…
My goodness, how these songs bring memories back to me. Thanks so much for uploading them.
The other day you mentioned this version of Words Of Love. Since then, I have been thinking of the song whenever my mind wandered. You ignited a thirst to hear it again.
Unfortunately the tape you made me of these songs decades ago vanished. My copy on vinyl has similarly gone wandering.

How sweet to have it back again. For this, I am most grateful.

I so appreciate the efforts you go to for our pleasure.

Music for Deaf People
This is a kind of music that is felt rather than heard.
These low harmonies resonate or make a kind of rumbling in my bones and flesh.

Now who was it that did the pigmy version of oh my darling Clementine along with the honey gathering song? If you are considering requests to post, please think of this one.

Actually, it might be fun to have an obscure African cover versions compilation.
Anonymous said…
One more time, thanks a lot for your great work. Each post is a real pleasure.
I've also posted (few days ago) a "Super Mazembe" subject, with downloadable songs (from "Giant of East Africa") on my own site :

Thanks again for "Kaivaska"

Anonymous said…
When Virgin contracted Super Mazembe and Orchestre Makassy to record an album each during the mid 1980s they did send an Englishman over to Kenya to supervise the recordings.

During one of the recording sessions, I forgot whether it was Super Mazembe or Makassy, this guy asked the solo guitarist to play alone (I think it was to do some overdubbing), then the whole band protested, they said "Why do you want him to play alone, there are 18 of us in the band"
Anonymous said…
.still tuned...
Anonymous said…
Hey, please update again!
Annukka said…
Tuning in to your site now and then...where are you?
Anonymous said…
jahpesa yudotech says

keep it up
good work!
Anonymous said…
Many thanks for these Albums, Vinyls
please update again!

Anonymous said…
This site is better than gold for me. Could you repost this one for me please!! It's too much to read about without being able to experience this music.
Anonymous said…
This was my father's band. I was realy young back then. I fondly recall the few rehearsals i used to attend as a litle boy in Eastleigh and juja road. Wonder who is making money of these songs now? since my dad never signed any contracts, and opted to tour instead.
roming said…
please update again, thanks