9.18.2005

Pablo Lubadika 'Porthos,' En Action


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.]

EN ACTION

9.05.2005

Pier' Rosier & Gazolinn', Gazolinn'

GAZfrnt by you.

Here's another gem first heard during one of the late '80s table tennis matches described in my last post. Gazolinn' represents the high-water mark of my fondness for zouk, the Antillean dance music blending influences from Haiti (compas), Europe and the folk traditions (biguine and cadence) of Guadeloupe and Martinique, both islands in the Caribbean's Lesser Antilles archipelago. Indeed, today's entry, Gazolinn', is best described as the spawn of an assignation between Kraftwerk and Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band near a beach-side disco in Martinique.

Zouk was another exotic music genre seemingly destined to take over the world in the '80s. Within the Francophone diaspora, you could say that it did just that for a time. Soukous, the brilliant dance music featured in NCIP's introductory posts, was nearly flattened outright by the one-two punch of MIDI sequencing and zouk. Though garnering huge audiences in Europe and Africa, zouk made next to no impact in the West, if possible even less than its immediate predecessors, Nigerian juju and soukous from the Congo (via Paris). As the decade closed, zouk's non-impact became an inadvertent barometer of America's xenophobia, mounting then and intensifying through the present day.

Pier' Rosier came to zouk from a grounding in chouval bwa, the rhythm-weighted traditional form of Martinique, a music associated with carnival. In the early '80s, Rosier formed the band Gasoline and when that dissolved, owing to those oft-cited creative differences, he assembled Gazolinn'. This new iteration of his band turned then-new MIDI and sampling technologies to its own great advantage, with Rosier handling the lion's share of programming and arranging. As with Les Quatre Étoiles' recordings from the same period, Gazolinn' struck a workable alliance between horn charts that jabbed and feigned, creole lyrics delivered by full ensemble chant or sultry cabaret purr atop computer-driven rhythms moving at full clip, augmented with busy hand percussion. I found myself enjoying instruments I usually loathed (electric piano at its lounge-iest, or the deadly squealing faux-roadhouse sax that must be Lorne Michaels' favorite instrument), further testament to the enduring greatness of Gazolinn'.

GAZbk by you.

While not steeped in all things folkloric to the same extent as Jocelyne Beroard, zouk's greatest voice fronting the group Kassav', Gilda Ray's singing here is supple and versatile, the sound of l'amour fou in any language. Her vocals provide an immediate prompt for comparison with Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, circa 1976 ("Cherchez La Femme"), as her timbre reminded me then and now of the latter band's Cory Daye. Gilda Ray was easily the more musically sure-footed of the two; Cory Daye relied on acting ability and volume to disguise her somewhat impressionistic relationship with intonation. To be altogether blunt, Ms. Daye often sounded as though she was most of the way in the bag. Anyone capable of sitting through a single play of Dr. Buzzard's regrettable late period effort, Calling All Beatniks (its possible subtitle: All of the reverb, None of the band), will know whereof I speak.

The Shanachie label released Zouk Obsession in 1990, a Pier' Rosier compilation including material from both periods of his career. How an anthology devoted to Gazolinn' could avoid interesting music is anyone's guess, but somehow Shanachie managed exactly that. After my first encounter with the Rosier sound in Original Music's barn, I scooped up as much of the band's original vinyl as I could grab at the time — including another self-titled release whose cover features a merde-encrusted human peering from beneath a manhole cover and pointing a can of air freshener at the photographer. I soon learned that every Gazolinn' album contained at least a few songs, though often more, of comparable worth with the music you will hear today. None of these albums, to my ear, is quite on par with Gazolinn', saturated as it is with the good stuff stem to stern. Still, there's much to recommend in the group's discography, so it's all the more curious that neither Rosier nor Gazolinn' merit so much as a mention in the usually well-researched volumes comprising World Music: The Rough Guide. It seems that a remedial Gazolinn' comp is in order, and so I will attempt same at some point in the foreseeable future.

GAZOLINN' (@ 320)