Pamelo Mounk'a, Pamelo Mounk'a

IMG_0301 by you.

It is possible to get lucky in this life. There are no guarantees, of course, but every now and then one is afforded a first great experience, to which one's imagination will return time and again. If you're sufficiently awake at the time, you'll notice these moments. Noticing, that's the lucky bit.

Let's imagine that you grew up in a bell jar, or under a rock, or in Houston. You walk into a cinema for the first time in your life and by weird chance your first experience of film is Carol Reed's 1947 feature, The Third Man. Or imagine a friend describing the thicket of non sequitur that is dub reggae, and then being smart enough to put Augustus Pablo's King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown on the turntable. (We're assuming that your friend is a really good friend, and as such has already made a successful sales pitch for herb.) Or imagine yourself bored and sleepy in a campus library, unfamiliar with the quicksilver magic possible within a short story, as you happen upon Haruki Murakami's "Super-Frog Saves Tokyo." In these moments, as Poly Styrene sang thousands of years ago, the world turns day-glo.

Or, so long as we're conjuring, imagine that you are young and green and so chronically distracted as to have your friends suspecting Asperger's Syndrome at work and you are stuck in a cab buried in the morass of lower Manhattan traffic during, for the needs of this hypothesis, 1982. Your driver, a Nigerian, has his radio tuned to WKCR, Columbia University's radio station beaming across 110th Street. He listens to WKCR because it is there that an African dj, Lawrence Nii Nartey, holds court on Thursday evenings (and, thankfully, still does in the present day). Lawrence plays all stripes of African pop music, but on this evening he dotes upon the Latinate hybrid that in time you, the pasty little downtowner sitting stunned in the back of the cab, will come to know as soukous. Lawrence's show makes driving a non-medallion cab bearable for a fellow West African expat, especially on hot days. This particular day is, of course, very hot.

It is then that you, the pale neurasthenic slumped in the back seat, suddenly sit up and take notice. The cab's interior and, for that matter, the adjacent lanes of 7th Avenue seem at once filled with electric guitars, so very many of them, slyly grinding against one another. When you first took notice of the song, it struck you as old-timey, pinned to a mid-tempo rhythm of curiously Hispanic tint (rumba? mambo?). Then, after a pause that could have delivered twins, the band switched up to something like mid-'70s disco. The thump of four-on-the floor kick drum now seems unstoppable. The hi-hat cymbal races ahead of the beat, then pulls back. This dynamic will repeat again and again and then some more. Yes, this feels like disco, but it's so much sexier, and you don't need 714's to appreciate it!

You can't understand the singer, but you are pulled in immediately, as he seems charming and possessed of good humor. His voice is double-tracked, so the recording feels modern; there's something you hadn't expected, modernity, from an African record. The singer parses each line of his lyrics as though savoring tobiko, egg by egg, his diction on par with Blossom Dearie. His is the song of a happy man, yet in the same breath he sounds tethered to a melancholy past. You begin to think that maybe this is the equivalent in song to Proust sampling a fresh madeleine.

In the space of not so many moments, you feel you've made a very real connection with someone you haven't met. When you get home, you waste money that you don't have sitting at curbside in this cab until Lawrence Nii Nartey back-announces his set. (Years later, NPR will label this a driveway moment, but as it is still 1982, you're parked on the cobblestones of Chambers Street. The twin towers of the World Trade Center loom nearby. At the end of your block is a sand dune that soon will sprout the apartment buildings of Battery Park City.) The cab's meter ticks onward. The cabbie laughs like a drain. The little honkie in his back seat learned something this evening, something the cabbie has known for some time now. On the radio, finally, Lawrence Nii Nartey tells you that you have fallen hard for a guy from Brazzaville named Pamelo Mounk'a. His song has been a huge hit both in Francophone Africa and in France itself. It is titled "L'Argent Appelle L'Argent."

As this journal began, so now shall it continue, inspired once more by the deathless voice of Pamelo Mounk'a. A quarter-century's reflection hasn't altered my opinion a whit: Pamelo remains as good as they come in Congolese music, probably better. His singing never felt less than entirely natural and alive. Though Pamelo Mounk'a could nuance a given phrase — or, indeed, a syllable within that phrase — with surgical precision, on the whole his delivery was modest and sincere, as simple as saying hello. As much could be said for each of his band members, their every move redolent with grace, sensuality and cunning. The lead guitar — though the distinction between lead and rhythm guitar in Congolese pop may not mean much beyond treble content — was the signature work of Ignace Inkounkou, a guy who merited his own fan club when billed as Master Mwana Congo. He played impudent and sly like Teeny Hodges, the guitarist from Memphis producer Willie Mitchell's house band, though it is doubtful that Hodges spent much time doting on the memory of Trio Matamoros while backing Al Green. On mi-solo guitar, Pablo Lubadika Porthos showed promise that would reap dividends mere months later with his own solo album. Domingo Salsero ranks alongside Janne Haavisto (Laika & the Cosmonauts) and the soul of motorik rhythm, Germany's Jaki Leibzeit, in the pantheon of tireless minimalist drummers. Domingo had the smarts to strain the hysteria from uptown Manhattan salsa, while always keeping in mind the rudiments of post-war Cuban music.

IMG_0280 by you.

Pamelo Mounk'a was the first of the singer's winning streak of albums overseen by Eddy Gustave. The producer had left his native Guadeloupe, in the French West Indies, moving to Paris in 1960. A jazz enthusiast, he took up saxophone; Gustave's solos are heard throughout the mature work of Pamelo Mounk'a. It is curious, though, this modernist Caribbean edge imparted by Gustave's studio technique and arrangements. Clearly, these elements gave Pamelo Mounk'a a leg up on his fellow Congolese singers, yet the same elements foreshadowed the absorption and dismantling of soukous later in the '80s by the Antillean form known as zouk, a musical genre originating in the same part of the Caribbean as Eddy Gustave.

Just when most had judged it down for the count (I'll offer gratitude to the encouragement of hopeful correspondents), No Condition Is Permanent lives up to the pataphysical promise implicit in its title. My little journal has been revived by this torpid, vaporous summer, returning to provide virtual refreshment, reminding you that very, very warm weather requires a new pair of tatami-mat sandals and a kitchen cupboard stocked with appropriate snacks and fluids. To the latter, I will recommend Pimm's No. 1 in the proscribed admixture; as with the books of Wodehouse, the Pimm's Cup must be experienced above 72º and will only send you fast asleep in cooler temperatures. Closer to the crux of the seasonal biscuit is Arette Blanco Suave, being both necessary and nothing less than the apogee of Vitamin T when humidity of monsoon quality prevails.

As hedonist chums are prone to turning up unexpectedly in the sticky season, the sounds of equatorial musicians remain a must for entertaining when the mercury climbs. While you can, rethink your morality (or at very least discard the troubling bits), open the windows, annoy the neighbors, plug in The Volcano, and [cue: voice of Vivian Stanshall] think on't and begin again…



Anonymous said…
No disappointement. Indeed, thank you, and long live Pamelo !!
Juliana said…
Pamelo Mounk'a - a sweet kiss in a warm spring rain.
Thanks to Count Reeschard for being a guardian of the song
Wastedpapiers said…
Shame its Rapidshare - can never get these for some reason. Nice to see you back though.
Anonymous said…
Welcome back, Count. Fifteen years ago, when I was playing an antipodean version of soukous in a band of emigres, Pamelo Mounk'a lived in the cassette deck. This album (plus the usual suspects; Franco, Nico and, later, Diblo and Virunga) was the touchstone of what we wanted to achieve. That guitar, that hi-hat, and that beautiful voice. Merci beaucoup.
Anonymous said…
thank once again! love! keep on goin'!
Anonymous said…
Fantastic stortelling, and writing in general. I am actually very interested in hearing Pamelo now, and will keep an eye out for a used album of his at Amoeba.
Anonymous said…
your prose is frighteningly (sp) good and leading me towards fantastic music that i likely would not have heard otherwise. thank you so much!
Anonymous said…
Hello Count Reeshard
I am a follower of the Matsuli blogspot, and I found your site via his.
I've spent most of the past weekend downloading the entire catalogue of your website, and I'm now very impressed and eager to hear more.
A diet of 90% Africana & 10% 70s Dub is full of essential vitamins in my opinion.
Keep up the good work, and I look forward to your future instalments.
Chris Ward
Nottingham - UK
Anonymous said…
oh I looooove Pamelo. 'la vie appelle la vie'!!! Or the other one about his thanks you didnt post anything??

Check out my radio blog here
Anonymous said…
Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the wonderful sounds, especially Pamelo - I only had the one CD by them so this is absolutely brilliant! Unfotunately a lot of the links on this site are down, including the "Sisters" - Could you please, please redo the Pamelo Mounk'a, le premier disque dans sa couleur locale link? [maybe you could link up to sites like [ie]: to possibly keep the links open?].
Thanks again, Robin [OZ]
Anonymous said…
I'm just browsing and can't wait for rapidshare but I'm impressed that you managed to mention Murakami, Pimm's, Carol Reed, and herb all in one post. What a glamourous life you must lead.
jacob z. said…
it's only a slight exaggeration for me to say that this post saved my life. ;) i've never heard music that radiated such pure optimism and joy, but a considered joy that sounds as if it is grounded in an experience of hardship and pain, not the vapid, naive variety of "happy"... i've probably listened to these songs a hundred times since i got them from you this august. it was exactly what i needed to hear for weeks at a time. so thanks, and if you could find it in your heart to point us toward some more of your favorite soukous recordings (just some tips would be wonderful, the record store misses me anyway) i'm sure i wouldn't be the only one out here who would be thrilled.
dinko said…
Jacob Z,
these records had similar effect on me, you might try them:
Kanda Bongo Man - Amour Fou
Samba Mapangala & Orch. Virunga - Virunga Volcano
Prince Nico Mbarga & Rocafil Jazz - Aki Special
Franco & TPOK Jazz - En Colere Vol. 2
Orchestra Makassy - Legends of East Africa
Sam Mangwana - The very best of 2001
Sam Mangwana - Maria Tebbo
Franco/Sam Mangwana - Cooperation
Pamelo Mounk'a - Les plus grands succes vol. 1
Sam Mangwana - Canta Mozambique
Anonymous said…
I just found out your site, and of course it's full of great wonderful music, and of course this is all deleted by RS for lack of inactivity, and I'm begging you: re-post the lot again!!!

Well...if not, at least just the Atta Atta LP!
adam schoenfeld said…
people who read this site can get 15% off of the volcano by entering 'repeat15' at checkout on
Anonymous said…
l'argent appelle argent is indeed one of the greatest songs in the soukous archive, but I found another just as entertaining, if you understand French. recently Itunes made available Pamelo Mounk'a et les Bantous de la Capitale including the song "l'auto stop" which also poses essential questions about modern society: "Pourquoi les femmes ne prennent jamais les hommes en auto-stop, et pourquoi les hommes ne se deferrer (or is it another verb, I forget)
Anonymous said…

Thank you so much for your excellent soukous reviews! I have been searching for Pamelo Mounk'a for ages, ever since the crappy old cassette I recorded from T.C.'s collection in Buffalo was eaten by a far too-hungry car stereo. It's too bad that the other albums aren't still on Rapidshare, but I'm grateful for the eponymous album, since it's the one I'm most familiar with. If you ever get the urge to re-post his other albums, I'll be a very happy man!

P.S.: I groovin' on Pablo Lubadika Porthos, too!!!
Anonymous said…
Dead link. Any chance to re-up, perhaps at 320 bits?