Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review: Orchestra Super Mazembe – Mazembe @45RPM Vol. 1

My knowledge and appreciation of African music has been tremendously enriched over the past few years by comrades in the blogosphere who tirelessly search for elusive treasures that appeared only on 45 rpm singles. Singles were much more affordable for consumers than albums, in Africa as elsewhere, and they also were a way for a band to quickly record and release hot new songs to waiting fans. Some really great music only appeared on 45s, and much of that has disappeared.

As rich and valuable a reservoir for lost, important music as the dispersed internet library is, it is a great pleasure when a passionate music expert collects a bunch of pristine sound and publishes it. Doug Paterson has had a fruitful relationship with Stern's for years, having produced many wonderful albums including one I reviewed on this site nearly three years ago, as well as last year's Vijana Jazz release here. This new Orchestra Super Mazembe release is, in a word, spectacular. Check this first track:

One of the premiere Congolese bands operating in Kenya during the '70s and '80s, Super Mazembe was immensely popular. A dozen years ago Earthworks issued a compilation called Giants of East Africa, which remarkably is still in print and available. Continued access to that recording reflects continuing demand; it's easily explained: There is something quite magical about how Congolese rumba evolved in Kenya, and also in Tanzania, to include new nuances. Guitars influenced by benga and other Kenyan styles, different rhythms: there is a certain lightness to this rumba that makes it extremely infectious.

The nine songs (over 77.5 minutes) collected on this album come from 45s recorded in the late '70s and the early '80s; as the liner notes describe, each song has a four-part structure allowing for revving up the dance rhythms, and for various solos. These tracks, which originally spanned the A and B sides of a 45, are happily spliced together, allowing the majesty of each composition to flow freely. I have no trouble recommending this release wholeheartedly; in fact, I have been playing it frequently since it graced my mailbox.

You can find inferior digital copies available at the usual music download stores, iTunes and Amazon, but actual CDs, with all the important liner notes, are available in Europe or from Europe. Not, to date, in the U$A. I also noticed that there is a Volume 2 on the way. I can't wait!!