Moreno and L’Orch First Moja-One, Sister Pili + 2

Richard Gehr

By Richard Gehr

on 12.06.12 in Reviews

Husky-throated baritone singer Moreno (born Batambo Wendo Morris in 1955) was among the wave of Congolese musicians who relocated to Kenya during the 1970s to take advantage of Nairobi’s relatively modern recording studios and thriving club scene. Sister Pili + 2 consists of his wonderful 1983 album with the ever-changing (and redundantly-named, since “moja” means one in Swahili) group First Moja-One, augmented by a pair of tracks from a 1977 session with the group Bana Nzadi.

Exceptionally effective mood elevators

Jubilant lost gems of sizzling Congolese harmonies, guitar wizardry and snazzy four-on-the-floor, 140 bpm drumming (courtesy of the wonderfully named Lava Machine), Pili‘s four nine-minute tracks are exceptionally effective mood elevators. Each consists of a loping introductory section that eventually drops into a fast three-guitar seben section full of intricate patterns and witty musical asides. Moreno may lead the band, but it’s high-spirited lead guitarist Mokili Sesti (later part of the terrific Orchestre Virunga) who steals the show throughout. Moreno and his two backing singers croon mostly about women, presumably, in French, English, Lingala and Swahili. The title track specifically praises his Tanzanian model girlfriend Pili Mikendo Kassim with such terms of endearment as “You are my sunshine, Pili, let’s get it on.”

Moreno’s voice rumbles to the forefront of Sister Pili‘s “bonus” tracks, “Rehema-Piri” and a six-minute edit of “Teresia.” Rougher-edged than Moja-One, Bana Nzadi was another the many groups to which Moreno lent his distinctively soulful pipes throughout a career that ended with the 38-year-old’s death in 1993, not long after the release of his chart-topping “Vidonge Sitaki.”