Various Artists – Crammed Discs, Roots Of Rumba Rock

Michaelangelo Matos

By Michaelangelo Matos

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
The first stirrings of an Afro-pop revolution.

When Cuban records began arriving in what was then known as Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) in the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in the mid '50s, they sparked a lot of local musicians into reinterpreting them. (Luyeye Gaston even opens "Angélique" with a guitar quote of "La Cucaracha.") This was only fair, given that the Cubans had picked up most of their rhythmic tricks (and a good number of melodic ones) from the region in the first place. Most of the tracks on this delightful two-hour collection are acoustic — the electric guitar didn't become a fixture of Congolese pop until further along, with the arrival of guitarist-bandleader Franco. The 19 artists featured here are a touch folkier than the charging electric style Franco would put forth, mirroring the way Kinshasa as a whole was moving from largely rural to fully urbanized. Which isn't to say the music is polite or the singing the least bit inhibited: many of these songs are marked by wonderfully frayed group harmony (Bokalanga's accordion-spiked "Mazole Vanga Sanga") and call-and-response (the wonderfully see-sawing melody line of De Wayon's "Nalekaki Na Nzela"), and the rhythms are invariably speedy — not to mention rough, friendly and adaptable.