Song and Dance
Samba Mapangala's critically acclaimed hit recording, Song and Dance (Virunga) is living testimony to the sweet, sophisticated and polished wizardry of Paris all-star soukous musicians curried by Mapangala's tasty East African rumba compositions and singing style.
Mapangala is a singular star in the Congolese pantheon, having performed with East African musicians for East African audiences and with the best of the Paris Congolese contingent for a European audience, masterfully succeeding in each style with international audiences for both. Song and Dance is the best new recording I've heard by Mapangala since his 1991 Feet on Fire (Stern's Africa STCD1036), which was recorded in London with Mapangala's Kenyan band. The other bookend of Mapangala's talented career has been documented by his recent remastered and released Virunga Roots, Vol. One (Virunga VS001). Virunga Roots compiles songs from Mapangala's early career with both his Kenyan and Paris bands. The Kenyan songs dominate the compilation, and the mutuashi-styled "Ntumba," a turbocharged send-up of Dr. Nico and African Fiesta's "Mamu Wa Mpoy," is just a Swahili rumba-blast, smoking.
Kinshasa, Nairobi, Paris, London, Uganda, Tanzania, a brief stint in Canada--Mapangala is an international, transcontinental, metropolitan popular music artist. Joining him on Song and Dance--guitarists Caien Mdoka, Syran Mbenza, Dally Kimoko and Bopol Mansiamina; and drummer Komba Bellow, conga, Deba Sungu, and sax, Jimmy Mvondo, many of whom toured with Kekele this summer in the United States--are among their generation's most definitive musical talents. Many have commented on how Kekele's Nyboma Mwan Dido with his super-smooth tenor style echoes and is echoed by Mapangala's similar, but East African-inflected vocals--and listen to them close out track five, "Nyama Choma," together--Mssrs. Suave et Savoir Faire. La crème de la crème!
The whole band cooks on this recording. "Kaa Chonjo," track two, starts out with a cheek-to-cheek-beat electric guitar. Then, like a genie jumping out of a bottle, Komba Bellow goes off on one of his gravel-voiced, gut-bucket animations. Komba Bellow Mafwala, star soukous drummer, a man who boxes beats with jabs, combinations, body blows and dead-on-the-money head shots, appears to know just whom his bandmembers are--he's played with them before--and who has brought them all together for one long, great soukous session. Virunga!
Mapangala breaks into song, and the romantic Caribbean tempo reasserts itself. Cameroonian Jimmy Mvondo introduces himself on the saxophone to the family of solo performers. Then Bopol Mansiamina, in a signature rhythm bridge, smooth, tasty, turns the tune over to the Paris soukous crew, picking up the tempo a touch too. And when the guitars are in tune and firing up and the smooth Parisian-inflected perfection of the chorus has it going on, I think to myself, "these guys really are the kings of this kind of music." Just then Komba again, bellowing and braying, bragging in powerful, percussive tempo, blasts it up a notch.
Ecoutez, Jimmy Sax-o! Jimmy Mvondo, a fine makossa and jazz man, is also one of the last great, great living Congolese-style saxophonists. Like his elder, Manu Dibango, who came to greatness with Joseph Kabasele's international bands, Mvondo has long been a celebrated regular with many Parisian all-star Congolese outfits, including Pamelo Mounka's bands and the early Quatre Etoiles. When Kekele goes on tour, Mvondo goes with them. On "Kaa Chonjo," he just walks in and steals the entire show, theft in broad daylight, theft in public.
Bopol with fuzztone and uptempo another notch; Sax-o and Bellow lead the band and all the dancers out behind them...Oh yes, perfectly paced and out-of-this-worldly animated--Virunga! Samba Mapangala! [www.virungarecords.com; www.sternsmusic.com; www.cdbaby.com ]
--Barry Eisenberg, The Beat, vol. 25 #5, 2006