Wendo Kolosoyi

A pioneer of Congolese rumba, vocalist Wendo Kolosoyi celebrates the recent release of Marie Louise (Label Bleu, 1999) with tours in Europe and North America. A star in Kinshasa's golden years (1940s and 1950s), Wendo's fame spread overnight with the release of his single Marie Louise in 1948 on the Ngoma label, becoming the first pan-African hit.. On this recording he is accompanied by one colleague from those early days, the chorister Albert Emina, as well as a cadre of young crackerjack musicians, bringing the langorous sounds of classic rumba to life with warmth and humour.

The touring group consists of seven musicians, including the distinctive young guitarists Vula Missy and Bikunda N'Zoku, and bassist Ngaila Bikunda. They perform such classic hits as "Marie Louise" (legend had it that when this was sung at midnight it could resuscitate the dead, causing the Catholic Church to chase Wendo out of Kinshasa), "Paul Kamba" and "Mobembo." This music is timeless and captivating.

Wendo perfected his musical skills while working as a ship's mechanic for the River Congo Transport Authority, performing in ports they visited up and down the river. He chronicled the daily lives of the Congolese in the decade leading up to their independence from Belgium in 1960. After independence, the musical scene in Kinshasa was dominated by politics, and Wendo, being apolitical, soon disappeared from view. Support from the label also disappeared when its owner, the famous Greek Niki Geronimidis, died soon thereafter. It wasn't until 1992 that Wendo recorded a new release, called Nani Akolela Wendo? It was a huge hit, and served to catapult this legendary artist back into the performance circuit after an absence of almost 30 years. After appearing at MASA in 1999, Wendo's reputation continued to grow abroad, resulting in a European tour in the fall of 1999. This marked the first time the septuagenarian had performed outside of the Congo. A tour in North America is being planned for the summer of 2000 (July-August).

*Wendo's name is Antoine Kalosoyi, which was transformed by popular usage into Kolosoy. He became 'Windsor' (in hommage, they say, to the Duke of Windsor), which then evolved into Wendo Sor. Today he is most often referred to as simply Wendo, or Papa Wendo.

Wendo-KolosoyFull name is Antoine Wendo Kolosoy, was born on the 25th of April, 1925 and passed away on the 28th of July 2008.

He was known by his nick name amongst musician as Papa Wendo.

Kolosoy was considered one of the first Congolese musicians, named the "Father" of rumba music. This Congolese musical style blends cha-cha, beguine, rumba, waltz and tango dance music.

Life and Music

Wendo grew up in the Mushie territory. At that time, the government was under the Belgian colonial rule. He lost his father at the age of seven, then his mother soon after that event.

When the orphan Wendo turned 11, he started practicing guitar. He began to perform on stage at the early stage of his life in order to earn a living.

Throughout his life, he travelled to many places and worked many jobs, including being a sailor, fighting as a boxer, and even working as a longshoreman.

When Kolosoy turned 13, he went to entertain passengers in the long trips on the Congo River ferries. that's the perios when he horned his musical and performing skills as a professional artist.

Wendo is considered by many as the creator of Soukous. "Soukous" in French means to shake, derived from the word "secouer".

Kolosoy's last album recording was the Banaya Papa Wendo, which was sold and released in 2007 on IglooMondo label. Fans praise this piece of art as The very best of Congolese Rumba - The Kinshasa-Abidjan Sessions.

From 2005, Wendo started performing in the public with his music band, though he had to overcome some financial difficulties left by politicians.

Musafir Band

The band originated from part of France -Rajasthan. Musafir has been on stage performing with famous Kimmel Center in Philadelphia - a local DJs Darshana group.

This music band is more like the "Gypsy" play with classical Hindi country folk style of Rajasthani, usually used to entertain the crowed in festivals of the Norhten America.

Among the team, demonstration by Aurelio Martinez was one of the surprise for the general audience. The strange mixing of local Caribs and the fast pace survivors style was the main emphasis of the show, mainly using the drum with bare hands. His delightful album Garifuna Soul can now be bought through electronic media as MP3 tracks.

Cool Crooners
Cool Crooners

"In spite of war, poverty, disease, corruption, cynicism, and indifference, there is always a bit of blue sky somewhere."

In the 1950s, deep in the heart of Africa, they were crazy about jazz to the point that all they dreamed about was to become singers. Their careers took off in the most promising manner, but the turmoil of a long fight for independence in Zimbabwe brought chaos and mayhem. Logically, their musical careers got put on the back burner. Today, the Cool Crooners are starting a second life. The charm of their harmonizing voices has retained all of its strength. Their very first album, Blue Sky, is the tangible proof.

With a variety of styles and thanks to many artists such as Youssou N'Dour, Salif Keita, Ismael Lo, Manu Dibango or Johnny Clegg, among others, African music has been spreading beyond its boundaries for many years. It can claim major influence on the most prominent musicians of the western world, who find inspiration in its sounds and rhythms. Nonetheless, vast and secret, Africa still abounds in talented musicians who have remained obscure for too long. One discovers them by chance, like the Cool Crooners, during a trip to southern Africa, on the high plateaus of Zimbabwe - more precisely, in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city.

Bulawayo is a town where modernity and tradition, black culture and the indelible white colonial influence intertwine in a typically African way. Here , the heritage of British prescence is omnipresent. In some elegant nineteenth century buildings, the sober cut of the women's dresses is far from the traditional colorful outfits of the women of Western Africa. So are the school girls' uniforms that vary from British uniforms only in their pink shirts and violet blouses borrowed from the flowering shrubs one finds in abundance on the streets. Only a couple of miles away lies the tomb of Cecil Rhodes, the British businessman who colonized, with the help of the United Kingdom, the territories situated north of the Transvaal that bore his name - Rhodesia - and which were to become Zimbabwe.

Music is for lazy people
There are still many other signs of past British imperialism, whose rule was imposed in the sole interest of the white minority, and could only be maintained through harsh racial segregation, as in South Africa. One of the consequences was the gathering of the black population, deprived of their land, in the ghetto called townships on the outskirts of the cities. So it was with Bulawayo, whose oldest township is Makokoba. Makokoba is where the four Cool Crooners were born and where they still live today in small brick buildings or in semi-detached houses covered with corrugated iron and sparsely furnished. Laundry hangs from the windows while people tend to their gardens and grow fruit and corn from the fertile yellow earth.

In this same township, in the early 1950s, a bunch of kids fell in love with singing and the dance steps called footwork, and dreamed of becoming musicians. Their parents would have preferred that they become auto mechanics. Abel Sithole, wearing a beret, remembers: "My mother was very strict. Because we were poor, she did laundry for several white families in order to feed us all. I wanted to become a musician more than anything else, against my parent's will, of course. In those days, anyone who wanted to do music was regarded simply as lazy. People just did not see any future in it. My parents tried to dissuade me from practicing, but I had already started to get away and participate in a few amateur competition nights. One time, I made about five pounds and I bought my mother a tea set. My parents were very surprised that I could make that much, so I kept on singing."

Two rival groups: the Golden Rhythm Crooners and the Cool Four
Soon, Abel started a group with three of his friends called the Golden Rhythm Crooners. "Our ove for jazz brought us together. We also loved South African music, groups such as the Manhattan Brothers, the Woody Woodpeckers, Miriam Makeba, and many others. Our music was really exciting. In the concert halls where we performed, the people who came appreciated this style that stems from the Mbaqanga, or township jazz." The music that came from the black ghettos mixed western sounds with African rhythms and traditional chants, therefore it was named after a soup dish that poor people cooked up with whatever they had available. The main competition for the Golden Rhythm Crooners were the Cool Four, who also came from Bulawayo. "We sang in beer halls," Benny Phula Phulani remembers, "with a makeshift guitar. In those days, we never had any decent instruments." This didn't keep them from performing as far away as Zambia or the Congo or from winning a jazz competition organized by the Hotel Carlton in Harare. Abel remarks humorously, "That doesn't mean that you guys were the best! For vocals, The Golden Rhythm Crooners were the top act. But for dance performance, I agree that the Cool Crooners were the best."

A career interrupted by the war
Meanwhile, in the 1960s, African countries were shaken by growing fights for independence and saw hard times. In Rhodesia, the conflict was only starting. When the white minority itself declared independence in 1965, its real motivation was to take advantage of the installation of a republic to reinforce discrimination. It was completely opposed to sharing any power with the black population. The black nationalists were left with only one solution - taking up arms and starting a permanent guerrilla war. Like many others, Abel joined in. "The Organization of African Unity told us to fight for the liberation of our country. So I joined and went for training. I did my military service for a year and a half. At the same time, they asked me to leave the front line to go collect funds to free Zimbabwe. I was captured. The judge condemned me to the death penalty, which was later changed to an 18-year prison sentence. I was in a terrible state when I thought that I was going to die. But, I never regretted my commitment. So many people died for our freedom." He was released after 10 years, in 1980 when Zimbabwe really became independent. It comes as no surprise that, today, the Cool Crooners' repertoire includes a traditional song with a blues flavor, Blue Sky. "It was a South African prison," Abel explains. "Many people feared it because it was unbearable. No matter what your crime was, you were subjected to the harshest conditions. You want to know why it was called Blue Sky? Because it was a high-security prison with very high walls. All one could see was the blue sky above our heads."

This troubled period marked the end of the Golden Rhythm Crooners and the Cool Four. Even if their love for music never diminished, another priority took over. When independnce finally arrived, people didn't know where to start, everything needed to be built form the ground up. Music took second priority to what was a matter of survival. In the meantime, two members of each group had died'.So Benny started selling furniture while Lucky worked for a record company. Only Abel still performed on stage with one group or another, or for a solo here and there.

A new group marks a new beginning
In the '90s, he got the idea to create a new group. "I thought that our music should not die, that is should be revived so that the younger generation would know what went on during our time." He immediately remembered his old friends and rivals from the Cool Four, Benny and Lucky, and contacted them. Even though they had known each other since childhood, the initial approach took place in a rather formal way - by mail. The project moved slowly in the African way, where things need to be weighed and not rushed. Several years later, they finally celebrated in style, with plenty of ingwebu-a beer made from corn and sorghum and served in a neighboring beer garden - the birth of the Cool Crooners, a name that fuses the names of two original groups.

Their magic worked immediately. For example, during the Jazz Festival in Harare in 1999 when a fascinated audience discovered the trio onstage with their mellow, rhythmic, and festive repertoire, and the dance steps that accompany each of their songs. Abel explains, "Each step is determined by the song itself, by its meaning. If you sing about running away, you need to dance that, the steps need to show that you are fleeing." Age and adverse conditions have in no way diminshed their creativity, their freshness, their talent, and their soul. Because they embody the joy of singing and the joy of life, no audience can remain indifferent. Patrick Meunier certainly could not. As a film director who fell in love with the mesmerizing charm of Africa, he planned to make a movie about Zimbabwe. With the Cool Crooners, he knew that he had a perfect subject and soon began working. In the meantime, the group got word of mouth publicity and the clubs in Harare and Bulawayo requested them more and more often. They were reviewed in newspapers and attended by large numbers of young people.

A fourth member for the first album
Abel, Benny, and Lucky were perfectionists. They liked to practice together a lot, even if they didn't have anything resembling a rehearsal studio or the right equipment. Patrick Meunier, having finished a moving documentary about the Cool Crooners discovered the obvious: images are fine, but to extend the audience of the musicians who inevitably became his friends, an album would be even better. He offered them the opportunity to record their songs for the first time. Even if they had never set foot I a recording studio, they knew right away how things work. After three days, and to everyone's satisfaction, the recording was all wrapped up. It was also the occasion to add a fourth member to the group, a baritone, in order to improve the balance of the vocal harmonies even further.

Eric Juba, a youthful fifty year old, is by far the youngest member of the group, but he is no stranger. He grew up right next door to Abel, who closely followed his musical career in Botswana, where he colorfully interpreted Louis Armstrong songs. He shares with the other members of the group the laughter that constantly surfaces in their eyes and on their lips, the jokes they like to exchange like unruly schoolboys, the child-like naivete and the astonishment that they have managed to preserve against all odds.

Music is their secret of youth
Together, they generate, onstage as well as on their album, a unique happiness, a glowing energy, and the joy of simply being alive. They convey the grace of their voices blended together in perfect harmony, their spontaneous charm, and the magic of their jazz flavored by accents of their language, Ndebele. Whatever their age, singing is always a pleasure, the pleasure they get from performing and the pleasure they give to the audience each time. Because their music is one of the best kept secrets of youth, as Abel confirms: "Music is our life. What I like is that it keeps us in shape. We can do anything. I don't know when I will die, so I need to continue to improve my life and the life of the group. I cannot say, I'm sixty-six, so I'm going to quit. Its my job, I need to see it through to its conclusion."

Its clear that the Cool Crooners are happy about their newfound popularity. Their record, Blue Sky, is their pride and joy as well as the ambassador of long overdue and well-deserved recognition. It will allow them to realize their fondest dream, which is to go on a tour to Europe. "We sang in many African countries. Now, I would like us to tour other countries and entertain different types of audiences to show them what we can do. I think that it will make them happy. Don't you think so?"

Crooners played a vital roll in transforming the style and the way artists play music on stage, along with combining classic and modern musical instruments, such as bass guitar sound with digital piano keyboards mixing effects, rock and roll, country style ancient harmonica and some other organs.

LLater on many of his songs have been recorded and widely distributed through public networks, such as integration into iPod collections and digital soundtracks that could be bought through apple online stores.
Aurelio Martinez

Aurelio Martinez

Garifuna singer, composer and guitarist Aurelio Martinez grew up in a small fishing village on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, taking up his father's guitar, apprenticing as a sacred d'g' drummer, and learning the traditional repertoire from his grandmother, a talented singer. He moved in his late teens to the port of La Ceiba, where he formed the noted traditional Garifuna ensemble Lita Ariran.

A veteran of tours in Europe, Japan, Central America, Mexico, Canada and the United States (he enjoys a tremendous following in the Garifuna community of New York City), Martinez brings a bittersweet vocal style to the guitar-accompanied paranda ballad and other traditional Garifuna song forms. Previously heard on Songs of the Garifuna (JVC) and the critically acclaimed Paranda: Africa in Central America (Stonetree Records), Martinez, one of the youngest paranda interpreters, is recognized among Garifuna at home and abroad as a soulful, powerfully evocative singer.

With a growing international profile, Martnez has been featured by the PBS's Frontline-The World and he is the subject of a film documentary on Garifuna culture directed by Patricia Ferreira, soon to be aired on TV Espa'ola, the Spanish network. Garifuna Soul, Martinez's solo debut album, recently captured the attention of AfroPop Worldwide, which named him "Newcomer of the Year." Backed by some of Belize's best studio musicians'who improvise adeptly on Garifuna drums and turtle-shell percussion, saxophone, acoustic and electric guitars, and bass'Mart'nez takes Garifuna music into the future without compromising the cultural foundations of his inspiration. No hype or derivative artifice, just contemporary roots music true to its hybrid cultural origins, minus the misrepresentations and commercial excess that characterize so much of what's on offer in the global music souk these days.

Representing the Atl'ntida coast region of Honduras, a Garifuna enclave, Aurelio Mart'nez also is an elected deputy (diputado) in the National Congress of Honduras, where he holds additional posts as President of the Commission of Ethnic Peoples (Comisi'n de Etnias) and Secretary of the Cultural Commission (Comisi'n de Cultura).

Garifuna Music

The Garifuna are a minority African-Amerindian ethnic group of Central America's Caribbean coast zone, living in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize.

Aurelio Mart'nez is arguably the foremost international cultural representative of a people whose unique cultural heritage remains under considerable threat. In 2001 the Director-General of UNESCO proclaimed the Garifuna language, music and dance to be one of the Masterpieces of the Oral & Intangible Heritage of Humanity. UNESCO's proclamation highlighted the distinctive value of the Garifuna cultural heritage, while also underlining its vulnerability'particularly in the face of cultural tourism, encroachment upon native lands and other forces of globalization'and recognizing the urgency of taking action to safeguard Garifuna culture.

With its dense percussive array and emphasis on vocal artistry, the music of the Garifuna people is unlike any other in Central America (or, indeed, in the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America). Garifuna popular music is rooted in the sacred practices of spirit-possession associated with the Garifuna d'g' ritual, which shows cultural kinship with spirit-possession practices documented in Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Brazil, all with West African cultural roots.

Although Garifuna musicians began taking their music north to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other U.S. cities in a postwar emigration process that took off after 1965, a sole field recording made in the early 1950s was long its only recorded documentation. The past 15 years, however, have produced a number of new recordings on small labels, gaining the attention of The Rough Guide to World Music, the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, and the world-music press and concert touring circuits in Europe and North America.

The above reprinted with permission from Michael Stone, Executive Director, Program in Latin American Studies, Princeton University (copyright 2006)

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