Various Artists
Golden Afrique, Vol. 2
2006
A-



francos don’t exist anymore. The Congolese guitarist and bandleader flippantly called AIDS “an imaginary syndrome to discourage the amorous” though it’s probably what killed him. His funeral was attended by over one million people. He wrote as many party anthems as poisoned satires, and did jail time for the latter. The closest thing we’ve got to a musico-political rebel with venereal disease is Bono (who visits AIDS clinics, has sunglasses). Central Africa is chaotic, or full of possibilities; I dunno, ask the United Nations about it. Or don’t. They’re busy, or don’t have answers, or don’t want to talk about it. Because it seems improbable that a guy like Mobutu Sese Seko, clad in expensive suits and trademark leopard skin hat, could have run such a surrealistically corrupt and blatantly brutal government for as long as he did. And that during the whole time, Congo (or Zaire, from 1965-1996) produced great music that had people flailing in some combination of protest and dance, a good cross-section of which is collected on Golden Afrique 2.

Franco played rumba, which is like saying that Bruce Springsteen played folk. Babies are born, generations aren’t; the history of a style has a fuzzy beginning and end, so we can only look at its iterations. So, one story says that African slaves brought rumba to Cuba but called it nkumba (meaning “waist” in KiKongo). But what Cubans now call rumba is different than the sound Africans adapted from Cuban records that started flowing into Congo in the 1930s.

The collection is arranged a-chronologically, but the order ultimately makes it a lot easier to engage with the music as something that developed over time; instead of glazing over subtle stylistic shifts, your ears are constantly jogged. With repeated listens, the full picture gets clearer. You can trace the path from Joseph Kabasele’s Latin-sounding “Indépendence cha-cha” from 1960 to the heavily-effected glint of Nyboma’s “Doublé-Doublé” from 1982, the Cuban grooves receding into the background to better display the crisp jangle of Afro-pop. (I’m sitting here trying to imagine how you’d cover, say, 30 years of American alternative rock, and realizing it’d be a lot more instructive and interesting to put blink-182 next to Nirvana than Green Day.)

(I prepare to be unfashionable and talk about the yawning gulch between music and politics.) It’s worth thinking about the irony that for however many Legendary K.O.’s sing “George Bush Don’t Care About Black People,” the President probably cares least about Legendary K.O. I guess the idea is that we’re supposed to forget that protest music actually needs a real, committed audience to protest anything; my cynicism makes me feel like politicians are probably tickled by guys like Tom Morello of Audioslave because he perpetuates the illusion that music could have an impact on politics. And Joseph Kabasele actually worked with Congo’s first president, Patrice Lumumba, who was assassinated seven months into his term. And Franco went to jail even when he was trying to start a party. And Cam’ron hunts pedophiles on DV and we laugh, but Franco’s story is a hell of a lot more interesting and inspiring than the one we’re preparing to leave behind—the beat wasn’t bad, either.


Reviewed by: Mike Powell
Reviewed on: 2006-05-24
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