Northern Thorns

Dance Rock | Seattle

Category: Music History

Horoya Band – Had the Wrong Name the Whole Time

I think I mentioned before on this blog, a while ago I was sent a 45RPM record that I hadn’t ordered in a package with one that I had. The bonus LP had no sleeve and was filthy, but when I cleaned it up and put it on I was taken quickly with it. Gorgeous guitar-driven rumba with a touch of north African mystery in the notes. All played by a very tight band.

Conde Demba Chanteur Horoya Band

Conde Demba Chanteur Horoya Band

I researched it a bit looking for more by the same group. Not knowing the intricacies of French, I assumed that the full name of the project was Conde Demba Chanteur Horoya Band, or perhaps the operative searchable words were Conde Demba. I didn’t find much, they had another LP under the same name that I tracked down and it’s just as good.

Months later I stumbled across Horoya Band, and realized I had no idea what I was searching for. Conde Demba was a guest vocalist for two records, it seems. I’ve since found a lot of amazing music from them, from several iterations and with a diverse quality of sounds and styles.

The Horoya Band was from Guinea (I had thought Ivory Coast for some reason), and they were a national treasure, to the extent that the state eventually nationalized them (whatever that means) and they became Horoya Band National.

I even tracked down a CD of theirs called Paya-Paya, on the Dakar Sound label. I love finding reissues of this stuff whenever possible, both because I like the opportunity to actually give the artists part of my purchase money and because it means that people are still listening to music that I like. Sometimes I feel like a lonely archeologist in Seattle with no peers who I can share this stuff with. Or at least no one who will care like I do.

Horoya Band Paya-Paya

Horoya Band Paya-Paya

Shout out to the worldservice blog, where I made this discovery.

I Realize No One But Me Finds This Exciting

But I found a new image of Orchestre Kiam that I’d not seen before. Also I read that both guitarists are now dead, as are a lot of the musicians from the golden era in Kinshasa. I guess there wasn’t much hope of a reunion anyway.

Orchestre Kiam Band

There was also a Kiam song on YouTube that I hadn’t heard, posted a couple of weeks ago. Mayika is the name, and now I’m only missing two songs: Yule and Niamaraley(sp?)

This is a great song, classic sebene riffs and a very nice ensemble vocal call. See what you think:

Ryan and Soukous Music

In early 2014 I found this post on Brian Shimkovitz’s Awesome Tapes From Africa blog. Jeff Bryant from my old band Pollens had turned me onto this blog (and a lot of African music in general). In 2014 Awesome Tapes was still a music sharing download blog. Today it’s actually become a label and distribution outfit for African music in the United States. Shimkovitz tours doing DJ sets of amazing African music, and if you get the chance go see him. It’s unique.

Anyway, I had pulled a fair amount of albums off Awesome Tapes by this time, but this mixtape just grew on me endlessly until I was obsessed with it. Soon I started looking for more music by Kiam/Orchestre Kiam, and trying to learn everything I could about them, falling further and further down the rabbit hole of trying to find English search results for Congolese French/Lingala music, but Kiam became the most profound musical influence in my life since I played in Pollens. Never did I expect that my favorite band would be singing in a language I couldn’t understand (and also broken up before I was born).

Kiam played rumba rock, cavacha, soukous music in the early to late 70’s in Kinshasa. They were one of the Verckys stable of bands, and were relatively obscure within the scene. They had a few hits but never achieved star status, and never had a big vocal name fronting them.

However, they nailed all the elements like no one else I’ve heard. The vocalists were all very strong, the rhythm section was super solid and bouncy and driving and exciting, the songwriting was top notch, and most strikingly they had the best guitarists in the whole scene to my ear. Technically, the only hard soukous player on a higher plane from this era is probably Orchestre Stukas’s lead player Samunga Tediangaye,. The real magic however was not in Kiam’s technical prowess but their melodic ability. Both their vocal choruses and calls and their sebene lines are absolute platonic forms of catchiness. The lead guitar plays perfect melodies with a soaring treble and plenty of reverb. When the rhythm guitarist takes over, his tone mid-rangey and scraping in comparison, the lines are fascinatingly weird. I swear he was tapping years before Eddie Van Halen thought of it, a lot of self-taught African musicians came up with unique ways to play their instruments.

Unlike countless musicians and bands that came out of the rumba and soukous scene, Kiam never achieved the kind of recognition that would even warrant a Wikipedia page. However there is a strong cult following online, and broad consensus from those who heard them is that they are one of the best hard soukous bands of all time. They’re often put on a level with Zaiko Langa-Langa, who played in the same era without horns and also featured great guitar and vocal work in driving soukous. But to me Kiam was comparatively very consistent. Langa-Langa has decades of material and I’d name about 15 songs of theirs that I really like. Of Kiam’s 35 or so songs (most of which are around ten minutes in length as was common in this era), almost all are fantastic. Thinking back on the music that resonated with me over my whole life, I came to realize that I had found a band that had everything I’d ever wanted. It was one of those moments when you love a piece of art so much that you get a little angry because you didn’t create it. It just seemed to fit my tastes perfectly.

To give an idea of the difficulty of finding good information about an obscure soukous band from the mid-70’s, here is the best site I found with the most information in one place about Kiam. Yes, that’s a Geocities site, in Japanese and French. I’m shocked it still exists.

In mid-March 2014 sent the Awesome Tapes mixtape post to my brother Ryan in a text message. Ryan was a huge fan of many African genres and I knew he’d enjoy it. He texted back, “Great sunny soukous dance music.” At the time I had barely heard the word “soukous,” and didn’t know to ascribe it to Kiam. So Ryan’s remark gave me something to google, which of course I did. It was a watershed moment.

A week or so after our exchange, Ryan killed himself. He’d been struggling with severe anxiety and mental illness for a decade or more. His text about the band was the last communication I had from him. I went on a planned musical retreat soon after that, and channeled everything about his death into a set of Garageband demos that became the first Northern Thorns songs.

Though I’d love Kiam no matter what, this music will forever be linked in my mind with Ryan and his suicide. I can’t listen to it without thinking about him.

– Adam

Verckys, all things Verckys.

It’s criminal to me that Verckys Kiamuangana Mateta barely has a Wikipedia page, it’s like a consolation prize considering his influence on Afropop. My favorite group of the whole era, Kiam/Orchestre Kiam, was one of his stable bands and took its name directly from his.

Verckys was a musician, manager, promoter, club owner and financier of a lot of the very best bands in the Congo music scene, and was right on the cutting edge of bringing in rock influences to the music. The bands Verckys was involved in are some of my favorites. Rather than going on at length about him here, I’ll link to a Likembe post that was significant for me when I was discovering this stuff. It has a free downloadable mix, grab it! It’s great.

– Adam

The Old and New World

rumba-on-the-river-pg-13

Page 13 of Rumba On the River. I like the way Stewart describes the arrival of Latin music to Congo. Much of it was black music from the New World, shaped through the lives of generations of slaves, coming home to Africa through the phonograph and being eagerly greeted by the neighborhoods of Kinshasa.

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