Northern Thorns

Dance Rock | Seattle

Tag: Orchestre Kiam

Matthew LaVoie’s Fantastic Orchestre Kiam History

Matthew Lavoie found me through this very website because I was nerding out and blogging about my favorite band Orchestre Kiam. We had some correspondence on the band (which was wonderful, as I often feel I have no peers regarding this matter), and I’m proud to have contributed some info and recordings to his comprehensive history of the great 70s Kinshasa band Orchestre Kiam. Check out this Afropop Worldwide post on Lavoie’s work and the band. Be sure to click all the links, and if you like classic Afropop and soukous music, check out the free ZIP downloads.

Here’s one of precious few photos of the group known to exist:

Orchestre Kiam

Orchestre Kiam

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:

Kiam – Lola

This is a first for me; I’ve digitized a song from a 45RPM record, converted it into a video, and uploaded it to YouTube for everyone to hear.

Some months ago I decided to try and collect the entire Kiam discography on vinyl. This will likely be a very long term project, but for the meantime I’d be happy to at least have heard all of their songs. There are a small number that I know exist but I’ve not heard. This one is from a single released in their early career. I prefer their songs from the late 70’s, but this one is lovely too.

A good chunk of the Kiam digital recordings that I have came from YouTube and online converters. So this is my way of giving back, as this song did not exist online anywhere before my upload, as far as I can tell.

More to come later. I have another to upload shortly.

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

I still burn CDs. Sometimes.

Last year I started making mix CDs (“mixtape” sounds so much more legit so I’m going to use that term in the future) of African music I had run across from various ethnomusic blogs and YouTube. I then annoyed some of my friends and delighted others by passing them out semi-indiscriminately. I tried to kind of give them a theme, i.e. all hard-soukous, all catchy highlife etc., but I was making them before I had a decent understanding of the attributes of the genres and traditions. But, here’s the first one I did:

Africa Mix 1 (band – song)

  1. Kiam – Ifantu
  2. Stukas – Samba
  3. Zaiko Langa-Langa – Zaiko Wa Wa
  4. Kiam – Kamiki 1
  5. Kiam – Kamiki 2
  6. Zaiko Langa-Langa – Ngeli Ngeli
  7. Okukuseku Band of Ghana – Atanfo Wmohyere
  8. Basokin – Basongye

The songs are long, so eight tracks basically filled a CD. There was no theme to this one, I just put a bunch of songs that really stuck out to me on it. If anyone would like a copy of this mixtape, contact me.

– Adam

© 2018 Northern Thorns

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑