VINYL PICKS #1: SPIRITUAL SINGERS: "NTSAMINA"
Okay, so an occasional dip into me vinyl collectn, featuring slabs old n new that are currently getting a bit of a pasting from The Stylus of Doom.
"Ntsamina" by Spiritual Singers.
What little info I can piece together comes from the French sleeve-notes and various GooglePuffs. But, basically: Spiritual Singers were a Congolese group from Brazzaville, the capital city of The Republic of the Congo, which sits across the river from Kinshasa, the capital of The Democratic Republic of The Congo. Two different cities in two different countries, but they kinda bleed into each other to create a sort of African Mega-City One. Okay?
Far as I can determine, the album is v. early 80's vintage - the band having formed in 1980 (tho some websites claim the group dates back to the early '70s, wh/ I somehow doubt - due to the age of certain members (13 - 24) - tho the tunes def. have a late 60's/70's feel to them...).
The music sits outside of the Congolese Rumba 'Nuum; instead, it has an electric Blues/Gospel bent to it...of course, soon as I say Gospel that's gonna put certain evangelical images/audio-memes into yr mind, so I'm gonna put in a caveat at this point and say that, by 'Gospel' I prob. mean a kind of devotional/ecstatic form of African Garage.Pop...'cos, believe me, this is raw as fuck lo-fi shit - but the vocal harmonies build really beautifully into a kinda wonderful wailing low-key hysteria... dissonant harmonies, I guess: does that make any sense?
"Nzo A Dise" starts almost unpromisingly w/ a lilting backporch rhythm and solitary male voice, but the song just drags you in by yr shirtsleeves as it drifts off heavenwards, its eyes rolled back...the electric bass-playing is wonderful, totally on the number and achingly Blooozy, supplemented by some clattering arhythmic drum-fills and cymbal-crashes. But it's the harmony vocals that really send me: a sort of mini-choir featuring Jeanne Nzibou and the three Loudi Brothers, plus various pals. I think one of the guys voices hasn't broken yet, so it provides a great, but weird-sounding counter-point to the Jeanne's vox.
What's amazing is the blend of influences here: at points SS sound like some sort of 60's Acid-Nugget Garage-Band - check the deliciously weedy Farfisa organ on "Kimbia", a bass-line that starts out sounding Link Wray-ish then turns into a bubbling Afro-Rock bounce and - what the fuck is that drummer doing? It's brilliant, tho his notion of time-keeping is completely at odds to my dumbass white-boy expectations. The lead vocals here are shrill and I can't even figure out what language this is being sung in - at points, it sounds like a cross between ? And The Mysterions, a Steve Nieve-led Attractions on acid and some goofy Japanese New Wave Band recorded on a mono-css player.
Elsewhere, there's a giddy-sounding 50s US R n B influence at play. "African people" is total genius w/ its walking-on-tiptoes bass-line, helium vocals and strangulated Carl Perkinsesque guitar-runs. It's the Sun Sessions relocated to Zaire via No Wave. And "U Nungisa" with its pumping Bontempi organ, clattering cumbersome-sounding drums and frantic vocal refrain. Even the slower, dirgier-sounding tracks (like "Jean 3.16" with its inverted barely-in-tune "House of The Rising Sun" riff/vox) are deceptively hypnotic...they kinda creep up on you. No actually, they grab you pretty damn quickly.
There's asolutely no reason why this almost ridiculous amalgam of disparate influences should work so well, but it does. And I'm not sure why I keep thinking of early Pere Ubu when this so clearly sounds nothing like them lol - maybe its that skinny, shrill-sounding, trebly production, I dunno...I'm also not entirely sure of the provenance of my copy - I'm guessing that it's the Mississippi Records edition, but there's no info on the sleeve...(strangely, the Mississippi back-catalogue also contains a record from an early-80s band based in Frome in Somerset lol)...it looks like a straight sleeve copy of an original vinyl, tho this seems to contradict Vincent Kenis' mention that old school Congolese music wasn't big on vinyl albums...
Still, it's a terrific album - one that blows a hole in any cosy, comfortable preconceptions you might have about 'World' (or 'African') Music - whatever that might be - yet it also proves that you can combine raw garage (afro-)rock with something more ecstatic and, uh - dare I say it - spiritual. It doesn't sound anything like you might imagine it does. I mean, what's with that Jimmy Carl Black/Roy Estrada/M.of.Invention Doo-Wop intervention on "Come and Save Us", huh?
Anyway, I'm trying to dig around to find out a bit more about this group - and if I get any more info I'll post it here 'natch. And if anyone has any additional info or corrections, then please get in touch...