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Orchèstre Vévé 'Vintage Verckys'(RETRO15CD)

 

VerckysVerckys Kiamuangana Mateta is one of the most influential figures in the history of Congolese (Zaïrean) music which conquered all of Africa during the second half of the 20th century. As a saxophonist, composer and bandleader Verckys had his moments of glory when he was able to rival both Franco and Rochereau while, in his role as producer and talent spotter, he created some of the country's greatest hit records and nurtured many of the stars of the new, post-rumba generation.

Verckys was born in 1944 to a father who became a successful businessman in pre-independence Congo. As a follower of the Congolese prophet Simon Kimbangu, the young Georges Kiamuangana played saxophone in a Kimbanguist fanfare band. A typical Kinshasa youth, he was tuned in to the prevailing rumba music although he also had an ear for American soul and rhythm and blues. In fact, his stage name 'Verckys' was adapted from an American sax player who made a big impression on him — almost certainly King Curtis. He developed his own honking gutbucket style of sax playing which characterised some of the most exciting music of the 1960s and 70s.

In the early 1960s he played in Conga Jazz, led by Dewayon, and also gigged in nightclubs with Edo Lutula, a clarinettist and original member of OK Jazz. In 1964 he was recruited by Franco into OK Jazz as second saxophonist alongside the distinguished Zimbabwean Isaac Musekiwa. At the time Franco was regrouping after a disastrous feud with the singer Kwamy and, as Verckys was a 'homeboy' from the same region as Franco, he was installed as Franco's lieutenant.

Young VerckysVerckys was a great showman who liked to play up to the crowd. For the next few years he brought some raucous excitement to the OK Jazz repertoire with his modern interpretation of Kongo folklore rhythms and provided visual entertainment with his hippie clothing and frenetic dance routines. Among the dance rhythms he made his own were the sukuma and the boucher. But he was as ambitious as he was creative and in 1968, while Franco was in Europe, he called some of the OK Jazz musicians to record a series of songs to be released under the name of Verckys et son Ensemble. Along with Simaro, Youlou, Bitchou and Checain, Verckys also recruited Mose Fan Fan from Orchèstre Révolution to record the inaugural releases of the Vévé label. Verckys took the master tapes to Europe to press his discs but while he was away Franco returned and preempted the planned coup. He also demanded a cut from the record sales.

Shortly after, Verckys quit OK Jazz to form the first incarnation of Orchèstre Vévé, the name which was to signify his own brand as much as the name of a band. They made their debut in April 1969 at the Vis-à-Vis club in Kinshasa's Matonge district, which was also a base for OK Jazz. Once on his own, Verckys demonstrated a range of musical and production skills. He was a capable guitarist, keyboard player and arranger who could even sing. He also had a talent for studio engineering and a sound of his own. Business-wise, he had an eye for the main chance and an instinct for international marketing.

His saxophone style was was his most characteristic asset, however. While the music in his repertoire was often similar to the output of OK Jazz, Verckys really let fly during the sebenes occupying a musical space which had previously been the preserve of solo guitarists only. During these long improvised sections Verckys' saxophone takes off in a host of new and exciting directions.

Among the original members of Orchèstre Vévé were guitarist Danyla, singers Matadidi Mabele, Marcel Loko 'Djeskain', 'Max Sinatra' (who later formed Trio Madjesi) and Bovic Bondo. Orchèstre Vévé experienced the usual round of personnel changes, with people like Kwamy joining for recording sessions and Thu Zahina's guitarist Roxy dropping in later. Over the next four or five years Orchèstre Vévé released dozens of singles often sharing the local hit parade with other Verckys produced bands such as Les Grand Maquisards, Orchèstre Kiam, Bella Bella, Lipua Lipua and Empire Bakuba. Vévé Productions continued to generate hits for bands such as Zaiko Langa Langa and Thu Zahina. Verckys himself later commissioned the 'seven patrons' of Langa Langa Stars and supported the creation of Orchèstre Victoria.

Verckys has been credited with creating the cavacha beat that led on to soukous and from which, ironically, saxophones had totally disappeared. In effect, Verckys' unique studio sound, his unerring ear for talent and unquenchable enthusiasm turned him into the godfather of modern Congolese music.

 

 
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