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Henri Bowane
'Double Take - Tala Kaka' (RETRO6CD)

Henri Bowane was a crucial figure in the development of Congo rumba. He was one of the first generation singer/guitarists to record in Kinshasa (then Leopoldville) during the early 1950s. As resident bandleader and arranger at Loningisa studios, Bowane was the first professional boss and mentor of the legendary Franco Luambo Makiadi - and the first to coin the nickname which carried Franco through 40 years of glory. In the early days, however, Bowane was the star, releasing dozens of hit 78rpms, and was reputed to be the first Congolese musician to drive a Cadillac.

A robust and jovial character, Bowane was born in the equatorial region to the north east of the capital in 1929. In 1946 he travelled to Kinshasa where he developed his own style of guitar picking based on the folklore of the Mongo people (known for their zebola rhythm) but in the city he also picked up some Latin-American influences from several musicians who visited Congo including Sam Kasande, Orchestre Aragon and some Puerto Rican groups. As the music developed, Bowane recalled, 'everyone was looking for a certain modernism'. He was also astute enough to see that the new music being forged in the Congo had commercial potential and when he started to hassle for payment that reflected the sales of his records he was briefly imprisoned. (In those days royalty payments were unheard of.) He turned this experience to his advantage and even composed a song with the challenging title Kotiya Zolo Te (Don't Stick Your Nose in Our Business). While he was with Loningisa he became the Congo's wealthiest performer. He was also one of the first to tour outside the country, playing in Angola in 1955.

In 1959 Bowane left Congo as founder/manager of Ry-Co Jazz (RETRO10CD), who introduced Congo rumba to countries such as Cameroon. Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Togo, Ghana and the French Antilles. He settled in the region working as a businessman with occasional forays back into the music business, including a spell as manager of Sam Mangwana's African All Stars. In 1976 in Ghana he produced the Zaiko Langa Langa album (RETRO5CD) for Essiebons and also recorded this, his only album. The repertoire contains some of his early hits including Marie-Louise and Natali Nato, which were already 'retro' items and more recent songs such as Sam Ba No and Fou-Nous-La-Paix.

All these songs demonstrate a casual fusion between the original Congo rumba guitar style and the prevalent highlife rhythms and phrasing of Ghanaian session musicians. The horns and chorus voices have a distinct anglophone flavour but, during the improvised sebenes, the colour of Bowane's inspiration shows through. He takes the solo guitar role with support from at least one Zaiko guitarist. The rhythms and inflections range from rumba and cavacha through highlife to calypso and soul/blues. The final song on this album, Wabon'kum Blues actually comes from the Zaiko sessions, but Bowane's presence is evident. In 1989 Bowane returned to Kinshasa after a long absence in West Africa. He died in 1992.

Henri Bowane
'Double Take - Tala Kaka' (RETRO6CD)

 

 
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