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Verckys Et l’Orchestre Vévé
Congolese Funk, Afrobeat & Psychedelic Rumba 1969-1978 Clyde Macfarlane , January 14th, 2015 16:04

When James Brown arrived in Kinshasa for Mohamed Ali and George Foreman's rumble in the jungle fight, the world was ready to tune in. The Godfather of Soul was joining BB King, Miriam Makeba, Bill Withers and Manu Dibango at Zaire 74, a pre-fight festival aimed to promote cultural solidarity between Africans and African Americans. But as jaw-droppingly good as this line-up sounds, the music relied almost entirely on the fight to attract a TV audience; in terms of raising awareness for African music, rumble in the jungle was an essential factor.

Disaster struck when Foreman picked up an eye injury in training and put the fight back a month. The Zaire 74 organisers were placed in an awkward predicament that undermined the festival as a stand-alone musical feast - follow the fight's date change or stick? They chose the latter. They also managed to keep the fight's delay a secret until James Brown, his entourage and £30,000 worth of his equipment were on the plane, fearing their headliner would pull out with the news. So while from the perspective of the packed Kinshasa Stadium Zaire 74 seemed a huge success, very few people watched it worldwide and after the festival most of the musicians flew home.

James Brown, though- an avid boxing fan, himself a former boxer- was prepared to stick around. He spent the time exploring the Congolese music scene, and discovered the subject of record label Analog Africa's latest release; a man he christened 'Mr Dynamite', a pseudonym he'd himself used in the early 60s. This African James Brown was Georges Mateta Kiamuangana, better known on the circuit as Verckys.

Analog Africa has a slick track record when it comes to digging up musical gems, and Verckys is no exception. The bandleader, composer, guitarist and saxophonist whips up a relentless party atmosphere every time. Songs like 'Sex Vévé', 'Talali Talala' and 'Cheka Sana' are particularly Brown-esque by their walloping bass lines and sweaty energy. 'Cheka Sana' even comes with a few mad grunts and whistles, and with its punchy beat undoubtedly makes the big hit of this compilation.

A quite different approach comes with the Congolese rumba tracks, which are probably where Verckys becomes outstanding. The horns and congas are suitably wild; in comparison to the militant slickness of the funk tracks, everything here is untamed. Verckys veers off into that heard-souring, almost-surf guitar style known as soukous, the Congo's instantly recognisable soundtrack.

The compilation progresses - deeper into the heart of the Kinshasa sound, it feels like - and we encounter two genres that, whilst being identified by Analog Africa, will almost certainly be new territory for listeners: cavacha and pachanga. Be prepared for roughness here; vintage crackles dust these tracks in a sultry haze. A perfect reflection of the growing psychedelia, an optimist would argue.

A linear note interview aptly tells how James Brown was "knocked out" after seeing Verckys for the first time, and while Kinshasa was understandably buzzing with anticipation, the failure of Zaire 74 as a marketing ploy only makes this release more special.

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