Music

Various Artists: The World Is Shaking: Cubanismo from the Congo, 1954-55

Honest Jon's is doing something unusual here, taking us back to the early days of the style, opening a window into the years before the Greats came along.


Various Artists

The World Is Shaking: Cubanismo From The Congo, 1954-55

Label: Honest Jon's
US Release Date: 2009-06-09
UK Release Date: 2009-06-22
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The word Cubanismo in the subtitle seems to promise certain things: salsa, maybe; Cuban percussion, the click of claves, a man shouting "Sabor!" and a chorus of other men responding. Sharpness, above all, a rotating melody, and quick spits of noise. Well, the clave click is here, but it doesn't always have the same prominence that gives traditional Cuban music some of its precision. The clicking in Adikwa Depala's "Matete Paris" has a patient, almost hesitant, sound, as if the musician is secretly wondering if he's doing the right thing. In Andre Denis' "Cherie N'Aluli Yo" he's buried under a pile of guitars and a crowd of singers. He fights his way to the top in Depala's "Moni Moni Non Dey", persists thinly through Laurent Lomande's "Maboka Marie", and spends Jean Mpia's "Tika Koseka" battling with kazoos. The kazoos criss-cross through the song while men hum buzzily in the background -- it's like listening to a rumba sung by bees.

The music on this album was recorded several years before the Congo became independent of its twin colonisers, France and Belgium. Belgium had the larger piece of land, the area that is known today as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The ex-French Republic of the Congo, child-sized in comparison, sits off to the northwest. A large river, also named the Congo, runs between the capitals of the two countries. This conurbation swelled in population during the colonial years, thanks in part to new railways that connected it to the Congolese countryside. Businesses and factories were established there. Workers want entertainment, so the number of musicians grew along with everything else.

Independence came in 1960, and with that the Cuban-Congolese rumba style that had been germinating among those musicians became more polished, more explosive, and more popular, spreading across half of Africa. The '60s and '70s saw the rise of the great Congolese rumba bands, and the most celebrated Latin American-Congolese musicians, Franco and Sam Mangwana at the forefront. Most Western compilations that cover this kind of music tend to start in the '60s or mid-'50s, at the earliest.  The Rough Guide to Franco begins in 1956 with "Merengue", and when you compare this to other tracks on the album that were recorded in 1972 and 1985, it sounds fairly basic and rough. So Honest Jon's is doing something unusual here, taking us back to the earlier days of the style, opening a window into the years before the Greats came along, a time when the people of this Central African colony were still listening to the their Cuban records and going to shows held by touring Cuban bands, figuring out how these foreign musicians did it and how they could reshape it into something that was theirs.

This led them to things like the kazoos, a real what-the-hell moment the first time I heard it. The guitar in some of the songs, "Cherie N'Aluli Yo" for one, borrows from a West African style known as palm wine, a collection of ingredients brought to the coast there by sailors. Palm wine introduces a un-Cuban labyrinth of stringy jangle to the basic Cuban sound. The lyrics are sung in what the publicity sheet I've got here identifies as "Congolese languages", so I'm going to guess this means mainly Lingala, Kikongo, and Swahili. These languages sound softer, blurrier, higher than Spanish, and there's a fuzziness to the choruses that sets this music apart from the demanding call-and-response of Cuba, although that might also be due to the age of the recordings. When Depala, backed by a squeaky violin, addresses the woman he loves on "Yoka Ngal", he comes across seeming plaintive, a Congolese Stuart Murdoch. Lomande has a violin too, and he and it together create a kind of drawling chant that pushes against the clave.

The songs on The World is Shaking have been dug by Honest Jon's from the EMI archives, a building described by the UK journalist Alexis Petridis as "an apparently endless steel vault" stocked with old 78s recorded by EMI agents in different parts of the world. The album is part of a series that, so far, includes music from the Middle East, African music recorded in 1920s Britain, and Marvellous Boy, the music of West Africans inspired by calypso. Marvellous Boy and The World is Shaking come from the same decade, and the same goes for this album as went for that one: the music is vintage, not perfect, but valuable, a contribution to the history of musical recordings that might easily have been lost forever in an "endless steel vault" of crumbling records. 

7

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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