Le Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music

Fri, Dec 6, 2013, 00:00


His Life, His Music

Le Grand Kallé


World Music

In modern Congolese music lies the fascinating tale of how a culture was transmitted around the world. By 1840, 300 years of Spanish slave colonies in the sugar plantations of Cuba had produced a 50 per cent slave population on the island, mostly drawn from west Africa and the Congo. The musical result of this cultural encounter was a vibrant African rhythm underpinning the Spanish décima verse style . . . and Latin music was born.

What happened next is less well known. Some desperate post-recession marketing by HMV in the late 1930s and ’40s produced a flood of Cuban recordings into Africa, where they received an enthusiastic welcome in the French and Belgian colonies – particularly in the two Congos, where there was a strong identification with the rhythmic content of the music.

As the country struggled towards independence, the people clamoured for something “new” and forward-looking. The resultant emergence of an Afro-Latin Congolese music style spread and became the most popular African music for the next few decades.

At the heart of this cultural explosion were a handful of Congolese band-leaders. The first was Joseph Kabasele, universally known as Le Grand Kallé. Kallé led the Afro-Latin revolution through independence and went on to shape a distinctively Congolese musical style from those various influences, notably with the introduction of the electric guitar.

Other bandleaders, especially Franco, took the development onwards. But Le Grand Kallé was there first, and this definitive, chronological, double-disc package shows the progression from the early Latin sounds to a sophisticated, progressive Congolese style.

The sleevenotes give comprehensive sociopolitical context to Kallé’s career and the songs. Table Ronde was the negotiating table for pre-independence talks, and the lyrics namecheck all the Congolese participants. When independence finally arrived, Indépendance Cha Cha became the de facto national anthem.

Belying the tragic displacement from which it sprang, Congolese music has been a joyous cultural tonic for Africa. Here is the origin and the evidence. sternsmusic.com
Download: Indépendance Cha Cha, Table Ronde, BB 69