Lassissi Presente … Cavacha à Abidjan

About 25 years ago, the Sacodis label of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, issued a series of records titled “Lassissi presente...” that included a range of popular music, from soukous bands visiting from Congo-Zaire to Ivorien salseros like Doh Albert who recorded in Paris and New Jersey. A late release from the label, LS 89, issued in 1986, is Ivorien Jimmy Hyacinthe's album RETRO. But the recordings done in the late seventies and early eighties document the emergence of the cavacha or soukous sound as it exploded out of Congo and Zaire into the rest of Africa and they are among the most exciting recordings of the era. Unusual for the time, all of the tracks are ten minutes plus so you get a full 40 minutes per album as opposed to the strict 30 minutes of most African pop (that allowed for it to be copied onto C60 cassettes). They are jams.

Neighboring Ghana & Mali had a strong influence on the music of Ivory Coast but Zaire had a longstanding place in the Ivorien musical scene from the hits of Rochereau and Nico's African Fiesta in the 1960s to the residence of Sam Mangwana a decade later. From 1976 to '79, Sam recorded in Abidjan with his group the African All-Stars. Others followed, some better-known than others, and many recorded at Sacodis. The Empire Bakuba with Pepe Kalle, Papy Tex and Dilu Dilumona on vocals, Boeing 737 and Doris Ebuya on guitars, and Elvis Kunku on rhythm guitar, is one of the best known. "Trahison", which they recorded here, was written by Eba Aka Jerome and was a hit in Ivory Coast in 1978.

The song "Ive Dikando", sung by Pepe Kalle, name-checks Nyboma and Sam Mangwana, suggesting they were present in Abidjan during the recording, if not in the studio. The classic "Numero Empire" extols the nine-man band. The opening quotes an old Swahili hit "Tika na lela" which means "Leave and weep"! (Written by Lovi, the song charted in Kenya in 1982 for Orchestre Shika Shika.) I once saw the remnants of Empire Bakuba in concert with their added attraction, Emoro the Dwarf: it was the most tasteless politically incorrect show ever to appear in San Francisco! Sadly Emoro and Pepe Kalle have both died.

Bassist Celi Bitchoumanou recorded with Franco's OK Jazz and later with Vercky's Orchestre Vévé. Franco had a massive hit with his song "Infidelitè Mado". Celi was in fact a member of a splinter group of OK Jazz, formed by saxophonist Verckys Kiamuangana Mateta, who took advantage of Franco's absence on a European tour in 1968 to go into the studio and record their own material (including "Mado"). Franco returned outraged, claiming the musicians were under contract to him, demanded the tapes and destroyed them. Later, in need of material, he recorded the song, but Verckys left for good, taking Celi and others with him. Here Celi covers Sam Mangwana's "Matinda" that was a hit in 1979.

Minzoto Wella Wella was formed in 1972 as a branch of the Zaiko Langa Langa school and included Bozi Boziana on vocals, and Muanda Shire on guitar. There's a cover photo of a young singer – presumably Ambele Mondo – in a wig with pigtails (I assume it's not his own hair) and a headband with a feather.

Orchestre Micky-Micky were also part of this Zaiko movement. Their name suggests a group in the Vercky's stable since he liked double names (like Lipua Lipua, Langa Langa, and Bella Bella). It's the poorest recording (I bought it used) but has a lot of incredible energy, sounding very much live (after the band had all turned up their amplifiers!). In fact it's a screaming rave up! The "Atalaku" or "shouting" style of vocals became very prominent with Zaiko Langa Langa and its offshoots, progenitors of the fully evolved soukous style. Mavungu reappears in the 80s as percussionist on several Paris albums by Zaiko alumni like Papa Wemba. He's also on Sam Mangwana's "Makengo" recorded in Abidjan and plays congas in Eddy Gustave's group Les Esprit Saints.

The question remains, Was there a house band? There is a high level of talent on these recordings and a consistency that suggests the singers were sometimes backed by local musicians, expatriate Congolese who had gigs in the nightclubs of Abidjan. I left one of my Lassissi albums out of this mix: LS 91, featuring sax player Moro Beya Maduma, that was recorded in Abidjan and mixed in Hollywood. I omitted it because it has drum programming. However there are liner notes crediting the musicians (all the other albums are blank) who are called Orchestre Ambiance (the same group that earlier recorded "Ambiance à Kasavougou"). Solo guitar is Doris (from Empire Bakuba), Dave Lubaki is on bass, Moro Beya Maduma on sax, and Boncana Maiga is credited with "collaboration". Listening to the Ambiance à Kasavougou track "Mokili kaka boye", I hear Doris name-checked during his guitar solo (about 8 minutes in), and with a bit of detective work one might figure out the vocalists or others who get a shout-out. – Apart from Lassissi that is, who gets a lot of name-checking on all these albums.

The producer Aboudou Lassissi appears to have had an office on 8th Avenue in New York in the early eighties when these records were released. Rumor had it he was jailed for tax evasion. I met a singer from Abidjan and asked her about Sacodis. She told me that Lassissi was a Nigerian businessman who subsequently fell on hard times.

Salsa was a hot seller in the Ivory Coast in the '70s and Laba Sosseh, Monguito el Unico, Alfredo de la Fé and Roberto Torres worked for Lassissi. In an interview, Alfredo Valdes, Jr, recalled, "In the late '70s there was this diplomatic attachè from Cameroon and Gabon, living here in New York, who happened to love Cuban music. They approached us, started buying large quantities of our records and befriended us. And continued by making suggestions to us. Actually Aboudou Lassissi, who had just arrived in New York from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, with a large amount of money, had a lot to do with it. I don't know where he got the money from, but he had a lot of cash at his disposal. We produced about two or three albums a week. This was all thanks to this diplomatic attachè."

The Doh Albert recordings were immensely popular, and his duet with Monguito el Unico "Africa in Cuba", from Afro-Salsa, can be heard on the excellent Network compilation Musica Negra in the Americas.

This handful of Lassissi albums represents some of the strongest (are
rarest) stuff in my library and I put it on CD with great delight, and in the hopes
someone will track down the tapes and do a Real "Best of Lassissi."

Dr Rhythm, July 2002

The above text were culled from the accompanying notes to a Two CD compilation made by Alastair Johnston from a selection of Sacodis LP's.

Created with patience and care by Lao Feng - Bolingo productions | Sunday, September 25, 2005
For form's sake I have to add:: Copyright © Alastair Johnston © digital edition by Lars Fredriksson, 2005 Sunday, September 25, 2005.