Verckys et l’Orchestre Vévé – Congolese Funk, Afrobeat & Psychedelic Rumba 1969-1978 (2014)

“That African music sound, you know…”

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My white guilt world tour continues with this still mostly-unknown-to-me acquisition from a couple years ago. I went to a local record shop to pick up Shellac tickets and I knew the store wasn’t going to get anything out of it other than the customer traffic. Feeling obligated to look around—and flush with a few spare bucks from my clever avoidance of ticketing fees—this record caught my eye. Knowing a little about (in descending order) Ethiopian jazz, some Nigerian pop and Zamrock, Congolese funk was totally new to me and looking at the cover I knew there was no way it was going to be bad. Played it maybe twice since, but have no idea what it’s going to do for me now.

The notes describe Verckys’ rise as a saxophonist, and presumably that’s him on the cover looking cool as hell with a guitar (the other players are unidentified). Though this outfit put out some albums proper, this collection seems to be comprised mostly of singles or otherwise uncollected tracks. The extended “Bassala Hot” would have been two sides of a 45, though is evidently stitched back into one long track here. A lone conga is soon joined by a disco hi-hat, and a simple but meaty guitar riff. A somewhat shrill front line of horns soon breaks off into calls and responses between them. Though Verckys was inspired by James Brown’s style, very quickly this veers off into musical territories that I have inadequate reference points for—though “rumba” is right there in the album title—and the so-styled “Ya Nini” hardly sounds it was performed by the same ensemble as the opening track. The shape-shifting is even more pronounced in “Nakobala Yo Denise” which starts as a traditional-sounding Latin tune only to get abruptly hijacked by a Sly Stone-like bandleader. The organ-drenched “Oui Verckys” has discrete cues for the moves of an unknown dance craze and was no doubt a floor-stomper. The forced frivolity of band members hooting and hollering to one another (particularly when it sounds like it’s done solely for the microphones) is something I can’t abide by (regrettably noted here and here) and it would probably be racist of me if I said I liked it in “Cheka Sana.”

With record two, “psychedelic” becomes the one categorization of the album title that I’ll quibble with, as the imprecise term has become more of a marketing ploy for lost 60s-70s sounds than an actual reflection of the music. “Sex Vévé” comes the closest, starting like an early Beefheart blues, with a snakey rhythm, killer farsifa organ, and some skronkin’ sax—a definite highlight. I suppose the best asset of an orchestra that liked to work is versatility, but for recordings spanning a mere decade, Verckys’ band is exceptionally expansive. So it’s yet another sudden split personality transition to the more folk-like vocal chorus of “Sisa Motema,” though the instrumental middle section brims with some hot soloing. Side four is more firmly entrenched in what I perceive to be “traditional” Afro-Cuban pop music—at least minimizing any obvious European influences.

This Analog Africa series opens a whole new world of music for me—as I’m wrapping this up I’m on to Benin with their Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou release from the same era. Simply Saucer is gonna sound weird after this.

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