Jupiter & Okwess International – Hotel Univers (Out Here Records)
The new Jupiter & Okwess International album promises to take you on a journey into the heart of Congo. Louder Than War’s Paul Scott-Bates packs his case.
At the age of 48, Jupiter Bokondji has released his debut album so there’s hope for me yet. Where we differ, is that Jupiter has a rich and varied musical past already, giving him quite a head start.
In 1974, he left the Congo to go and live in the old East Germany when his father was given a job at the Congo Embassy. He formed his own band, Der Neger (The Negro) and called upon the sounds of the Stones and James Brown, who had had newly discovered, and fused them with the sounds of Mongo percussion.
Six years later, at the end of his Fathers placement, he returned to his birthplace, Kinshasa, with a headful of new sounds and quickly engaged with European musicians. In 1983, he formed the group Bonogfolk and christened the sound as ‘Bofenia Rock’. By 1990 he had put together a band which worked on a new sound of Congo with a base of over 450 ethnicities to choose from – Okwess International was born.
Almost from the opening seconds of Bapasi you know this is going to be a special album. The sound of cars, crowds and police sirens. A funky guitar riff not dissimilar to Isaac Hayes’ Theme From Shaft and a great drumbeat with deep voices chanting. It’s a highly charged affair with a cracking guitar solo towards the end and a superb opening to the album.
With Margerita we hear of one of the many attractive women of the Kinshasa nightlife, the song was a big hit in the Democratic public and it’s easy to see why. Again, a racing tempo with a brilliant horn section and an infectious hook. Several incredibly talented musicians create a tight and very danceable rhythm with guitar work to savour.
The key to Jupiters great sounding tracks is not to be over-influenced by Western sounds but instead to rediscover the long forgotten street sounds of the Congo and add a city groove, and, at the same time, accept that he may not find himself at the top of the mainstream music charts. His approach is to be applauded, and, the self named ‘rebel general of Congolese music’ is then under no pressure to come up with the goods. That said, it seems to be something that he does effortlessly, as third track Bakwapanu proves. It’s another very memorable track with an occasional reggae feel but still containing the rock/funk elements. It’s another cracker.
It continues, track after track of great quality and sound. The pace and power if the German spoken The World Is My Land is remarkable, and the more traditional guitar sounds of Tshanga Tshungu is enthralling. Album closer, the slower Djwende Talelaka, is a lovely piece with spoken word and a beautiful wind instrument in the background slowly fading out to the sounds of the street that started the album.
A remix album with contributions from the likes of 3D (Massive Attack) and DJ Mo is promised for later this year, but in the meantime, savour the undoubted quality of one of the years finest albums.
All words by Paul Scott-Bates. More of Paul’s writing on Louder Than War can be found here. Paul’s website is Heaven Is A Place On Pendle. Paul has been working hard to save Radio Lancashire’s On The Wire, easily one of the best radio shows on the BBC. Follow him on twitter as @saveonthewire for all On The Wire news or follow his personal twitter, @hiapop.