The master, Wendo Kolosoy, is back, with a new album, Marie-Louise! A legendary voice, the voice of Congolese rumba, matured and ennobled by a past of more than 60 years! Wendo Sor, the man who brought about African rumba, the original one inspired by “Kongo” airs, more than ever up to date, has reappeared thanks to MASA 99.
Wendo Kolosoy, accompanied by a young team, with the only survivor from his time at its heart, Albert Emina (66 years old), brings us new moments of brilliance spiced up by languorous guitar rhythms, that perfectly espouse the emphatic slaps of the bass. That is the real Leo rumba! The biggest surprise on this album is the unexpected encounter on one track with the Cameroonian diva, Anne-Marie N’Zié, the Golden voice of Yaoundé.
Photograph: Thomas Dorn
When it comes to saying who, through their genius, has really marked a period in time, however short, the question is always, in this domain where subjectivity can be law, who comes before who ? Who to take and who to leave ? There are very many talented artists. Many of them are unjustly forgotten, only getting a passing tribute in the Pantheon of sound. Some of them however have embodied the symbols of the emancipation of the city of Leopoldville. Of all the best actors of yesterday’s musical scene, some names are unforgettable. Their charisma still challenges our memory. In this respect, a few would name Wendo Kolosoy as leader of the singers of the fifties. Really called Antoine Kalosoy (deformed by popular use into Kolosoy), he was born in 1925 to Jules Lutuli (his father, from the Ekonda tribe) and Albertine Bolumbo (his mother, of Kundo origin). Evidently, the Bandudu region, where his mother came from, is the social reference that best incarnates his soul. For, having lost his father very early on, he spent a lot of his childhood with his mother. And so, she did not hesitate, shortly before her death to leave to him her most precious belonging, her mukwasa. Her favourite instrument that she used to accompany herself when singing. A sedative, consoling instrument that dispenses happiness! An apparently banal inheritance, but who could imagine the part it would play in Kolosoy’s future? - “Take this my son, you will need it” she said - “What is it Mama ?” asked the little Antoine, surprised – “This instrument will help you make people happy, take care of it. I leave it to you” replied Mama Albertine. Nothing more.
In her sense of maternal duty and responsibility that she intended to see through until the end, Mama Albertine did not reveal the meaning of this unexpected and enigmatic gesture. The little Wendo did not however feel unhappy, and even less lost in a childhood closed in by an invading motherly love. He is even closer to the mother of his dreams, “Albertina”. Immortalised on an LP Albertina, the title of one of his best-sellers at the start of his career on Ngoma, made a special impression on the record market. It is the story of a couple devoured by the flame of “Vesta” (goddess of love) who shut themselves up in a world of dreams; a mad love affair that talks as much as his voice.
He also developed a feminine “dox” on Albertina, anchored in African type canons, which confer to women a power of seduction that submits men to adulation close to deification. Albertina’s splendour, that of a fairy-tale character, accompanies Wendo right to the heart of his Isle of Beauty. (…) However, fate decided that, through a different “Albertina”, the artist was to become a people’s censor and a social pedagogue. He drew a severer portrait of woman, criticising a certain “Albetina’s” behaviour, renowned in Leo for drinking and fighting in bars and in the street. Wendo’s song is part of a context, where social chronicles incite to respect human dignity.
His view on society is a mirror that reflects those truths which take on even more meaning when compared with ancestral respect: elders, women, children and family. With tracks like Youyou aleli Vela Wendo recommends to parents and husbands that the intimacy of the family home – rather than the town square – is the best place for social education. This charming singer’s life has, in fact, revolved around the Zaire river. It floats along the jewelled surface of this “long river” of mysterious origins. It is a slow flowing life. Wendo’s songs, his guitar, his hopes (…), have flowed slowly through his life. It was on the deck of the “Luxembourg” that Wendo strummed away on his acoustic guitar in the evenings, gazing out over a fascinating river décor. His universe became one with the riverside dwellers’. Eyes half closed, his mind used to go back to the days of his childhood, rifling through his memory, remembering the silhouettes of beautiful, svelte women like Marie Louise or Bernadette. He floats along the neck of his guitar on three or four chords. His romantic voice, of euphoric amplitude, is that of someone in love with the beautiful, proud of himself … and of others, who does not say no to a bit of self-glorification when he feels like it (Biso ba Wendo; Moi Wendo). Later, supported by his orchestra Victoria Kin that he set up in 1948 along the same lines as his predecessor Paul Kamba’s Victoria Brazza (founded in 1942), Wendo shut himself into the consonance of the capital and of his village (Ngai mwana Lac … I come from the Lake region).
His numerous trips on the river resemble odysseys. (…) The end of his dreaming came about when the boat drew up at the Leopoldville docks. It was the end of a trip that often allowed the artist-boater, in his lost moments, to evoke “sad, happy and sometimes condemned love affairs”. All these clichés made up by his memory ended up as recordings for Ngoma. With his friends from the Bow trio (D’Oliveira and Bukasa Léon) he eternalised his characters on tens of LPs, and the record-player, still in its infancy, popularised them throughout Leo. Thanks to this “magic slate”, the voice of the master of song (alanga nzembo) was omnipresent, sending happiness into every cabaret, every radio set – in the villages as in the towns. (…) The king of song of the 50s also made the effort of going beyond the alchemy of creation that brought sun to the hearts of his listeners. He quickly became a legendary figure. His songs embodied the culture and the imagination of his time. Beyond his libertarian proclamations, he put traditionalist durability into his vision, which resisted the Latin-American riffs, which were far too present in the music of his era. The author of the celebrated Marie Louise, a work dedicated to the younger sister of his friend Henri Bowane, is without a doubt the most adulated singer of his time, which, incidentally he gave his name to Tango ya ba Wendo (the Wendo era). He impressed himself as an important figure, not only by the strength of his attachment to traditional values, to the point of becoming, for the next generation the symbol of “old” music “from Wendo’s time”, as declared by Rochereau, - calling himself the spiritual inheritor – Mokitani ya Wendo – of the most seductive singer in Leo. But he also singled himself out thanks to the purity of his guitar. The success of a song like Marie Louise, produced in 1952, gave him a new dimension. Legend goes that this song was capable of bringing back the dead. This earned the author of this slightly “satanic” song some friction with the church. Not only is the song “excommunicated”, but its writer, tracked everywhere, has to flee the capital and go into hiding in Kisangani. Why can’t this music, that speaks so well to both heart and mind, also be of divine essence ? Wendo and the other artists of his generation, shared the glory, to varying degrees, of a musical career, which has not yet finished revealing the virtuosity and the creative genius of a youth very conscious of its dynamism and who know how to pluralise their efforts. Tino Baroza, Soudaïn, Manoka, Ténor Mariola, Dasaïlo, Verre Cassé, Yayo, Ngolombou, Pewo, Tinapa, Honoré Liengo, Gobi ... – to cite just a few of his studio companions – also took part in this movement of the original rumba, within Wendo’s aura. Together they are mythical creators. Part of Congolese history.
(...) Antoine Kolosay became known to the public as Windsor (a tribute, apparently, to the Duke of Windsor) – which became: “Wendo Sor”. At the height of his success, the artist still wriggled about – like the springs of Governor Petillon’s car – whenever he got the opportunity to give the beat with his colleagues at the Congo Bar every evening.
What a character!
(This text is an extract from the book Terre de la chanson, la musique congolaise hier et aujourd’hui, by Mpanda Tchebwa, Editions Duculot 1996).
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