Guitar Music from the Copperbelt

September 17, 2009

51faWz7iHAL._SL500_AA240_Thanks to Kevin for the previous post, there will certainly be more from him in the near future! I’ve been meaning to post something off the great compilation of copperbelt guitar music, Origins of Guitar Music for a long time. Recorded in the 1950s by the English ethnomusicologist pioneer Hugh Tracey, the emphasis is on the topical guitar-driven songs of workers from the Congo, Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe who all came to toil in the mines. For such difficult conditions, the music is remarkably upbeat, light and cheerful at times.
The first track by Ilunga Patrice, Misomba Victor, and friend features two frenetic, driving guitars accompanied by the ubiquitous bottle and was recorded at Kolwezi Copper Mine, Congo 1957. I love how the singing is frequently in counterpoint to the music itself. How the heck do they sing like this while playing the rhythms they play? From the liner notes: The text is a mixture of Swahili, Kiluba and Kanyok, and the title is a woman’s name. It was very common to mix up languages in the mining towns and this song relates to the bluesy reality of miners away from home. The unemployed man Nzenza is crying and he is tired, the women have stayed in the homeland, the debts remain unpaid, give us dyamba to drink (i.e. cannabis to smoke), songs are beautiful with women around, espeically women with abdominal scarring’ (i.e. the traditional scarring for beauty)…Note the tuning of the guitars at the start of the track – the lower E string was tuned a semitone up, something Congolese guitarists often did; in fact here the whole guitar is about a semitone higher to begin with. This track was previously released on SWP 011…

Masengu by Ilunga Patrice, Misomba Victor, and friend

There are so many gems on this album that it was hard to leave it there. I opted for Dali ngiyakuthanda bati ha-ha-ha(Darling I love you but ha-ha-ha) by George Sibanda, recorded at Bulawayao, Zimbabwe 1950 mainly because of Sibanda’s buoyant, jovial manner of playing, but also because of the similarity of his guitar work to some of the more lighthearted country blues and ragtime pickers of the US such as Mississippi John Hurt, Mance Lipscomb, Tommie Bradley, and more.
From the liner notes: “Darling I love you but ha-ha-ha, Sure I love you but ha-ha-ha, Will you buy me smarty (Tsotsi term) trousers?”…Sibanda (is) a legendary figure whose name is still remembered in Zimbabwe today, even if his music is not. This song is strangely reminiscent of Woodie Guthrie. HIs playing is strongly influenced by Country and Western music and as with any good finger-picking guitarist, there are several layers going on at the same time. There also seems to be a touch of Glenn Miller in this composition…He went on to become a radio star in Southern Rhodesia and throughout the Federation – the first African there to do so. Alas, he could not cope with fame and money, and drank himself to death, dying in 1959.

Dali Ngiyakuthanda Bati Ha-Ha-Ha by George Sibanda

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