Some Congolese soukous for you.
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The first merengue CD I ever bought was by Juan Luis Guerra, thanks to my fellow student, known fondly as Copete, who taught me how to dance it when I arrived at college. Little did I know that ten years later I would play “A pedir su mano” (Translation: “To ask for her hand”) during my wedding. It was too appropriate – we couldn’t pass it up.
(The video includes some bad 80s effects and some brilliant footage of the Dominican Republic. I’d never seen it till now.)
Also at college, I was invited to learn and perform a dance to Soukous, thanks to Janet and Kirimania. When people who hadn’t heard it before asked me to describe what Soukous sounded like, I would tell them it was “how you’d imagine Merengue sounded before it crossed the Atlantic”. At the time I didn’t realize that in fact, it really had.
This was affirmed again many years later, when we picked up this little treasure:
And to our surprise, we found this song, Dédé Priscilla, by Lea Lignanzi – the original version of “A pedir su mano”. Since then we’ve tracked down a few other tracks by Juan Luis Guerra that are adaptations of soukous. Maybe I’ll dig those up for you sometime.
We’ve already told you that a lot of our favorite “Latin” music from the 70s and 80s was heavily influenced by the records arriving at that time from Africa, and particularly from the Congo. Maybe this is no surprise, given how much Cuban music shaped the Congolese rumba, which was some of the most popular music in Africa in the 50s and 60s. You’ve gotta love how these guys faked their way through the Spanish lyrics and, more importantly, took the classic son cubano to a new level. Here’s a lovely example, a cover of “En Guantanamo” by the tremendous guitarist Docteur Nico.
En Guantanamo – Docteur Nico
I feel like I’ve heard several versions of that song throughout the years, but I’d never thought to look up what it sounded like pre-1960. Our visit to Marcos Juarez’s great radio show on KALX prompted me to do a bit of research; clearly, Abelardo Barroso is who these guys were listening to:
What a voice!
Of course the love affair didn’t start or end there. It goes without saying that the early sones cubanos of the 20s and 30s could not have existed without the African influence in the island. And in 2008, here is Colombia’s La Makina del Caribe covering “Sai” by the Congolese soukous star Kanda Bongo Man.
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