Gaby Lita Bembo and Orchestre Stukas du Zaire - Kita Mata ABC (Music CD)

Release Date: 23 January 2012
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The release of Kita Mata ABC by a group unknown outside the Zaire/Congo music aficionado circle generated a lot of highly enthusiastic press, but unfortunately it smacks of much ado about not that much. That may partly be due to Gaby Lita Bembo being described as the great showman of Congolese music, and showmanship doesn't show through the speakers. What you hear is pretty solid, amped-up new-school soukous circa 1974-1983, marked by strong guitar work and impressive drum drive, but nothing to particularly distinguish Stukas from the pack of other bands of that period. Even stranger is the half-assed, even shoddy way the CD was put together, particularly since RetroAfric has a proven track records reissuing vintage African music. The track counter reads nine songs, but six of that number go to "part one" and "part two" songs, obviously from vinyl sources since they fade out and fade in. So the disc consists of six whole songs and "Tota Seya" doesn't even break down like the others -- it almost sounds like two roughly equivalent takes of the same tune, with the vocals dominating both parts rather than the usual sebene guitar rave-up ruling Part Two. The liner notes are good for general band history but very weak on specifics of the music. No basic recording details or release dates, so no way to place the tunes in time or know if they were major ones for the Stukas. No personnel listing so no way to know which touted lead guitarist or impressive drummer plays on which tracks. But there is a complete list of the dozen-odd dances associated with Bembo and the band over their career. Weird.
Meanwhile, dealing with the music, "Samba" rips along nicely with effective guitar interplay and good singing, but "Idee Kono" may be most representative of Stukas at their best. It works up a healthy head of steam behind a driving drummer, the vocalists cheer on the guitars with exuberant whoops during the sebene, and the whole performance captures the sensation of exuberant musical youth going for it and making it work. It's a bit ragged around the edges, but so what? "Toto Seya" is slower with nice massed vocals, but why the promising guitar riff at the end of part one got scrapped is a mystery. "Lobelia" takes its own sweet time to get something going in the sebene and then it jells only sporadically while "Presidents 1" suffers from a cut and paste arrangement that is hard to lock in with. Its promising sebene with wah-wah second guitar and excellent drumming generates some serious momentum and excitement in part two before ultimately meandering and losing impact. It's still pretty good, and so is the closing "Odeyo," with its R&B-tinged guitar licks and strong singing, but the fade out-fade in routine is a little tiresome by this point. Kita Mata ABC is a real scattershot way to potentially introduce a supposedly major Zaire/Congo band to a new crop of listeners. Couldn't RetroAfric track down more than a half-dozen songs for what will probably be the Stukas' lone stab at decades-after-the-fact recognition-cum-posterity? Even though the music isn't a major revelation in the larger African music scheme, the best tracks are certainly vibrant enough to make you wonder what a proper career retrospective of Bembo and Stukas would sound like. ~ Don Snowden
Release Date: 23 January 2012

1. Samba
2. Idee Kono
3. Toto Seya 1
4. Toto Seya 2
5. Lobelia
6. Presidents 1
7. Presidents 2
8. Odeyo 1
9. Odeyo 2

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Catalogue No: RETRO18CD