The collection Prophet, devoted to traditional music from all over the world is principally constituted of recordings and photographs made by Charles Duvelle* in the course of the past forty years. They are mostly original recordings that have never been released “in extenso”, with the exception of a few issued on records now long unavailable. Despite the age of some recordings of performers no longer alive, the sound quality (an essential aspect, naturally, as far as music is concerned) is still high, thanks to the use of high quality equipment and the versatility of the sound recording techniques, adapted to the particular conditions of orally transmitted music, i.e. performers moving about (singer-dancers), the hazards of the open-air (wind and other extraneous noises), a care for the spontaneity of the performers and the inevitably unique situation of each musical performance (the idea of rehearsing for a definitive performance is ruled out). Prophet claims to be different from other collections of world music by virtue of its exacting standards of authenticity and musical quality.
Musical authenticity: recorded live, in a traditional local environment, generally on a particular occasion and not in a lifeless studio or on a stage;
Acustic authenticity: the acoustic environment (fundamental for the quality of the sound reproduction) is carefully respected. A cathedral organ without its natural reverberation would lose a great deal of its force, and, conversely, open-air music played within a hall would forfeit an important part of its acoustic specificity;
Temporal authenticity: as far as possible, the actual duration of the musical performance is taken into account; the listener is in a genuine temporal dimension (hence some long tracks) and not just presented with a sampling of short extracts. The impression of monotony that often arises from listening to a relatively long piece gives way, after a while, to a richer and more intense level of perception.
*Composer, pianist and musicologist, Charles Duvelle is a pioneer recorder and publisher of traditional music. The founder and director of the Ocora collection, he has effected, over a period of some four decades, many recordings and photographs of music and dance in different regions of the world. His publications have earned him several awards both in France and abroad, notably the Grands Prix of the Academie du Disque Francais, of the Academie Charles Cros, of the Institut de Musicologie and the Premier Prix of the first World Festival of Negro Art. His favourite area is African music, of which he is one of the finest specialists.
Track 01 Malaki
Nkento wa lembo mwana (when a woman has no child, she can sleep soundly) is played during a malaki, a ceremonial cessation of mourning that usually takes place three or four years after the death. The matanga, on the other hand, is a different celebration, taking place only five or six months after death. The soloist, Albert Moupepe, known as spring (the spiral sort), is answered by a male chorus accompanied by the following instrumental ensemble: several bitsatsa, rattles made from tin cans (shaken by the singers); a mother-drum ngoma-nguidi, the skin fixed by nails, played by Vindu; a child-drum (smaller than the preceding) ngoma-mwana, played by Matoumpama. The bwanga is performed by dancing couples.
Track 02 Complaint
Gabriel Bassoumba sings a lament, in the course of which he says, “I should rather be a beetle than a man. Nobody disturbs the beetle when he is up a palm tree, and his carapace protects him. Everyone has a family, but not I. One day I shall end up devoured by jackals.” He accompanies himself on the nsambi kinzonzolo, a five-stringed raffia bow lute.
Track 03 Wara
Genevieve Mpofo sings on the theme of the childless woman who can sleep soundly. She sings in alternation with a mixed chorus, and is accompanied by an instrumental ensemble comprising: a single skin ngoma-ngudi mother drum; a ngoma-mwana child drum, smaller than the preceding.
Track 04 Massikulu
Longo wa longo is the title of this massikulu, a type of music played solely on the death of a notability. The orchestra consists of: seven horizontal ivory horns, covered with rattan weaving, some of them also having a cylindrical wooden bell (in order of decreasing size: 1 vunda, 1 landi, 1 sasa, 2 tangui, 2 zenze); one bugle; two double-skin kettledrums. Almost spherical in form, each kettledrum comprises a wooden body, the opening of which is covered by an antelope skin, stretched by real rattan weaving enclosing almost the whole body of the instrument and joined at the other extremity to a second, smaller antelope skin covering the lower part of the kettledrum. Of slightly different sizes, the kettledrums are called sikulu (the master, with the higher pitch) and tuta (with the lower pitch).
The first part is played by the instrumental ensemble and is followed by a passage sung by the men accompanied by drums and hand-clapping. A final instrumental section precedes another vocal passage.
Track 05 Song and Nsambi
Thomas Sissia sings with three other men and accompanies himself on the nsambi, a bow lute with four liana strings. The other accompanying instruments are a tsatsa tin-can rattle, and a bottle that is struck with a stick (replacing the old nongi double bell), to which are added hand-clapping and a whistle.
This is the story of a priest who, while preaching virtue, has slept with a woman and made her pregnant: “what is the point of preaching if one does not do as one recommends to others?”
Track 06 Bulombi
Music in the ngoma ntela style (literally, drums played upright), bulombi (blackness) is performed on the occasion of a malaki, a cessation of mourning. A male voice intones the first phrase while a mixed chorus responds, accompanied by a group of drums and kitsatsa tin-can rattles. The main drum, called ngoudi (mother), is roughly cylindrical, its upper part being covered with a skin held in place with wooden nails, and its lower part partly blocked by the cut of the cask (the diameter of the opening is about half that of the upper section). The centre of the membrane is covered with a wax paste that serves to regulate, by its greater or lesser weight, the vibrating frequency of the skin. Thedrummer carries on each wrist a small, spherical rattle called ntsala, made from a gourd containing dried seeds that is transfixed by a wooden handle through which a string passes. During performance, the seeds rattle inside the gourds, producing a continual rustling that complements the sounds of the drum. The two other drums are called ntambou. They are cylindrical, with nailed skins, but have no wax in the centre of the membrane.
Track 07 Bi Witi
Bi-witi is music rarely heard today. It was not possible to determine the precise meaning of this music, or the circumstances in which it is traditionally played. It is apparently linked to ancestor worship and, according to some, to funerary rites. The ensemble consists of six horns, four of which represent a person: mampongui-nguembo (the father), nsoni-boungu (the mother), lembe-nsoni (the daughter), mpandi-nsoni (the son). Each horn is sculpted from the block, the air column being inside the part representing the body; the mouthpiece is situated in the back, between the two arms. The first three horns are held vertically, the fourth (mpandi-nsoni) horizontally. The two other horns are horizontal, made from the roots of the wild flame tree. They are of different sizes, the larger being mpolomono, the other kinku.
(NB: This post is to be 'reconstructed' soon)