See ya soon, Radu
«In the nineteen-seventies, many quality recordings of classic Congolese bands were issued in the AFRICAN 360 series, distributed by SonoDisc of Paris. […] The lack of recording information, beyond titles and composers of songs and occasionally licensing, frustrates any attempts at scholarship but foregrounds the music, which is consistently great. The attitude of the label was very much like that seen in the “Colonie Belge” genre of Congolese paintings which showed the superior whites treating the Africans like wayward children, humiliating and punishing them. […] This brutal attitude even permeates the music where the 360 series was concerned. A fragile and rare treasure of the world's music was bungled, mishandled and tossed off by the French publishers. Clearly they didn't give un crotte.
The oldest archive of Congolese music in Europe (dating from the 1950s) belonged to Editions Ngoma, who recorded in Léopoldville but pressed their records in France. According to (Congolese music historian/biographer) Vincent Luttman, around 1961 Fonior (a subsidiary of the Decca Records empire) began issuing 45s of the orchestra African Jazz on Decca for European and African (non-Congolese) release. This deal was set up by Grand Kalle – where Fonior paid for and held the recordings, but granted Kalle license for release in Congo under his own editions label “Surboum AJ”. The European- and Congolese-pressed editions differed, using different artwork and catalogue numbers throughout. Around 1963-65 Decca also began reissuing some of these 45T as a series of 4 track 45T EPs. At this time the only artists to appear on the European editions produced by Fonior/Decca were African Jazz, OK Jazz, African Fiesta, Loup Jazz and Pierre Rasins (Antilles-based artist).
By 1967-8 Fonior (by then semi-independent of Decca) were distributing Congolese records on many smaller Congolese labels (Editions Boboto, Paka Siye, etc) and these later became the mainstay of the early African 45T catalogue (being repressed and re-issued as the 90xxxx 45T series from around 1968-ish on. These re-issues were primarily made for European-Francophone markets and African (non-Congo) distribution.
The 360 series of LP releases began to appear from around 1966-67 (the first ten releases only – with the series beginning properly from around 1969), and were either LP's licensed directly from Congolese labels (see Izeidi below) or were compiled (in later releases) from previously licensed 45Ts taken from the labels 90 series.
When the once mighty Ngoma label collapsed in the early 1970s, Fonior secured the rights to their catalogue and began integrating previous Ngoma product into their African (LP & 45T) series, repackaging them and issuing them with new Editions African 90xxx or 360xxx catalogue numbers.
The African 360 series of LPs also added to their catalog from the (Fonior-owned) Fiesta label. Fiesta was begun in the early 1970's (1971-73) and concentrated on releasing non-Congolese 33T including a number of Camerounian artists (Manu Dibango's Soul Makossa being their most famous 45T). Congolese artists however did sometimes appear on editions Fiesta 45T (as did a number of Middle-Eastern artists) including many works by both OK Jazz (licensed from Franco's Editions Populaire) and Negro Succes.
As stated above, back in 1961 Decca licensed their Congolese recordings to Fonior in Brussels for sale in Belgium. Fonior also sometimes pressed records for Loningisa and Esengo. According to Gary Stewart, in Rumba On The River, the technically superior Fonior studios in Brussels became the site of pilgrimage for African artists, beginning with Kalle and African Jazz, with whom Manu recorded his first sessions. The musicians would go into the studio and work until they had recorded over forty songs. Some had already been composed, but a great many were written in the studio. Manu's biography (7 Kilos Of Coffee) gives a unique account of this spontaneous composition and recording process. The pay for 40 songs was usually about $200 to share among band members who would sometimes collapse from hunger or fatigue during these long, arduous sessions.
As the 1960's progressed into the 1970s, the once profitable Decca recording empire began to decline. By the mid-1970s the decline became terminal. Fonior struggled on, licensing product from the 'new wave' of Congolese artists (Veve, Zaiko, LipuaLipua, Stukas, etc) as well as retaining links with the old guard (Franco/Rochereau/Izeidi, etc), but by the late 1970s the African catalogue already contained many gaps. The production of African 45T seems to have ended around 1978, although the LP series continued. In those later years poor pressing/mastering facilities also meant that when 45T records were pressed/repressed there were many faulty discs – this probably accounts for the decline and abandon of the 45T singles catalogue. Finally Fonior went into bankruptcy in 1981 and its entire catalogue was purchased by Sonodisc for a nominal fee.
Sonodisc was formed in 1970 by two former employees of Ngoma (the Congolese label that operated a pressing plant in France), Marcel Perse and Michel David. They left Ngoma with contacts and even recordings but mainly acted as distributors of Umm Kalthum records from Egypt and some from the Caribbean. When the Fonior catalogue went to Sonodisc for a pittance, Franco, Tabu Ley & Verckys sued to regain control over their recordings but were over-ruled in court. Token payments were made to them, but no other African artist ever received a sou for their music which was now in the hands of Sonodisc. […]
The AFRICAN 360 series has two main sub-categories: L'Afrique Danse and Les Merveilles du Passé. Both focus on mid-60s to mid-70s Zairean popular music. There is also a 425 series of modern releases. […] The mainstays of the AFRICAN 360 catalogue are, naturally enough, the most popular artists from Congo (Zaire): "Franco" (Luambo Makiadi), "Docteur Nico" (Kassanda wa Mikalay), "Rochereau" (Tabu Ley Pascal), Kiamuangana Verckys, and Camerounian multi-instrumentalist Manu Dibango.» (Muzikifan – click for much more!)
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