22 Oct 2021



Le grand Bokelo inimitable

'Un grand Monsieur de chez nous! Tu le vois chez lui assis sur l'avenue Kisaku comme s'il n'etait pas aussi grand en afrique..un homme simple et tres calme. Merci a toi Papa Jean Bokelo pour ton heritage musical.' -Denis Imbolo Yolinga

'A great man from our country, you can see him at home sitting on Kisaku Avenue as if he wasn't so great in Africa, a simple and very calm man. Thank you Papa Jean Bokelo for your musical heritage.' -Denis Imbolo Yolinga

International De Bokelo

'In the 1970’s & 1980’s, Nairobi, Kenya became the Mecca of African Pop World. Not only were the local stars drawing the crowds to the new night club’s scene, but bands coming from Tanzania and Zaire (Congo D.R.C) were also pulling big crowds onto every dance floor especially at week-ends and holidays.

From Tanzania, the likes of Orchestra Mangelepa, Milimani Park, Afro 70, Western Jazz, Jamhuri Jazz, Dar es Salaam Jazz, Nuta Jazz, held away.

Out of Zaire came Baba Gaston (Ilunga Wa Ilunga), Moreno Batamba, Monimambo, and Orchestra Shika Shika, plus of course the giants of them all Orchestra Super Mazembe. Some of the Zaire contingents stayed for a while, others came in for short tours. These others included the giants of Lingala, Rumba; Franco, Tabu Ley and Johnny Bokelo, not to be out done by Franco and Tabu Ley who were both contracted to the International label, Polygram. Johnny opened his own label ‘Editions Bokelo in conjunction with top local record producers-A.I. RECORDS.

If you loved Franco and Tabu Ley, listen to International De Bokelo at their best!' -Yule Dark

Nostalgie du Zaïre. Une célébrité artistique incontestable: on a pas besoin d'être congolais pour apprécier les talents de Johnny Bokelo.

'An undeniable artistic celebrity: you don't have to be Congolese to appreciate the talents of Johnny Bokelo.'

Jean 'Johnny' Bokelo Isenge was born in the (late) 1930s in then Congo Belge outside Leopoldville as a younger brother of Paul 'Dewayon' Isengo. Bokelo died in 1995.

1950s to early 1960s
Dewayon himself had a group called Watam, where a twelve year old Franco as well as Bokelo started to play guitar in 1950. After playing in his brother's follow up bands, Conga Jazz and Orchèstre Cobantu, Johnny Bokelo formed in 1958 his own group, Orchestre Conga Succès which was joined by Dewayon in 1960. "Their songs followed the usual themes of love and death, but stood out musically as harder-edged, at times raucious." The brothers split "amicable" in 1962. "Bokelo continued to lead the musicians of Conga Succès, but with a self-restraint that smoothed out the sound and brought it even closer to Franco's. Bokelo's series of recordings entitled 'Mwambe' (No. 1, No. 2, etc.) voiced his concern with the direction society was taking." The musical styles of Bokelo, Dewayon and Franco remained close. "Many of Bokelo's own compositions sounded uncannily like Franco's, and he often continued the themes or replied to Franco's subject matter."

Late 1960s
In 1968 Johnny Bokelo renamed his group "Conga succès" "Conga 68" and he created his own label. As Gary Stewart tells the story, "the band members threatened to quit claiming they had received no money from the new venture." Many singles from this period had been released in France on the African label.

In the period from 1972 to 1974 Bokelo Isengo "spent most of the time running his recording studio." When during the second half of the 1970s the manufacturing facilities in Kinshasa became worse, Bokelo Isengo was one of those producers who went to Nairobi with master tapes and to press the records in Kenya for re-import to Zaire. He was among those artist who blamed Belge company Fonior who controlled the only pressing plant (MAZADIS) for the problems. "Bokelo insisted that 'we must re-examine the contracts binding us with Fonior which, in my opinion, are colonial-style. Because Fonior only looks after us when we are producing.'"

Orch Conga Internationale 'Nakupenda Sana' Ed. Nana

Categories 1977, AIT, Congo, Ed. Bonga, Kenya, Lingala7 

'To coincide with Soundway Records’ stunning new compilation Kenya Special: Selected East African Recordings from the 1970s & ‘80s we asked Soundway selector Fredrik Lavik to share his seven favourite Kenyan 45’s from the golden age of east African recording.' -Vinyl Factory

Words: Fredrik Lavik | Afro7.net

'My venture with Kenya music started in 2007 when I found a lost stock collection of dusty singles at a woman’s house just outside Mombasa. There must have been somewhere between 15,000 – 25,000 singles all piled on top of each other in three metre stacks. Now you can imagine the pain it was to start going through the whole lot; I would have to pull the stacks individually and scout the labels for familiar names. There were several logistical problems too. Firstly my needle was starting to crumble and secondly I had to get to Nairobi the next day to catch the flight home to Norway.

Fast forward to December 2010. For a hefty sum of money I bought the entire stock and had it shipped from Mombasa to Stavanger, on the west coast of Norway. This took four months… And it was with ambivalence that I received the lot on a Monday morning in April 2011. Had they survived the journey? Was it packaged properly?

Now fast forward another two years I can say it’s been a time consuming but rewarding process of washing, handling, sorting and recording the Kenyan 45’s. I DJ these sounds out in Finland and Norway and I’ve got my own blog Afro7.net on which I feature my new weekly finds. And then there’s this new compilation out on Soundway Records called Kenya Special which features tracks from this collection. It seems like the world is finally ready for the sounds coming out of Kenya in 70’s and 80’s.

Here are my seven favourite Kenyan 45’s that I feel present something unique and special.

Congo’s renowned Johnny Bokelo (on the right of the label) found times hard running his own studio in Kinshasa in the late seventies and had to travel to Nairobi with the master tapes to press and distribute his music from Kenya. It’s something a lot of other Congolese artists had already done and the music was as popular there as in their home country. This monster track runs for nearly 5 minutes and opens with funky base, guitar vamp and a killer horn breakdown. Sharpen your ears for the climax when the vocal effort and guitar soloing kicks in.' -Fredrik Lavik

Afro7.net: 'Johnny Bokelo, the counterpart of Congos renowned Franco Luambo had a belt of labels and groups during the seventies and eighties. Like many other Congolese musicians he went to Kenya to finance and release his music. In this case, the song “Nakupenda Sana” is sung in Swahili, meaning again “I love you ..” A tight guitar lick, thematic horns with a neat breakdown. Somewhat reminiscent of a Manu Dibango tune. If you heard it before it was booted with a bogus name on a French 70’ties lp called Kouloukoko du Zaire.'

1. Juliana 5:04
2. Napusi Kolinga 4:48
3. Nakitali Ngai Moko 9:57
4. Piny Owalo 5:04
5. Nakupenda Sana 4:45
6. Alice 4:31
7. Nzambe Yo Mokonzi 10:03
8. Mboka Mo Paya 10:31
9. Nazonga Mboka 10:05
10. Sambela Nzambe 9:55

Track 4 mystery AI Records benga track!