Album Review: VV.AA. – Zaire 74, The African Artists [Wrasse Records, 26th May 2017]

In 1974, Muhammed Ali fought George Foreman for the world heavyweight boxing championship. ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ took place in Kinshasa, Zaire (now DRC) and was preceded by a promotional, three-day festival of soul music, including major acts such as James Brown, Bill Withers, BB King and The Pointer Sisters. The fight was further immortalised in 1996, with the release of an award-winning documentary, When We Were Kings. The film’s soundtrack included much of the music from this concert, but almost fully excluded all of the amazing African artists who performed that day.

Zaire 74 – The African Artists is a joyous celebration of all of that music; sets by Congolese greats Tabu Ley Rochereau, Franco and T.P.O.K. Orchestra, as well as the legendary Miriam Makeba, simply drip with atmosphere. One can hear the murmurings of the audience in between songs and with local artists Tabu Ley and Franco, there’s rapturous applause to greet their musical heroes. They were so much more connected to their musicians than the superstars from America.

Electrifying soukous, afrobeat and funk courses through the whole album, with occasional interludes of tribal chanting and percussion and the magical sound of South Africa’s Mama Africa, Miriam Makeba and her unique brand of afro-folk and jazz, most notably with “West Wind”, where she can be heard calling upon the likes of Anwar Sadat and Colonel Gaddafi to “unify us”. Indeed, the entire event carried with it a heavy political edge, with many people unhappy that such an event was taking place at all, profiting as it did the then dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko.

‘Beautifully remastered from the long lost original tapes, Zaire 74 is an essential piece of listening for any lover of rootsy soukous and funk amid a notable period in African history. You can feel the heat through the music and the sounds of the revellers they entertained.

Just over a month before ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’, this was most definitely the rumba in the jungle.