Imagine sitting in a dark and dusty room with warped logs and nail holes on both the roof and walls providing beams of light as thoughts randomly try to find space in your existence. Or that long drive on a winding stretch, where your mind wonders intermittently, but being kept awake with chewing gum and the window slightly cracked open? That feeling where you are lost in the rawness of nature, carefree and so much alive? Well, that is the feeling you get when you hit play on that Orchestre Sim-Sim International music, albeit with the desire to discover.
This Congolese band provides unobtrusive, subtle, and nonconformist music, not so familiar to every pop-loving or even to the musically exposed, either in the current world or that of 37 years ago when they came together to record this album.
I was recently introduced to Orchestre Sim-Sim International’s “Nasiwedi” album, and my first reaction was pure satisfaction. Not only because of how the music sounded but the picture I drew from my listening experience; it was as if I was in the studio and there were a bunch of these odd-looking, ruggedly dressed, carefree individuals with a refined sense of simplicity and finesse. You know, those kinds of guys you would have fun hanging around, not to learn anything from them parse but just to enjoy their company and share fine foods and drinks with as time lapses on those uneventful Sunday evenings. The album feels like these lads are in an improv session, trying to experiment and get the feel of their various arrangements before they get to the actual thing.
“Nasiwedi,” recorded in Kinshasa on August 11, 1985, is a collection of 8 acoustic songs. “Nakupenda,” one of the songs, is done in Swahili, this one I could actually get what they were going on about, a love expression. Not so much is said lyrically, a short song with repetitive pleadings for love; the rest are either in Lingala or their indigenous tongues. “Sekele,” “Mio Nsamu.” Have more of that usual dance style, in between varying styles popular with sound from East Africa and Central Africa. Still heavy on percussions and acquainted Congolese guitar plucks with that smartly done indolent theme on almost the entire project.
When this album was officially released in Europe in 1986, at least in the pop-sphere, Congolese music was filled with upbeat electric guitars, dominated by the likes of Franco’s TPOK Jazz, Tabuley, and other big names. This particular album is different; it is like a call from the other world, the largely ignored center of that special force only interpreted by the originators of this particular musical approach, the one and only Orchestre Sim-Sim International.
The band of musicians was put together by Nsimba Vuvu, a long-time associate of the late legendary Cameroonian musician and Soul Makossa master Manu Dibango. Vuvu had just returned home to Congo a few years before this release and set up a small studio to work with several young artists; he released dozens of works. He was later published in Europe with International Sim Sim – Plainisphare Zone 4 Disc from Central Africa.
On the “Nasiwedi” release, Vuvu played the horns specifically, the sax-alto and tenor, and flute, and he also did vocals.
Other artists on the record include vocalists Mbongo Zamambu, Djo Lutring Matundu-Tanda Berry Bebel, Tukunda Michaux, Mpeblele-Ngyese, and Brain Star. Tanfum Fidele is on the guitar solo, Ndombe Leya and Petite Jean are on guitar accompaniment, Ikaku Bart is on the bass guitar, and Koko Kalabay and Biasi Biasi play the tenor saxophone. The percussion section is enriched by Nsimba Franchard, Bosselle Kole Colin, and Coco Mukala.