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Zaire74 The African Artists: Various Artists (Wrasse Records) Out now



5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)



Sport and music often goes hand in hand. In this case, it goes glove in glove, so to speak. In the autumn of 1974, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman met in Kinshasa, Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to fight for the world heavyweight title.

Foreman was the undefeated world heavyweight champion, the challenger was Ali, a former heavyweight champion. The bout was held at 4am local time on 30th October 1974, delayed from the scheduled September date after Foreman sustained a cut eye from a sparring partner. The fight was held in a stadium and attracted 60,000 fight fans. Beamed around the world on TV screens in many countries. Ali won by a knockout in the eighth round. It was hailed as the greatest sporting event of the 20th Century.

Before the fight that was dubbed “The Rumble In The Jungle”,  there was a three-night music festival, Zaire 74, which included performances by James Brown, Celia Cruz and the Fania All-Stars, B.B. King, Miriam Makeba, The Spinners, Bill Withers, The Crusaders and Manu Dibango, as documented in the 2008 film “Soul Power”.

Many major US artists shared the stage with the biggest African artists of that time, from the Congo and beyond.  Many of the performances from the festival are also included in the 1996 Academy Award winning documentary feature film, “When We Were Kings,” but sadly the African artists are mainly left out. So this new 34-track collection is a really exciting release; the never before heard recordings of the African artists that appeared at this historic event.

These “long lost recordings” have been forgotten about for 43 years, and really are  a joy to hear. Sounding fresh and relevant; vibrant, energetic and infectious performances by the most iconic figures of the so-called “golden age” of the music of The Congo, appearing in front of an adoring audience of more than 50,000 fans.

Recorded on state of the art equipment by African trumpet legend Hugh Masekela and British producer Stewart Levine, the tapes were recently re-discovered and mixed. The set was produced by Stewart and Hugh, and mixed by Sunny Levine. The two-CD package comes with a superb 32-page booklet. Also available in a 3-LP vinyl release.

Complete sets by Franco and T.P. O.K. Jazz, Tabu Ley Rochereau and Afrisa, Abeti Masikini, Abumba Masikni and band, Orchestre Stukas and Pembe Dance Troupe. The cream on the cake of this two-disc package, is a magical set of four songs from “Mama Africa”, the great Miriam Makeba, at the very height of her powers. A truly mesmerising slice of fabulous-ness. She delivers “Umqhokozo”, “Mobutu Praise Song”, “West Wind” and “Amampondo”.

One of the finest and most remarkable live albums in the history of African music. World music at its very finest, many years before the genre was even thought about. A bloody travesty that these wondrous musicians and their talents were ignored and rejected for so many years. Big props to Hugh, Stewart, Sonny and Wrasse Records for putting this out there at long last. Just in time for the perfect summer soundtrack…


By Simon Redley



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