I'll always have plenty of reasons to be grateful for the friendship of Jenny Graf Sheppard, a sound artist best known around these parts for her roles in Metalux and Bride of No No, but today I feel like thanking her specifically for getting me first hooked on the music of Congolese legend Franco Luambo Makiadi. The first song she played for me, from a terrific 1993 anthology titled 1968/1971 (Sonodisc) that collected music he made with his killer band L'OK Jazz, clobbered me on first listen—and it's never failed to give me a lift since.
I have no idea what Franco is singing about on "Koun Koue! Edo Aboyi Ngai," though some online commenters have insisted it's a tribute to James Brown—maybe because of the lumbering funk groove that takes over during the second half of the song and some impressive shouting almost worthy of the Godfather of Soul. I'm not convinced, but it doesn't matter a whit whether it's a tribute or not. Franco recorded a bunch of songs that follow a loosely similar tack—they open on a lilting but propulsive Congolese rumba feel, with liquid guitars tracing the rhythmic patterns of Cuban son and a couple of singers slaloming through the groove with disarming, infectious ease, but then they switch things up. I'm not talking about a verse colliding with a chorus, but rather a song leaping the track into what feels like another tune entirely, the way Paul McCartney often did (e.g., "Live and Let Die"). There's an irresistible guitar transition, with rapidly strummed figures mirrored by wordless vocals, and the band digs into a loose funk groove, with tight horn stabs and increasingly intense, hectoring vocals. At the end of certain phrases the singer begins shouting, grunting, and moaning. I dare you not to be sucked in by the song's power. It's today's 12 O'Clock Track—check it out below.