Njembe Gwet Paulemond – Paulemond a Ye Nsinga Ndinga

April 27, 2008

There are approximately 286 different languages spoken in Cameroon. It’s impossible to guess what percentage of those languages have been represented on vintage 78rpm records. Most of the Cameroonian 78s I’ve found have been in Duala language. Today’s post features some vintage African pop in the Basaa (or Bassa) language, which is actually spoken in greater numbers than Duala.

The label Opika was based in the Belgian Congo, and is equally as important as the Congolese labels Ngoma and Loningisa, and just as rewarding to track down. Amazing African pop, guitar, rumba, and ethnographic recordings from both Congo and Cameroon (as well as high-life in Ghana) were released on Opika. This small label was started ca. 1949 by two brothers from the Greek island of Rhodes, Gabriel Moussa Benetar and Joseph Benetar. The name “Opika” came from “opika pende” in Lingala, a phrase meaning “stand firm.”

It’s not clear from my research how long Opika lasted as a company, but probably not much further than the mid- to late 1950s. However, in a very brief period of time, they and their competitor labels left one of the most amazing musical legacies of Africa. These were small labels run by immigrants who truly enjoyed the region’s music. They wanted to fill a void, they wanted to record the best of a variety of local talent, and they succeeded (although it remains to be seen how much the artists were paid for their work). According to a quote from Rumba on the River, Gary Stewart’s fantastic history of Congolese popular music, 600,000 discs a year were being sold in the region in the early 1950s.

I could find zero information on Njembe Gwet Paulemond (or Gwet Paulemond Njembe, if you westernize the name), but the aforementioned Rumba on the River contains the best history written so far about those early years in Brazzaville/Kinshasha.

Njembe Gwet Paulemond – Paulemond a Ye Nsinga Ndinga

Technical Notes
Label: Opika
Issue Number: 1949
Matrix Number: Part 25978 (M3 164630)

11 Responses to “Njembe Gwet Paulemond – Paulemond a Ye Nsinga Ndinga”

  1. Andrea said

    Oh, I love this kind of stuff, what a great record. Given the history of the label you discuss, and time they were in business, is there any way to know when this was recorded?

  2. JW said

    Not exactly – at least not as far as my knowledge goes. I’m pretty sure there exists zero paperwork for any of the Congolese labels, though one may be able to piece together a reasonable Opika discography gleaning information solely from existing paper sleeves which advertised their other releases. I would guess this stems from 1953-1955…it’s a fairly high number in their catalog.

  3. AmbroseBierce said

    Just discovered your blog – wonderful treasures here! Thanks a lot for opening them up for us. It’s a pity though that many of your early uploads are gone.

  4. JW said

    Thanks for stopping by! Had to lose the earlier tracks like most all other mp3 blogs do, because of high bandwidth usage. They may be back in the relatively near future, under a whole new platform. I will definitely make an announcement if and when that occurs.

  5. WoW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I just discovered your site. I’m writing an entry about it on my blog IMMEDIATELY. I love the concept and I cannot wait to dig through your selections! Lovely!

  6. JW said

    Many thanks – hope you continue to stop by!

  7. Ian Nagoski said

    man, I’d love to see any information on the Greek owners of the label? Funny that the name sounds so much like “opa!” Some day we’ll see at least a semi-demi-quasi discographical listing of Opika, largely to your credit, I’m sure.
    Anyway, a total jewel of a track. Really one of the highlights of your site, to my ears…
    thanks,
    ian

  8. JW said

    Thanks, Ian! Glad you’re digging it.

  9. yves francois said

    hello JW (WOW is right regarding your site)
    I thought that I would let you know that this Opika 78 has a very well known musician for Congolese music. Evidently this was recorded in Kinshaha about 1954 and the sax player is listed on the record: Issac Musekiwa (It could not be too much earlier, since he came into town around 1953, he was from the eastern parts of Africa). Issac was with Kasabele and Nico in the early reaches of African Jazz (Opika era), but when Opkia folded and most of the African Jazz musicians teamed up with Essous Jean Serge et all to record “Baila” (Esengo, also in the Europe reissued on Columbia, usually under the moniker “Rock A Mambo”, a band that first made records then got a name), Issac saw an opportunity to become the main reed player in OK Jazz, Franco’s band (Essous just left in 1957), sort of musical chairs, have other early lp reissues of Kalle from about this era (acoustic instead of electric guitars is usually a cue that it was recorded before 1955 in Kin la belle)from Opika archives, BTW Issac can be heard on numerous OK Jazz records (“Ah Senor” being my all time favourite, he has an incredible solo on that one, was reissued by Sonodisc on the CD “Franco et OK Jazz 1958/62″), well all the best and nice to hear various world musics I like so much
    Yves Francois

  10. JW said

    Greetings Yves –

    Thanks for checking in! Thanks also for mentioning Issac Musekiwa. I have at least one other Opika 78 which credits Musekiwa. Also, that’s very interesting that the record was recorded in Kinshasha, despite the fact that it’s in Opika’s Cameroon series and in Bassa.

    Esengo and “Rock-A-Mambo” is wonderful; I am familiar with the music, in fact, the music from this region is some of my favorite African music, period.

    Regarding the dates: it would be later than 1954, I believe, as Opika’s 1955 sleeves are advertising records listed only in the 1800 range. So, I belive this would have been released 1955-1956, specifically, as the catalog number here is 1949. Around this time, Opika seemed to be recording quite heavily, so it could easily be 1955 for sure, but I’d be surprised if it was before.

  11. NJEMBE PIERRE said

    Fanstastic

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