The other day I stumbled across my copy of Zaïre-Ghana (RetroAfric), a sparkling 1993 CD collecting tracks that the remarkable Congolese band Zaïko Langa-Langa cut in 1976. I’ve been a fan of Congolese rumba since encountering the work of bandleader Francois Luambo Luanzo Makiadi (aka Franco) about 15 years ago, and as I broadened my awareness of the tradition, Zaïko Langa-Langa hit me with an immediacy that few bands could match. Formed in 1970, this upstart group had a more compact lineup and focused on a guitar-dominated sound, without the horn section that seemed ubiquitous in earlier Congolese pop.

I’m especially fond of the album’s bubbly, infectious opening cut, “Zaïko Wa Wa,” which is why I’ve chosen it as today’s 12 O’Clock Track. The tune opens with an ebullient melody and joyful group vocals, then moves into the sembene section that traditionally concludes a Congolese rumba tune—an extended opportunity for improvisation where the band gives the dancers what they want, settling into the more familiar rhythmic patterns of the genre after staking out its own turf during the first section. And as you can hear below, Zaïko Langa-Langa definitely marked its own territory.
Today’s playlist:

The Sebastians, Night Scenes From the Ospedale: Works by Honstein and Vivaldi (Soundspells Productions)
Michael Angelo, Michael Angelo (Anthology)
Mal Waldron, Left Alone (Bethlehem)
Jon Manasse, Jon Nakamatsu, and Clive Greensmith, Beethoven/Brahms/Weber (Harmonia Mundi)
Charles Tyler Ensemble, Charles Tyler Ensemble (ESP-Disk)