Papa Wemba Mwana Molokai: First 20 Years 1977-1997

Sometimes getting it half right is better than nothing at all. Papa Wemba had never really done it for me, having heard him from the late ’80s onward. The ebullient vocalist’s style of cheery soukous seemed very slickly produced and too eager to please. He has been a perfect candidate for world music marketing initiatives, although he continues to command respect in the Congo. This two-disc compilation dedicates its entire first half to his material between 1977 and ’83, before his music started to suffer under stifling production. These early recordings are all raw sound quality and non-stop guitar insistence. One can fully understand the impact he had as musicians of his generation swept aside the more gentle rumba groups popular up to that time. He was like a one-man new wave machine, always fashion conscious and aimed to the young. This first disc is essential listening. Each song clocks in at seven minutes plus and the terrible but compelling sound quality mastered from seven-inch singles and impossible to find albums cannot fail to impress: it sounds like a revolution. Even to someone who doesn’t know anything about the circumstances that produced this raw and sizzling guitar attack would not fail to be bowled over by "Mere Superieure" and "Analengo." Disc two contains some agreeable tracks such as "Esclave," but the repeat play is all about disc one. (Stern's)