Orchestre Centrafrican-Jazz is a band from Central African Republic.
The story of the ‘Bangui Rumba’ starts with the guitar player Prosper Mayélé. He grew up, in the 1940s, listening to the recordings of Wendo Kolosoy, Henri Bowane, Jhimmy Zacharie (whose mother was from the Oubangui-Chari region, now part of the CAR), Camille Feruzi and Leon Bukasa; the first generation of modern Congolese recording artists, and the founders of ‘modern’ Central African music. By the time he graduated from Bangui’s vocational school in 1954, with a degree in carpentry, he was already an impressive guitar player.
The young Prosper got a chance to prove his talents, in 1953, when one of his heroes, Joseph ‘le Grand Kallé’ Kabasele, came to Bangui to play the opening of the bar ‘Le Rex’. In need of a rhythm guitar player-the African Jazz’s ‘Dechaud, the great Dr. Nico’s brother, couldn’t make the trip to Bangui- Kallé hired Prosper for their New Year’s Eve gig, and was impressed with the results. Encouraged by Kallé‘s compliments, Prosper decided to start his own group. The ‘Tropical Jazz’, Bangui’s first ‘modern’ orchestra, was born in 1954, and for the next five years was the house band at ‘Le Rex’. In 1963, after a few years as the house band at the ‘Mbiye Bar’, a recording debut at ‘Radio Bangui’ (which was opened in 1958), and enough success to create some tensions, the group split in two. Prosper Mayélé‘s new band was ‘l’Orchestre Centrafrican Jazz’, and for the next eleven years they were the most popular group in the Central African Republic.
In 1964, singer and composer Dr. Wetch, considered one of the greatest lyricists of modern Central African music, moved to Bangui and became one of the lead vocalists of ‘l’Orchestre Centrafrican Jazz’. Dr. Wetch was with the group until they fell apart in 1974.
In the mid-seventies the orchestra’s glory days came to an end. The story goes that President Bokassa-soon to be emperor Bokassa- felt threatened by their popularity (he was supposedly particularly envious of Prosper) and pulled the plug. In 1976, Mayélé, who must have been at least in his late thirties by then, was conscripted into the army and assigned to the ‘Commando Jazz’, a military orchestra that was under Bokassa’s thumb. Prosper Mayélé passed away on 12 October 1997.
About 15 years ago, along with ‘Mimox’ another original member of the group, Dr. Wetch reformed the ‘Centrafrican Jazz’.
This 1966 single features two tracks recorded in the studios of Radio Bangui, and released on the ‘Disques France-Afrique’ label; a label that belonged to Herve Victor Lejuste, a Franco-Caribbean who arrived in Bangui during the colonial era and left in 1972. The b-side is an instrumental (Dents Blanches et Tam-Tam) that features Prosper Mayélé’s guitar playing. Over a rhythm that he calls the ‘Lingbonga’, Prosper plays a series of muted riffs that bring to mind the traditional harps or xylophones of the Central African Republic.