Blog October 21, 2022
Congolese Band Leader (Orchestre Veve) and Cornerstone Georges "Verckys" Kiamuangana Has Passed Away

Verckys Kiamuangana Mateta Georges passed away Oct. 13 in Kinshasa at age 78.

The Congolese recording studio/label owner and saxophonist was born in Kisantu, Congo-Kinshasa May 19, 1944.

Verckys was the son of a prosperous Congolese businessman, who first came to prominence as a member of the famed O.K. Jazz. He had mastered the flute and clarinet early in life and graduated to saxophone while playing in a combo at a church run by followers of Congolese prophet Simon Kimbangu. While still a teenager, he made his professional debut in Paul "Dewayon" Ebengo's Conga Jazz, then moved up to O.K. Jazz in 1963. Verckys played an energetic sax, tinged with American rhythm and blues. His volatile solos, although generally uncredited on the records, distinguished the band's mid-sixties period and earned Verckys the accolade "man with lungs of steel."

Contributions generally regarded as Verckys' include the solos on "Polo," "Bolingo ya Bougie," and "Ngai Marie Nzoto Ebeba." He also wrote one of the band's better-known songs "Oh Madame de la Maison" (Mrs. of the house), about a housewife coping with temptation.

 In 1969, Verckys left O.K. Jazz to launch his own band Orchestre Vévé. The group included up-and-coming singers Matadidi "Mario" Mabele, Marcel "Djeskain" Loko, and Bonghat "Sinatra" Tshekabu, who would go on to form the immensely popular Trio Madjesi a few years later. Orchestre Vévé recorded an extensive body of work in the early '70s, including the Verckys composition "Nakomitunaka" (I ask myself) from 1972, one of Congolese music's best-known songs. "Nakomitunaka" was Verckys's rather bitter response to the Catholic church's opposition to Congo-Kinshasa (Zaire) President Mobutu's authenticity campaign.

 Once Orchestre Vévé was successfully launched, Verckys began to branch into other areas of the business. He signed established bands including Les Grands Maquisards and Bella Bella to his new Vévé label and helped others, like Empire Bakuba and Lipua Lipua, get their start. Verckys opened Kinshasa's most modern recording studio in 1972 and an elaborate headquarters and entertainment complex called Vévé Centre in 1978. He also served a term as president of the musicians union (UMUZA) succeeding Franco at the end of 1978. Increasingly occupied with business activities, Verckys found less and less time for performing, and his Orchestre Vévé gradually disintegrated.

In the '80s, Verckys helped start bands of the younger generation including Langa Langa Stars, Victoria Eleison, and Anti-Choc. He opened a record pressing plant in Kinshasa in 1984, but pirate cassettes and the country's crashing economy had already broken vinyl's marketplace dominance, rendering the enterprise a failure. Verckys laid the groundwork for an ultimately unsuccessful career in politics in the early '90s when it briefly appeared as if democracy might take root in Congo-Kinshasa. He continued to operate his recording studio, although most established musicians had left the devastated country.

 Verckys was an enormously talented musician who, as a side man and leader, made substantial contributions the Congolese rumba. Nevertheless, Verckys's business ventures overshadowed his musical offerings, his methods often subject to gossip and accusation. Some credited his rapid rise to the fruits of contraband trafficking, a charge he always denied. Others claim that the groups he started were often built from the Verckys-induced wreckage of established bands. Although he ranks along with Franco and Tabu Ley as one of the music's leading entrepreneurs, he remains a controversial figure.

With O.K. Jazz: Franco, Vicky et L'OK Jazz (Sonodisc CD36521) sixties recordings reissued 1992; Franco et L'OK Jazz (Sonodisc CD36522) sixties recordings reissued 1992; Franco, Kwamy, Vicky et l'OK Jazz (Sonodisc CD36555) sixties recordings reissued 1996; Franco, Vicky et l'OK Jazz (Sonodisc CD36586) sixties recordings reissued 1998.
With Orchestre Vévé: Compilations Orchestres Zairois (Sonodisc CD36537) '60s recordings reissued 1993; The Best Collection (Sonodisc CD8478) '70s recordings reissued 1990; Verckys & Le Vévé (Sonodisc CD36599) sixties and '70s recordings reissued 1998; Vintage Verckys (RetroAfric RETRO15CD) 2001—a perhaps easier to find reissue of tracks from previously released Sonodisc compilations cited above.

Verckys & Veve discography:

. Lonoh, Essai de commentaire sur la musique congolaise moderne (Kinshasa, 1969); C. Stapleton & C. May, African All-Stars (London, 1987); G. Ewens, Congo Colossus (North Walsham, U.K., 1994); Manda Tchebwa, Terre de la Chanson (Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, 1996); G. Stewart, Rumba on the River (London and New York, 2000).

Reprinted courtesy of Gary Stewart, author of Rumba On the River: A History of the Popular Music of the Two Congos.

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