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Global Routes with Tony Burke: May 20, 2022

Seminal 1970s recordings by Gabon’s Orchestre Massako reissued

JEAN-CHRISTIAN Mboumba Mackaya (aka Mack-Joss) fronted Gabon’s Orchestre Massako from 1971 — when the armed forces formed their own band.

Aged 17, he was well known on Gabon’s nightlife scene having released the pan-African hit record Le Boucher/The Butcher.

Between 1968 and 1970 Mack-Joss and his Negro-Tropical recorded 45s at an open-air studio. In the late 1970s his Studio Mobile Massako was built and he would fly to France, with the master tapes in his hand luggage, press the records and ship them back to African distributors.

A dozen albums were recorded between 1978 and 1986, some featuring the king of Afro-Cuban music Amara Toure who hailed from Dakar, Senegal.

Searching for tracks for reissue on his Analog Africa reissue label Samy Ben Redjeb recalled: “The last time I heard Mack-Joss’s voice was in August 2016. We had spoken a few  times before — but on that particular day, I could hear gunshots being fired. Libreville, Gabon’s capital, was in turmoil following the re-election of president Ali Bongo.”

Ali Bongo and his corrupt father Omar Bongo who had ruled Gabon for 40 years is believed to have ripped off over £100 million (a conservative estimate) of Gabon’s assets and in October 2021, Bongo was named in the Pandora Papers leak.

In early January 2020, the Senate and National Assembly passed a constitutional reform that would allow the president (Ali Bongo) to appoint one-third of senators in place of elections.

Mack Joss had retired in 1996. “By the time I was ready to go ahead with the reissue project, Mack-Joss’s phone number had been disconnected. Shortly after I found out that he had passed away in 2018. I regretted that we hadn’t been able to be in touch after that tumultuous day,” says Samy Ben Redjeb.

Mack Joss’s music and songs occupy a special place with the Gabonese people and a new generation of musicians. This infectious four-track vinyl and download set by Orchestre Massako has two tracks with vocals by Amara Toure.  

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