Les Belgicains - Na Tango Ya Covadia 1964-70 | A compilation by Covadia Records

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Les Belgicains - Na Tango Ya Covadia 1964-70 | A compilation by Covadia Records

Hello Steve and thank you for this inteview!
Could you first tell us about the Covadia label and your respective careers?
Covadia is founded in 1964 by Nikiforos ‘Niki’ Cavvadias in Brussels. Niki, born in Ethiopia, ends up in Congo in 1940 after wandering through Greece, Egypt and Italy. After the death of his brother-in-law Nicolas Jeronimidis, founder of the Ngoma label, Nikiforos takes up the position of editor and producer at the same label. Ngoma paves the way for the major success of Congolese stars such as Léon Bukasa and Antoine Wendo Kolosoy. Due to the political instability in Congo, Niki moves to Belgium with his wife in 1964 to join their two sons who were studying there since 1960. Upon arrival, he immediately starts looking for young, talented musicians in Belgium who want to sign with his new label Covadia. It doesn't take long before he notices the Congolese student orchestras, such as Los Nickelos and Yéyé National.

A couple of years ago Paul, son of Nikiforos, and me decided to re-release tracks of the Covadia catalogue under the same label name. We are convinced this story of Niki and Les Belgicains needs to be told!

What was your inspiration behind the "Les Belgicains" compilation, and how did the idea for this wonderful project come about?
Since 2007 I am an event organizer in Mechelen, Belgium. One day a friend proposed to book a DJ duo Celeste/Mariposa from Lisbon, Portugal. Their aim is to promote music from the former African Portuguese colonies. Their energy and dedication were contagious to me, and they gave me the inspiration to do something similar for Congolese music. I realized quickly rumba and soukous already have a big popularity with music enthousiasts all over the world, so it took some time to figure out what I could add to its history. 

I’m an avid vinyl collector of Belgian productions, as many other Belgian collectors. 10 years ago, a big collection of Congolese 45s was offered for sale to me. It was the first time I had releases of the Covadia label in my hands. They drew my attention. These were the only releases in the collection with clear references to Belgium. As a bonus they had nice picture sleeves, which is typical for Europe (and especially for Belgium), but very rare for Congolese 45s. My research started at that point, but nobody could give me a lot of background information on the label, bands or the producer... I became a bit obsessed to find out the story behind this label. And that drive only became more intense when I realized most Belgian vinyl collectors that I talked to were not really interested in the music of our former colony. This was the gap in the documented history of Congolese rumba and Soukous I had to fill!

How did you go about selecting the songs and artists for this album? Was there a specific theme or vision behind the compilation?
I did the selection of the tracks with a very personal approach. Every song contains something that is appealing to me. The harmony of the singing in Echantillon Salukani of Los Nickelos, the guitar solos of Djulian N'damvu Douglas on the three tracks of Orchestre Afro Negro, the popular latin theme of the song Gozalo Mulata by Carlos Lembe, etc. On the other hand, it was important for me that every band of the catalogue is represented on this compilation. I want to bring a full objective story of this chapter in Congolese music.

How would you describe the mix of musical styles present on the "Les Belgicains" album, and what were the objectives in merging these different genres?
People often refer to Congolese music with the general term Congolese Rumba. For me personally it is very unclear what that is. It encapsulates a lot of different styles and influences. In the 1950s and 60s the influence was coming from Latin American styles like Bolero, Cha Cha Cha, Merengue and Pachanga. Besides that, you have the distinct Congolese sound that will evolve into Soukous in the 1970s and 80s. 

Our compilation became so versatile in a very natural way. Great benefit is that this is appealing to a lot of music lovers with different tastes!

What were the main difficulties or challenges encountered in creating this compilation? Were there any memorable moments or interesting anecdotes to share?
A lot of compilations are available on the market today and a lot of things have been said about music history in general. Sometimes it seems like everything has been told about the past. But this compilation shows this is not the case! I had the luck to unearth a hidden, almost 60 year old music catalogue. I did not have to travel to Kinshasa, nor did I have to move the world to gather all the recordings. Finding Paul, my partner in this project and the son of Nikiforos, is one of those memorable moments for me. I was excited for months after our first contact!

Listening to the recordings for the first time moved me to tears. It was so unreal to hear these beautiful, fragile recordings that were unheard for so many years. And it made me proud that I could unleash these creations to a wider audience as a tribute to amateur artists unknown outside Congo. We cannot ignore the fact that ‘Les Belgicains’ made a craze in their home country during the 1960s.

Both for Paul, my partner, and me the record business is a completely new world. There are a lot of challenges when you make a record for the first time: making the selection (am I selecting the right tracks?), remastering of the tracks (am I not going too far from the original recording?), the album design and choosing the album title in this time of ‘wokeness’, creating our marketing strategy (what is the best time to launch the album?)… And you know what: we had to let go rationality and trust our gut feeling. Not every decision is the best when it comes to having the best sales numbers, but we created a strong and timeless compilation for music enthusiasts.

Nice fact: the mastering of this compilation is done by sound engineer Dan Lacksman, synthesizer pioneer and member of the band Telex, where he played alongside Marc Moulin. Dan enjoyed his sound engineer training from Roger Verbestel who in his turn made the original recordings for Covadia!

Where and in what format is the album available?
The compilation'Les Belgicains – Na Tango Ya Covadia 1964-1970' is available in a deluxe edition with gatefold cover (1LP) + insert or a CD with a 24-page booklet. Both editions contain the story of 'Les Belgicains' and the Covadia label, with unique photos of the original orchestras. All music has been remastered from the original master tapes, except for Suena Suena which was directly recorded from an original 45 provided by the kind people of Planet Ilunga. It is available via our bandcamp page and slowly but surely it is finding its way to independent record stores all over the world. Talk about it with your local store. They can get our release via The Pusher Distribution (Paris).

Are there any similar projects or other musical compilations planned in the future for the Covadia label?
The intention is to re-release other productions of the Covadia catalogue. There is still interesting and unreleased work waiting to be released. We also dream of working with newer artists as well and continue the work of Nikiforos Cavvadias. 

So better keep an eye open for what is coming!

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