Conjunto Merengue ‘Rufo da Liberdade’ (CDA/Merengue, 1975)
I hope you don’t mind coming back to Conjunto Merengue (in what is actually a three-peat, as the band was also featured in Avôzinho’s post), but I couldn’t think of a better way to welcome 2013 than with one of the all-time tightest Angolan ensembles celebrating Angola’s independence with “Rufo da Liberdade” (a lovely, smooth and joyous instrumental which can be roughly translated as “Freedom’s Drum Roll”). What an appropriate treat for the New Year!
As you know, sitting in with dozens of singers as the house band for CDA’s Merengue label, Conjunto Merengue was indeed a staple of Angolan modern popular music and, led by Carlos Vieira Dias, never faltered on its purpose to excel. In 1975 alone the group was heard on such landmark albums as David Zé’s “Mutudi ua Ufolo”, Teta Lando’s “Independência” and Carlos Lamartine’s “Angola Ano I”.
“Rufo da Liberdade” (issued by Merengue with ref# MPA-4033-CD, with ‘Nica’ as a b-side) displays a tremendous line-up: Carlitos arranging and on bass guitar, Zeca Tirilene on rhythm guitar, Gregório Mulato on the bongo drum, Joãozinho Morgado on tumba, Vate Costa on dikanza (bigger than the Brazilian reco-reco or the Latin-American güiro but with similar effects), Nando on trumpet (channeling his inner Mangione) and, last but not least, Zé Keno on solo guitar.
Zé Keno is the author of both of this single’s tracks and had a significant impact on the band since leaving Os Jovens do Prenda. Born circa 1950 on the Malange province, Keno was of the most distinct guitar players on a scene saturated with talented up and coming musicians. His phrasing is masterful, with hints of jazzy inflections and those wonderful motivic improvisations probably heard on Dr. Nico’s African Fiesta records but also learned first-hand from the Gingas’ Duia, one of Angola’s greatest soloists.
Living on the Prenda neighborhood since moving to Luanda, Keno absorbed the richness of the local music clubs and witnessed the maturation of new urban styles. He tried his luck under the José Pequeno and Kedy monikers before joining Os Sembas in 1968. He had stints with Águias Reais and África Show, but his imprint was mostly left on Os Jovens do Prenda, alongside Gama, Didi, Augusto, Chico Montenegro, Kangongo and singer Tony do Fumo. Owner of a unique tuning system (self-taught), Keno created unexpected chord changes and dabbled with a pretty impressive harmonic concept. He joined the Merengues in 1973 and has become, since then, a living legend, to this day performing as a special guest on some of Jovens do Prenda’s shows.