Les Belgicains

24/04/2024Back From A 54-Year Hiatus The Recently Revived Covadia Imprint Shines A Light On Its Remarkable Back Catalogue

The notorious algorithm served this one up on a silver platter a few weeks back, suggesting we follow the newly revived, Brussels-based Covadia Records imprint and after brief consideration, we decided we would. Now here we are to reap the rewards, seeing as the label released its inaugural compilation last Friday, one that you better not sleep on. If you are familiar with the sounds of infamous Congolese rumba and bolero band TPOK Jazz and its charismatic frontman Franco, then this selection should be right down your alley. Only this time, we leave the Congolese motherland and travel overseas to, surprise surprise, Belgium. Enter "Les Belgicains". 

In 1960, Congo gained its independence from Belgium, a period during which "Belgium invite[d] many Congolese students to take classes at its universities." Said students brought with them the music of their native Congo on 45rpm records, a remedy for their homesickness, something to dance to and "get carried away by". However, many of these tracks were decidedly too short so some students decided to bring their own compositions to the live music events of the Congolese diaspora. "Strongly influenced by their life in Belgium," these songs told different stories accompanied by "a unique sound." It was around this time that Nikiforos 'Niki' Cavvadias, an "experienced editor and producer" for the Ngoma label in Léopoldville, arrived in Brussels and these student orchestras caught his ear. This marked the beginning of the birth of the Covadia imprint, which was active from 1964-1970. 

Now, some 54 years later, Steve Van Acker and Paul Kavvadias (the son of Nikiforos Cavvadias) have teamed up to select and re-release tracks from the label's catalogue, originally recorded by the renowned sound engineer Roger Verbestel at Studio Madeleine in Brussels. The compilation "Les Belgicains – Na Tango Ya Covadia 1964-1970" tells this little-known story of 'Les Belgicains' – as the Congolese "countrymen living in Belgium" were referred to at the time – and "the first Congolese student orchestras in Belgium" through tracks by Orchestre Ebuka Ebuka, Orchestre Afro Negro, Carlos Lembe, Orchestre Ye Ye National, Orchestre Ba Bolingo, Los Nickelos and Orchestre Ekebo. Expect crisp sounding, swinging, Latin-influenced recordings of these expat bands suitable for a wide array of social gatherings from easy-breezy rooftop sun-downers to sun-drenched poolside lounging. You name it.

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom