He was one of the greatest accompaniment guitarists on both sides of the Congo and why not Africa. Mpassi Ngongo Mermans died on Wednesday December 28 in Brazzaville. Like Nkounkou, the master Muana Congo, another Congolese guitar virtuoso keeps his instrument for eternity. We are publishing for the occasion the notes of an interview between our colleagues from Dépêches de Brazzaville with Mpassi Mermans.
Guitarist, composer and arranger, Passy Mermans embraced music in class CE2, second year of primary school. He formed his first Syncope Jazz orchestra in 1958 in Kibouendé, in the department of Pool.
Returning to Brazzaville in 1960, Passy Mermans, known as Passy Ngongo Mermans 1st, will recover his orchestra with the help of former Syncope Jazz musicians by changing his name. He will become, in 1960, Black Command.
When the capital’s Bantu orchestra was created on August 15, 1959, recruitment was done delicately and with difficulty in Brazzaville. The guitarists were recruited in Kinshasa, on the other bank of the Congo River, thanks to their talent. Thus, renowned guitarists of the time such as Dicky Baroza and many others could be found.
Mermans is the first guitarist from Congo Brazzaville to be admitted to the Bantu, on the same day as Pamelo Mounka and Samba Mascotte, in July 1963.
“I didn’t start music in Bantu but in primary school, in the CE2 class. I went to Kibouendé in 1958 where I created my first group, Syncope Jazz”, said Passy Mermans. “Then, I went to work in Mfoati in 1959. Returning to Brazzaville in 1960, I created the Mando Negro orchestra with the friends who were with me in Kibouendé. This group would later become Mando Negro Kwala kwa and I led it for three years.”
In 1963, the Bantu of the capital will unearth it. “I was a fan of Santa Claus. I wanted to play the guitar like him,” he said.
At that time, he recalled, this orchestra was well structured, with Jean Serge Essou and Nino Malapé as leaders. Both were saxophonists and arrangers. The Bantu will make their first six-month tour in 1965 in the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Chad, he told us.
“It is a great singing school. I came here to learn to be a high level musician. I’m up to there”, explained Passy Mermans, who has several compositions to his credit, among others, “Badeti”, “Bu boté mona pelé”, “It’s grave tantine”, “In my opinion”, “Libala é keséni”.
He will release his first solo album in 1972, after the first split of the orchestra, excluded by Nino Malapé at the same time as Célestin Nkouka, Edo Ganga, Pamelo Mounka, Kosmos Moutouari and Théo Bitcheko.
Together they wanted to start a musical group but misunderstandings will derail the initiative. Thus, Passy Mermans, Ganga Edo and Théo Bitcheko will create, for their part, the Nzoyes. They will be joined by Ange Lino months later.
The orchestra will release the album “Bani-bani” by Mermans, which will be a great success. He will leave them to create another orchestra, Lissolo, and will cross over to Kinshasa to first record the first 45 rpm for this group. In the national orchestra he signed the song “Lemba”, in 1976, a 33 rpm record.
In 1981, Mermans released his first solo album, in France, with four titles: “Monia”. In 1988, Pamelo Mounka fell seriously ill. This situation will make Mermans abandon the Bantu of the capital to create the Bantu Monuments in 1990. The orchestra will triumph with titles like “Jeannot Lokosso”, “Gallie Eve”… In 1992 he will release another solo album entitled “Your friend is not your friend”. Launched in France, it will put a title in homage to Samba Mascot.
But the Bantu Monuments will only last for one season. After the 1997 war, Passy Mermans returned to the parent company, the Bantus in the capital.
It was 4 am on Wednesday December 28 when Mpassi Mermans passed away forever at the Brazzaville University Hospital. He was 80 years old.
The artist has certainly put his instrument aside, but his compositions will continue to sing his eternity in the hearts of music lovers.
With Adiac-Congo/Bertrand BOUKAKA/Les Echos du Congo-Brazzaville