When you’re in the midst of agonizing over the relative merits of two competing technologies, the choice can seem oh-so-important. I still have vivid memories, for example, of the raging household debate that surrounded my family’s selection of a first computer—the Mac and the Amiga both had points in their favor, after all. But in the end, there are no grave consequences if the wrong decision is made—you lose a small-yet-meaningful chunk of money, you learn some lessons, and you join the vast hordes in relying upon the winning technology.
But for one legendary Congolese musician, Papa Ntita Albert, the decision to go with one technology over the other effectively stunted his career. The sad tale of a mistime gambit forms the heart of this excellent yarn from Voice of America’s “African Music Treasures” series:
Encouraged by a wealthy patron, who paid for his plane tickets to Kinshasa and financed a long stay in the capital, Ntita Albert recorded a half-dozen singles for the Bukebi-Kebi label; singles that he hoped would relaunch his career. The tracks were laid down by the Pere Buffalo at the Studio Renapec in downtown Kinshasa, and Papa Albert returned to Mbuji Mayi in 1982 with a few thousand 45s.
Unfortunately, Papa Albert’s vinyl investment coincided with the arrival of the cassette tape in Mbuji Mayi. He never sold his stock of 45s and his career never regained its momentum. For the last several decades Ntita Albert has continued to perform, making occasional appearances on local television programs, or at local events, but he has not played outside of Mbuji Mayi since 1982.
As the piece goes on to show, Papa Albert ended up stuck with bags and bags of unsold 45s, which he eventually shares with the writer. I can only imagine how tough it must be for the musician to see those records lying around his house, providing a constant reminder that his downfall was caused not by a lack of musical skill, but by a single bad bet on technology. How blessed are we not to have to feel likewise when we spot a bricked Toshiba Gigabeat in the back of some closet.