Rodin Rodino, Music from the Congo

by Susan Budig

 The vernacular face of the United States is changing and this concept was
very present recently at Macalester College. A new cultural buzz challenges the
stalwart Northern European who migrated enmasse to Minnesota over two hundred
years ago. This buzz brings with it sounds and tastes and ethnic hues that
dazzle us to our Scandinavian roots.

Ushering in the vibes of Africa on March 12th, Congolese
, along with members of his band from Top Muzika sang and swayed their
hips in an amazing demonstration of Congolese music. These musicians, joined on
stage by the musical band,
Soukous Stars,
and storyteller
, provided over 130 people with a diverse and exciting concert.Staged in the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, the entrance was embellished by
Jude Ful Nsom’s paintings. Nsom grew up in Cameroon. An hors d’oeuvres buffet
included palm hearts, couscous dip, hummus, and a flavorful punch made of
blackberries, coconut juice and mango. The evening was emceed by Al-Jerome Chede,
program production manager of ABN-America, a currently local TV service
dedicated to the coverage of Africa.

Rodin Rodino, scheduled to start up at 8 o’clock, played with the band, Soukous
Stars, who were on guitar and vocals. Two members of Rodino’s band, Top Muzica,
also were on hand to lend voice and dance steps.

Shortly before eight, Ngouma-Lokita on bass, Lokasa Ya Mbongo on rhythm guitar,
and Shiko Mawwatu on solo guitar take their places and begin to somewhat
aimlessly pick out a few notes and shrug their shoulders at one another. Aliou
(Isaac) Diallo from Top Muzica sits down at the drums with a gleam in his eye
and a smile on his face that would have probably been contagious to most any
other person, but the three guitarists continue their Mount Rushmore imitation
and play a bit louder. After several minutes of this curious warm-up, which
quite possibly is intended as a couple of legitimate tunes, they are joined by
two more men.

Jurbo Ntunta, from Soukous Stars and Charmanto-Nkole, of Top Muzica, throw an
intriguing and seductive twist onto the stage with clear, inviting vocals and
hips that seem to swivel right off their bodies and hover in mid-air. Having
been raised on polkas and square dances, I raise my eyebrows and decide that
this must be belly dancing. Either that or they are borrowing the hula from
Hawai’i. Most readers of this article will probably know that Zairian dance
comes mostly from the hips and is its own entity. I, however, having never
witnessed this style of dance, am mesmerized.

After one more song, the audience is welcomed by Al-Jerome Chede and then
treated to a story, “The Three Sisters and the River” by Nothando Zulu. A brief
lull in the action accompanies Aminata, the lone female dancer with Top Muzica,
to the stage.

In contrast to the musicians already present, Aminata brings both color and
curve to our eyes. Then, in an enthusiastic, almost over-the-top voice, we are
introduced to Rodin Rodino. Rodino glides on stage wearing a gorgeous,
glimmering outfit of shimmering black pants and electric blue shirt, topped with
a beret, neck scarf, and sunglasses. I am visually captivated. The music starts
in earnest and it’s beyond loud. But I barely notice. This strange, fluid,
arousing dance holds all of my attention. I sit in my seat with my arthritic,
ancient hips full of envy and admiration.

The Lingala lyrics, composed by Rodino, accent the rolling, and at times,
staccato shaking of the dancers’ hips. Drummer Isaac’s animated face and body
language seems to dare the audience to try to match the beat with their own
efforts at dancing. As Rodino sings and dances, with an arresting smile spread
across his face, I notice members of the audience standing up. They dance in
their seats, they dance in the aisles, they climb up on stage and cozily dance
with the musicians! And Rodino calls out for everyone to come up and dance.

I am sorely tempted. When I see an elderly man slip away from his wife to join
his middle aged son already on stage, I am fascinated with what seems to be a
contemporary dance being embraced and mastered by gray haired gents. It slowly
dawns on me that what I am hearing and seeing is definitely not the latest fad
dance, but movement rooted in the traditional dance and rhythms of Zaire.

The dancing of the vocalists while singing is integral to their sound. The
connection between rolling hips and trilling notes is direct and absolute. The
fact that some of the audience is quietly sitting still perplexes me. While not
on stage, I’m certainly not at rest. Without doubt, Rodin Rodino and his fellow
musicians have presented us with a thrilling show, the audience, while with a
nice turnout, is much too sparse for such exemplary work as is provided this

Set list:

1. Roda

2. Yalame

3. Jacky

4. Souci Yababoti

5. Mario

6. Homage a Pepe Kale

7. La Gos