Artist Profiles: Kiala Nzavotunga

Kiala Nzavotunga - Photo by Jean-Marc Laouenan
Kiala Nzavotunga – Photo by Jean-Marc Laouenan

Afrobeat master Kiala Nzavotunga is a founding member of the band Ghetto Blaster (1984 – 2006) and Fela Kuti’s band. Kiala Nzavotunga was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (former Zaire), with family roots in Angola. At the age of ten, he moved to Kinshasa, the center of African music with Latin American influences like rumba, merengue and cha cha cha. There, he played in the boy scout band and was encouraged to study the guitar. He started playing in local clubs for a while, then he joined the soukous rumba band Negro Success and later Africa Jazz of Kabassele.

By 1974, he traveled through Africa playing, as a guitarist, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Gabon, Cameroon, and finally in 1975 in Nigeria. He remained in Nigeria for eight years playing with several groups, Eyes of Man, Black Children, Action Funk Ensemble and Stormers. In 1981, Fela Kuti invited him to join his band, Egypt 80 with whom he recorded on the album “Original Suffer Head”.

In 1983, Pascal Imbert, Fela’s manager suggested that he form a band with some African musicians including Udoh Essiet, Nicholas Avom, Willy N’for, Betty Ayaba and two French musicians, Stephane Blaes and Romain Pugebet. The band Ghetto Blaster was formed and they went to Paris in late 1983.

In Europe, Ghetto Blaster immediately began to have some success. They opened for artists such as James Brown, Albert King, Kool and the Gang, Manu Dibango, and Kassav. This led to their first record, “Preacher Man-Efi Ogunle” in 1983, and their first album “People” with Black Frame Productions – Mélodie in 1984 (including the hit “Na Waya”).

In 1988, they started a US tour, but, because of disagreements about the creative direction the band should take, Ghetto Blaster disbanded.

After the experience playing with Ghetto Blaster, Kiala wanted to explore different musical directions. He started a new group, One Love Connection, and worked on compositions and arrangements based on African music styles such as zebola, a Congolese dance music.

In 1989, he met the members of a Japanese band called Jagatara. He found a lot of similarities between Japanese and African music and became very interested in combining African rhythms and Japanese songs. In 1993, he recorded a demo of a Japanese traditional called Osaru-no-kagoya, with Kunimoto Kateharu (My Shammy Six). In this recording they used traditional instruments (Kunimoto playing the Japanese shamisen and himself playing the Congolese likembe).

In 1989-1998, he spent time between Tokyo and Paris writing, composing and playing with One Love Connection and a variety of Japanese groups including Vibrastone and Jagatara. In 1995, he wrote the title “Mbanza Mpuena” for the compilation “The Rainbow Colored Lotus”, a compilation for the Kobe earthquake in Japan.

Between 2001 and 2003, Kiala worked on an album project for the 20th anniversary of Ghetto Blaster. This album, “River Niger,” was released in 2003, it allowed the band to come back after few years of silent.

Ghetto Blaster - River Niger
Ghetto Blaster – River Niger

Between 2004 and 2006, he worked with Doctor L, who is very important in the electronic scene. They released the albums “Psycho” and “There Must Be A Revolution Somewhere” for Mind (2005), in which Kiala is author-compositor and plays likembe, guitar and lead vocal. They toured Europe with Omar Sosa and Stéphane Belmondo.

2009 was an important year for him. He started a new recording “One Race” with friends such as Sandra Nkake, Cyril Atef, Stéphane Belmondo, Lulendo, Rody Cereyon and the producer Slim Pezin. This allowed him to play music from his traditional heritage, African tradition, as well as jazz, blues and funk.

Solo Discography:

One Race (2010)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. He was also the executive producer of the first Latino feature film made in North Carolina titled “Los sueños de Angélica.”.

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