Lokua Kanza was born in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (former Zaire). His father is one of the Mongo people, known for their polyphonic singing, and his mother comes from Rwanda, known for its sophisticated court music. In Kinshasha he learned to sing in church choirs. To finish his studies he went to the Conservatory at Kinshasa, where he learned music theory, harmony and composition while perfecting his instrumental knowledge.
His decision to become a singer happened after he’d attended one of Miriam Makeba’s concerts, then her friend Ray Lema gave him his first guitar, and he made his first public appearances in some Zairean rumba bands. This was followed by a period of study – music theory and orchestration – at the conservatoire. He was always ready to listen to everything that came his way, from Bach to chanson by way of Rhythm ‘n Blues, pop and bossa nova.
Lokua Kanza became an exceptionally-gifted musician, playing guitars, sanza, percussion, flute, mandolin, bass, piano, and keyboards. Beginning in 1980, he spent the early days of his career along the Gulf of Guinea from Zaire to Ivory Coast, but his talent really came to the fore in the group of the great Zairean singer Abeti Masikini (a.k.a. La Reine Abeti).
In 1984 he left for Paris to take some jazz guitar lessons. He quickly became part of the African community there and accompanied Ray Lema, Papa Wemba, French jazz band Sixun and Manu Dibango.
In October of 1992, Lokua Kanza gave his first major concert in Paris, opening for Angelique Kidjo at the Olympia. Alongside him were two partners who have remained with him ever since: the radiant Julia Sarr (vocals), from Senegal, and his own brother, Didi Ekukuan (bass, vocals, various percussion, talking drum, tambourine, etc.)
Lokua Kanza recorded his first album, Lokua Kanza, during winter 1992/93, and it revealed-a deeply-inhabited universe “I wanted to rediscover the magic of the nights I spent in Kinshasa when I was a child,” he says. With its nostalgic atmospheres, its ethereal, meditative climate, destitution, simplicity, minimal chords, liquid, undulating, the art of Lokua Kanza imposed its highly subtle difference right from the very first hearing.
As early as the end of 1993, the bard became a star. He signed with a major record-company, toured all over the world, opened for Youssou N’Dour (he sings on several titles in the Guide (Wommat) and Patrick Bruel, produced sessions for his friends Papa Wemba and YYoussou N’Dour (in Peter Gabriel’s studios)… and got down to the producing of his second album, Wapi Yo (1995). This was a commercial success. However, the achievements of his third album, titled 3, more modest, didn’t have the same success.
After a three-year “retirement” (not that he was inactive, for he composed continuously), Lokua Kanza returned with Toyebi Te, sung in French, English and Lingala. The musicians featured included Didi, his old comrade, guitarist Sylvain Luc, percussionists Komba Bellow and Greg Bondo, the strings of the Bulgarian Symphony orchestra, his daughter Malaika and a choir made up of his four children. His 2010 album Nkolo includes vocals in Lingala, Portuguese and French.
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 produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and 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. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.