Tag Archives: Congolese music

Artist Profiles: Papa ‘Nono’ Noël

Papa ‘Nono’ Noël

Papa ‘Nono’ Noël Nedule is probably the most influential guitarist from the heyday of Congolese rumba. His real name is Antoine Nedule Monstwet and he was born in the former Belgian Congo (the former Zaire and now the Democratic Republic of Congo). He is nicknamed Papa Noel because he was born on Christmas day, in Zaire (now DMR Congo) in 1940.

Noel listened from an early age to his mother’s record collection, which featured Congolese rumba greats like Antoine Wendo, whose songs were believed by some fans to have magical powers.

Noel became an apprentice of sorts to the legendary musicians of this first generation of Congolese rumba players. After years of absorbing Cuban and Congolese sounds, Noel taught himself to play the guitar when his mother encouraged him to pursue his passion for music. Meanwhile, a tide of talented young musicians had gathered in 1950s Léopoldville (now Kinshasa), replacing the tres and piano parts found in their favorite Cuban songs with the guitar and infusing the new music with African jazz sensibilities. Noel began to hang around studios where musicians like Wendo recorded, learning the ropes and deepening his self-guided education in Congolese rumba.

Papa Noel made his first record in 1957 . In a career that’s now well into its fifth decade, Papa Noel has played guitar with Congo’s best and brightest, including Orchestre Bantou, Grand Kalle’s African Jazz, Franco’s legendary T.P.O.K. Jazz and Sam Mangwana. He has also made records of his own that are rightly regarded as classics of Congolese rumba. Though he was never really a star, he had many admirers, particularly other guitarists, who regarded him as the equal of Nico and Franco. But when Franco died in 1989, Noel found himself out of work for the first time in his long career. Seeking engagements, he moved between Kinshasa, Brussels and Paris, but there weren’t many jobs anywhere for an artist like him. His classic style was out of fashion.

Things started to turn around for Noel three years ago when fellow Congolese singer Sam Mangwana recorded Galo Negro with him and made him his concert band leader. In 2000 he performed to high acclaim at the WOMAD Festival in England. That same year he formed a duo and recorded an album with Adán Pedroso, a young Cuban guitarist and singer. Together they formed an acoustic guitar-duo combining Cuban son (the foundation of Congolese rumba) and rumba in a truly magical fashion. Noel made his first visit to Cuba, where he recorded with Papi Oviedo.

Papa Noel turned 60 years old on Christmas Day 2000. To celebrate his career, Stern’s African Classics released Bel Ami, Noel’s own selection of his best work in decades past. Noel finally received some of the international recognition he had deserved for so long. The year 2001 began beautifully when Noel accepted an invitation to join Kékélé, a new group of Congolese music veterans who proudly acknowledged him as their chief. With Kékélé he recorded Rumba Congo for Stern’s in the classic style he had helped to define in the 1950s and ’60s. Then he embarked on a tour of Europe with Adán Pedroso. But by that time his health was failing, and he barely got through three shows before his manager insisted on taking him to a hospital. In May of 2001 he was rushed to a hospital in France and put under intensive care. He survived the emergency, but the doctors diagnosed acute tuberculosis.

Papa Noel returned in 2007 with another cross border collaboration, in which he brought African and Cuban rumba into the 21st Century, reuniting their creative energies and celebrating their common heritage in a set of songs spiced by the Cuban tres of Coto and the saxophone of Cameroonian maestro Manu Dibango. The rhythms of Papa Noel’s album, Cafe Noir are an eclectic mix of rumba, son, merengue zoukous and soukous son.


Bel Ami (Stern’s Africa, 2000)
Mosala Makasi (Yard High, 2001)
Bana Congo (Tumi Music, 2002)
Cafe Noir (Tumi Music, 2007)
Color (Buda Musique, 2013)


Artist Profiles: Konono Nº1

Konono Nº1

Konono Nº1 was founded at the beginning of the 1980s ago by Mingiedi, a virtuoso of the likembe (the traditional instrument sometimes called “sanza” or “thumb piano”, consisting of metal rods attached to a resonator). The band’s line-up includes three electric likembes (bass, medium and treble), equipped with hand-made microphones built from magnets salvaged from old car parts, and plugged into amplifiers. There’s also a rhythm section which uses traditional as well as makeshift percussion (pans, pots and car parts), singers, dancers and a peculiar sound system including megaphones dating from the colonial period, which they call “lance-voix” (‘voice-throwers’).

The members of Konono Nº1 come from an area which sits right across the border between Congo and Angola. Their repertoire draws largely on Bazombo trance music, to which they’ve had to incorporate the originally-unwanted distortions of their sound system.

Just like most of the other bands that appear in the Congotronics series, these are musicians who left the bush to settle in the capital and who, in order to go on keep fulfilling their social role and make themselves heard by the ancestors (and, more specifically, by their fellow citizens) despite the high level of urban noise, have had to resort to a makeshift electrification of their instruments. This has provoked a radical mutation of their sound, and has accidentally connected them with the aesthetics of experimental rock and electronic music, as much through the sounds they use than through the sheer volume of their performances (they play in front of a wall of speakers) and their merciless grooves.

These bands are likely to be warmly adopted by the electronica and avant-rock communities (as well as, naturally, by the world music aficionados), as attested by the immediate reactions of artists such as Matthew Herbert and Tortoise’s John McEntire, who have enthusiastically volunteered to remix tracks for a future volume of Congotronics.

The Konono Nº1 album, Congotronics, is the first volume of Crammed Record’s series Congotronics, which is devoted to electrified traditional music from Kinshasa. It was recorded and produced by Vincent Kenis, who produced albums by Zap Mama, Taraf de Haidouks & Kocani Orkestar. At the same time, he has played a key part in the sonic design of many Crammed releases, right from Aksak Maboul’s seminal Onze Danses Pour Combattre la Migraine to many albums of electronic music released on the SSR imprint.

Konono Nº1 won the BBC Award for world Music 2006 (‘Newcomers’ category).


Lubuaku (Terp, 2004)
Congotronics (Crammed Discs, 2004)
Live At Couleur Café (Crammed Discs, 2007)
Assume Crash Position (Crammed Discs, 2010)
Konono Nº1 Meets Batida (Crammed Discs, 2016)


Artist Profiles: Kanda Bongo Man

Kanda Bongo Man

Kanda Bongo Man is one of the giants of African popular music. Hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo, his infectious brand of Congolese Soukous, the popular guitar music of Central and East Africa, appeals to audiences worldwide.

Kanda Bongo Man is credited as being one of the pioneers of modern Soukous from the Congo (formerly Zaire). With his high tenor vocals alternating between lyrics in Lingala and French, he has sparked dancing in audiences around the globe.

Kanda is the man who gave the world Kwasa Kwasa, the infectiously charged Congolese dance style. He has performed throughout the continent of Africa, in Australia, Europe, in the Middle East, in Canada, and the USA.


Iyole (1981)
Amour Fou (Hannibal, 1984)
Malinga (1986)
Lela Lela(1987)
Sai Liza (1988)
Kwassa Kwassa (Hannibal, 1989)
Isambe Monie (1990)
Zing Zong (Hannibal, 1991)
Sango (1992)
Soukous in Central Park (Hannibal, 1993)
Sweet (2010)
Welcome to South Africa (1995)
Francophonix (1999)
Balobi (2002)
Swalati (2003)
Non-Stop Feeling (2010)


Artist Profiles: Kekele


Kekele is a collective of legendary Congolese musicians revitalizing the Congolese rumba of the golden age artists such as OK Jazz, Ry-Co Jazz, or Les Bantous de la Capitale. Their music is an old-school version of Congolese rumba: classic, relaxed, with great acoustic guitar interplay and sweet vocals. In a way comparable to what Buena Vista Social Club was for Cuban music, but much less a well-planned marketing project, Kekele started as a loose ensemble, a revival that had its prelude in a couple of rumba albums of the 1990s by Mose Se Fan Fan and Wendo Kolosy. A true supergroup, the member list of Kekele reads as a who-is-who in Congolese rumba music.

Kekele is a Lingala word for a fibrous vine that climbs trees in the tropical forests of the Congo River basin. Ropes woven from Kekele are still used in some places to build bridges across forest streams. By calling their group Kekele, then, perhaps, Papa Noel, Syran Mbenza, Wuta-Mayi, Nyboma Mwan Dido, Jean-Papy Ramazani, Loko Massengo, Bumba Massa and Yves Ndjock are thinking of their long career paths as strands woven together to make something strong, something that spans divisions – geography, generations, genres – and allows musicians to continue on their journey, and to return home to their musical origins: Congolese Rumba.

The golden era for Rumba Congolaise – an irresistible mix of Cuban rumba and African rhythms – was in the sixties, when it reflected the optimism of the newly independent African nations. Kekele has succeeded in bringing this sound back to life, featuring many of the musicians from the classic orchestras of that era. Enchanting vocals, vivacious rhythms and spellbinding guitar-based dance make the Congolese Rumba totally uplifting and joyous. This is the classic Congo sound before the rhythmic intensity of soukous overpowered its subtlety.

In Congolese terms, this is a “supergroup,” comprised of true luminaries. Both singers, Bumba Massa and Loko Massengo, have careers dating back to the ’60s, while the rest of the vocal contingent were founders of the soukous group “Les Quatre etoiles” in the ’80s, and lead guitarist Papa Noel has a pedigree going back to his days as instrumental foil for the late great Franco.
Qualifications simply don’t come any higher. While many of the performers had worked together in different combinations before, and obviously knew each other through the burgeoning Paris world music scene, in most cases they’d never recorded together, although Mayi and Noel had released a duet album in the mid-1990s.

It had been a long time since the musical climate had been open to the throwback style of Congolese rumba where they had started their musical careers. Gentle and laid back, it had been superseded by the more frantic and danceable soukous, which had given everyone a living. However, the time had come for a revival. Kekele had never thought of it that way; it wasn’t a calculated commercial enterprise. The idea for a band – or at least a record – came together slowly, over casual jam sessions at apartments and houses in 1999. The material which would form their debut disc, Rumba Congo, came from those times, established slowly, out of love and a return to roots. When they were finally ready to commit their sound to tape, they teamed up with another veteran, Ivory Coast-based producer, Ibrahim Sylla. In 2001, Kekele released their first album.


Rumba Congo (Sterns Africa, 2001)
Congo Life (Sterns Africa, 2003)
Kinavana (Sterns Africa, 2006)
Live: Tournée Américaine & Canadienne (Kekele, 2006)


Artist Profiles: Dominic Kanza

Kanza means happiness in the Lingala language. Dominic Kanza was born in Kinshasa (D.R. Congo). He is a band leader, singer and guitarist, providing dazzling melodic lines that circle above his group’s rumba spiced beat.

Kanza has performed with Congolese star Papa Wemba, jazz legends Pharoah Sanders and Bill Laswell, and has worked extensively with Paul Simon.




Artist Profiles: Diblo Dibala

Diblo Dibala

Diblo Dibala is a Congolese electric guitar virtuoso. Born in born in 1954 in Kisangani (D. R. Congo), his approach to the guitar has made him one of the top instrumentalists of modern African music, with scorching lead guitar lines that leave audiences breathless.

After Dibala’s 1980s recordings with soukous vocalist Kanda Bongo Man made him an international star, Diblo formed his own band, soukous supergroup Loketo (which means ‘hips’, as in ‘shake your…’), alongside singer Aurlus Mabele, and became the in-demand soukous session man in Paris.

In 1990, Diblo formed his current outfit Matchatcha, which continued his tradition of incendiary Congolese Rumba.


Super Soukous (Shanachie Records, 1989)
O.K. Madame (Afric Music, 1994)
Aimer La Danse Nyekesse (Afric Music, 1995)
Iwooh (2000)
Mechant Garcon (JPS Records, 2002)


Artist Profiles: Nene Tchakou

Nene Tchakou

Nene Tchakou was born in Banana (Bas Congo) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He started his music career by playing guitar for the choir formed by military parents for a group of their children in Kinshasa.

He made his debut in 1973 with a band called Bella Negrita (Zane Kitambo). There after, Nene Tchakou embarked on a major career venture highlighted below: He produced an album by the name “Alila” and the dance then was “Careton A L’aisement”; this album was a major success. In 1981, Nene joined the popular group “Langa Langa Sta” where he got his stage name “Tchakou” which means “Parot” in Lingala.

In 1983, Nene joined “Grand Zaiko” under the leadership of “pepe Manwaku and produced “Bbongo” another success.

He went solo in 1987 and produced the single, “Niger.” Shortly thereafter, Nene moved to Paris in 1988 where he made historical contributions to great African musicians like “Kofi Olomide (From Congo kinshasa); where he played on the “Papa Bonheur” album. Soukous Stars where he arranged and produced “Lagos Knight” album and Lala Nomotoki (From Togo) Shi Loving (From Nigeria).

He joined Papa Wemba (From Congo Kinshasa); and together produced the “For Idole” album. With Arlus Mabele (from Congo Brazzavile); they produced the “Dossirr X” album which Nene arranged. Madame (Bongo)Patience Dabani (From Gabon) Niawu (From Congo Kinshasa) Nene arranged the first album. Nai’moro (From Antilles, France) who played keyboard for the group Kassav; Nene recorded first Nai’moro CD with them.

In the year 2002, Nene moved to Stockton, California in the USA with Soukous Stars where they recorded and produced one album which was released in 2001.

In 2002, Nene and Shimita formed the group Affro Muzika.

In 2003 Nene Tchakou joined “Rowa Records” as a resident artist and producer where also writes and arranges for other “cultural” musicians.


Soto (Sonodisc, 1996)
Cesser le Feu (Rowa, 2007)


Artist Profiles: Les Tambours de Brazza

Les Tambours de Brazza

Conducted by Emile Biayenda, Les Tambours de Brazza works with rhythms from all over Africa, with particular emphasis on rhythms from Congo-Brazzaville, their home. There are approximately 50 different ethnic groups living in the Congo, and each of them lays claim to their own rhythms. Members of the company come from various of these ethnic groups, bringing great diversity and richness of culture to the sound of Les Tambours.

Les Tambours de Brazza – Photo by Azzedine Salah

Emile Biayenda leads the group from his seat at the trap drum kit, and freely exhorts his musicians to mix traditional rhythms with urban influences and electric bass. Formed in 1991, the group has been performing, recording, and touring ever since, although never in North America. They have released several CDs, played at major world music festivals in Europe, including Musiques Metisses in France, the Moers Jazz Festival in Germany, the Roots Festival in the Netherlands, among many others. In addition to concerts the group delivers wonderful workshops for school-age children, and adults. They have toured most of Europe, and North Africa, as well as Japan, and Hong Kong.


Congo Drums (Playa Sound, 1996)
Ahaando. Le Griot Rap Compte (Contre-Jour, 1999)
Zangoula (Contre-Jour, 2000)
Tandala (M10, 2003)
Brazza (2008)
Sur La Route Des Caravanes (Buda Musique, 2013)


globalFEST 2018 Announces Lineup

American world music showcase globalFEST has announced the artists set to perform during its 15th Anniversary on January 14, 2017 in New York City.

globalFEST 15 Program

Ava Rocha: Post-Tropicalia avant-pop (Brazil)
Delgres: Creole blues reconnecting Guadeloupe to New Orleans
Eva Salina & Peter Stan: Balkan Gypsy (Roma) songs for voice and accordion
Grand Tapestry: hip-hop joins Indian sarod and tabla
Iberi Choir: Polyphonic songs from Georgia
Jarlath Henderson Band: Celtic folk music
Jupiter & Okwess: Congolese music
La Dame Blanche: Cuban rumba and son with hip-hop, cumbia, and dancehall
Mariachi Flor De Toloache: Female Mexican mariachi
Mohsen Namjoo: Modern Iranian songs
Thornetta Davis: Detroit blues
Miramar: Puerto Rican boleros





headline photo: Jupiter & Okwess

More information at: globalfest.org