Tag Archives: Congolese rumba

Artist Profiles: Samba Mapangala

Samba Mapangala

Samba Mapangala was born Congolese, on the banks of the Congo River, in Matadi, the busy port city 100 miles up from the river’s mouth on the Atlantic Coast. But he’s never stayed in one place for very long. Orphaned in childhood, he found his way to Kinshasa while still a teenager and began singing in nightclubs there. In 1975 he led a group of musicians calling themselves Les Kinois (The Kinshasans) on a long safari eastward, arriving two years later in Nairobi, Kenya. And Kenya was where Samba’s career took off.

Congolese rumba had been popular in Kenya since the 1950s. Les Kinois were but one of dozens of Congolese bands based in Nairobi in the late 1970s, but they had no trouble landing gigs and soon they were making records. Samba, however, wasn’t interested in playing only Congolese rumba. He liked the local styles as well, particularly the Swahili swing of bands like Orchestra Volcano, Morogoro Jazz and Simba Wanyika. In 1980 he left Les Kinois to form Orchestra Virunga (named after a volcano in eastern Congo) with both Kenyan and Congolese musicians.

With Samba writing and singing songs in Congolese Lingala and Kenyan KiSwahili, Orchestra Virunga rapidly became the top band in Nairobi. From there its fame spread to the rest of East Africa and eventually to Europe, where Earthworks released Maiako in 1984. Samba himself made his first visit to Europe in 1989, when he recorded an album with Quatre Etoiles in Paris. Two years later he returned for a tour with Orchestra Virunga, after which the singer and his band stayed in London to record Feet On Fire for Stern’s Africa. From there the touring rarely let up, from Africa to Europe to North America, back to Africa and around again. Somehow Samba and Virunga found the time to record two more albums.

In 1997, following a successful but exhausting North American tour, Samba decided to settle in one place (a small town in Maryland) and take a break from the musician’s peripatetic life for a while. Three quiet years passed, but the time came when the Virunga Volcano couldn’t lie dormant any longer. Samba flew to Paris, gathered a half dozen of the best Congolese musicians there, engaged Bopol Mansiamina to serve as his co-producer, and made Virunga Volcano.

With Ujumbe (message in KiSwahili), Samba upheld the standard he set ten years earlier with Feet On Fire, and maybe even surpasses it. The album had everything Virunga fans wanted: the rumba-congo that Samba’s been singing all his life; the lighter, looser Swahili swing that he’s popularized far and wide; and the sleek Congo-Parisian soukous that Samba ignites as very few others can these days all graced by the man’s soulful tenor and his band’s effortless skill. This album also includes a first for Orchestra Virunga: an acoustic song (“Muniache”) in the style of Jean Bosco Mwenda, the troubadour who first brought Congolese music to Kenya 50 years ago.

Discography:

It’s Disco Time with Samba Mapangala (1982)
Evasion (1983)
Safari (1988)
Vunja Mifupa (CBS Kenya, 1989)
Paris-Nairobi (1990)
Virunga Volcano (Earthworks, 1990)
Feet On Fire (Stern’s Africa, 1991)
Karibu Kenya (Sun Music, 1996)
Vunja Mifupa (Lusam, 1997)
Ujumbe (Stern’s, 2001)
Vunja Mifupa Virunga Roots Volume 1 (2004)
Song and Dance (Virunga Records, 2006)
African Classics (Sheer Sound, 2008)

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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.

Discography:

Congo

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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.

Discography:

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)

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The Fabulous Musiki wa dansi of East Africa

Various Artists – Urgent Jumping! East African Musiki Wa Dansi Classics (Sterns Africa STCD 3067-68CD, 2016)

This 2 CD world music compilation is packed with over two hours of Afro-rooted dance music from 1970s and 1980s East Africa. Selected by British DJ and journalist John Armstrong, the anthology features many of the hits popular during two decades in East Africa.

Many of the Kenyan, Tanzanian and Congolese bands featured Urgent Jumping! included talented guitarists who combined modern elements with traditional rhythms. The vocals are in KiSwahili, the language spoken across many East African countries.

The most prominent genres included in this great compilation include benga, a style developed by the Luo people of western Kenya, who fused traditional beats and melodies with electric guitars and basses.

Congolese music was also very influential. Congolese migrants brought Cuban-inspired rumba and soukous to Kenya and Tanzania. It was common bands that featured musicians from various countries.

Lastly, there is the Arabic and Indian music influence that came across the sea. This includes taraab from Zanzibar, Lamu and other islands off the East African that had an effect on pop music in the mainland cities of Mombassa, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

The artists featured in Urgent Jumping! Are: L’Orch. Dar International, Afro 70, Kauma Boys Band, Super Mambo Jazz Band “69”, Maquis du Zaire, Victoria Jazz Band, Orchestre Conga Internationale, The Golden Kings Band, Sunburst Band, Urafiki Jazz Band, L’Orchestre Grand Piza, Hafusa Abasi & Slim Ali and the Kikulacho Yahoos Band, L’Orch. Moja One, Sega Sega Band, L’Orchestre Super Mambo, Earthquake Jazz Band, Vijana Jazz Band, Orchestre Special Liwanza, Juwata Jazz Band and Orchestre Super Jambo.

John Armstrong did a fabulous job putting this collection together. It’s great to see East Africa getting some attention since most of the African music we normally get is dominated by West African acts.

Buy Urgent Jumping! East African Musiki Wa Dansi Classics in the Americas

Buy Urgent Jumping! East African Musiki Wa Dansi Classics in Europe

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Getting Reacquainted With Old Friends and Making New Ones

It’s been more than three decades since my musical tastes went global. In that time I haven’t stopped being amazed at the diversity of music that’s out there, the cross-cultural connections that led to the diversity, the influence music from other cultures can have on artists who are looking for something new (or old) and many other aspects of the whole scene that my words can’t begin to do justice to. Reminders of why a particular genre attracted me in the first place are always good and worth sharing. And hearing them expanded upon increases the pleasure factor.

 

 Avalon Jazz Band - Je Suis Swing
Avalon Jazz Band – Je Suis Swing

 

Being the visionaries they were, it’s entirely possible that guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grapelli knew the Gypsy Jazz style they invented in Paris in 1934 would continue to charm listeners to this day. It certainly cast a spell over singer Tatiana Eva-Marie and violinist Adrien Chevalier, who met in France’s main metropolis before taking their shared love of Gypsy Jazz to New York and forming the Avalon Jazz Band. Their debut CD Je Suis Swing (self-released, 2016) is a charmer of the first order, capturing perfectly the spark and feel of ‘30s and ‘40s Paris. Eva-Marie’s French and English vocals are as deftly phrased as they are heartfelt, sensual and wide-ranging, and the instrumental lineup of violin, dual guitars, standup bass, clarinet and accordion swings, sweeps, swaggers and swaps solos accordingly.

The songs are a mix of epochal favorites and American jazz chestnuts, each lovingly rendered by a band that presents them, to quote Eva-Marie in the liner notes, “not as a museum piece, but as an emotion suspended in time that can be accessed at any moment by a simple stretch of our romantic imaginations.” One listen to this dreamy disc will clarify exactly what she means.

 

Nu Haven Kapelye - What’s Nu?
Nu Haven Kapelye – What’s Nu?

 

I didn’t realize there was a precedent for combining klezmer music with a big band sensibility until I heard Nu Haven Kapelye on their inaugural recording What’s Nu? (Reckless DC Music, 2016). Actually, I came late to the revelation. Turns out this 30-plus member ensemble has performed live every December 25th since 1998 and do a fair number of other concert appearances. Under the direction of bassist/arranger David Chevan (of Afro-Semitic experience fame), they’re as varied in age, occupation, religion and musical background as can be.

The resulting music is wide-ranging as well, covering European and American interpretations of klezmer, evocative instrumentals, Yiddish theatre songs and even a cover of Balkan Beat Box’s “Gross.” It’s all in good jazzy fun, but there are some seriously skilled players at work, with horns, strings, reeds, guitars, accordion, drums, keyboard and the must-be-heard vocals of The Seltzer Sisters each getting a piece of the action.

There were several “hey, I know that song” moments for me (been a long, long time since I heard “Chiri Biri Bim”), and when I wasn’t having my memory tweaked I was content to simply immerse myself in music obviously created with a lot of joy and passed along in that same spirit. This is uplifting, grin-inducing stuff, maximally enjoyable from start to finish. nuhavenkapelye.com/music

 

Jefferson St. Parade Band - Viral
Jefferson St. Parade Band – Viral

 

You could easily assume New Orleans and Balkan brass music to be among their inspirations, but Jefferson St. Parade Band takes it considerably further with Viral (Jefferson Street Music, 2016). The title is apt- this is infectious music. While JSPB have the requisite battery of drums and horns to power them along, their electrified guitar and bass help them rock to global heights. I didn’t think an outfit of this sort would be wise to cover Jamaican dub master King Tubby, but their “Easy Dub” is wicked in the best sense, likewise their rendering of Mexican traditional tune “El Cascabel” and some uniquely danceable originals.

The disc has a short running time and only 7 tracks, but the way JSPB draws on everything from African and Latin beats to jazz, psychedelic and borderline grunge gives Viral a well-rounded feel that’ll make you want to listen repeatedly. Think of them as a horn-heavy world music jam band or a freewheeling experiment in just how tight multiple layers of rhythm and melody can be. Either way, make sure to lend them your ears. And hang on.

 

Various Artists - African Rumba
Various Artists – African Rumba

 

On the various-artists front, there’s no going wrong with African Rumba (Putumayo, 2016). Sure, much of it fits more easily under the banner of African salsa (particularly if it’s the Congolese sort of rumba the title leads you to expect), but the tracks all sizzle. Latin music is, at its core, African music, and when Cuban sounds first started reaching Africa in the 1930s, it wasn’t long before African musicians began reconnecting them with their roots. Those reconnections are here in varied forms, including the slinky “Mame” by Senegal’s Alune Wade (who also does a scorching duet with Cuban pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa), a m’balax-laced offering from Pape Fall, a classy charanga collaboration featuring Orquesta Aragon and Afia Mala, Ricardo Lemvo’s impeccable salsa/soukous blend and the ever-classic sounds of L’African Fiesta and Orchestre OK Jazz. Some uncovered bases notwithstanding (understandable for a single CD), it’s a great collection.

Particularly engaging is the kora-laced final track “Sin Murri Gossi” by Angola’s Banda Maravilha, a group previously unfamiliar to me and one I’d certainly like to hear more of.

 

Tom Teasley - Eastern Journey
Tom Teasley – Eastern Journey

 

As a percussionist myself (albeit one of no renown and questionable ability), I greatly admire what a true percussion master can achieve. Tom Teasley proves himself just such a master on Eastern Journey (T2 Music, 2016). Inspired primarily by Korean and Chinese musical modalities as well as informed by his prowess as a jazz player, Teasley employs more than 20 instruments (percussion and non-percussion alike, and he plays ‘em all) to create pieces that are beautifully ornate, melodically appealing, rhythmically intricate and all combinations thereof.

The complexity of the tracks does not render them inaccessible; rather, the combinations of sounds (including the use of uncommon instruments like the Chinese bawu oboe and kouxian jaw harp) conjure moods ranging from mystical to whimsical.

Note how the mix of HAPI drum and kalimba on “The Heart is a Flower” gives the music an especially shimmery feel, the way the underlying waltz tempo of “The Gold Cicada) is jazzed into something entirely new, or the wavy palette of sounds that comprise “The Mountain.” It’s all like a soundtrack accompanying the travelogue of your dreams, and what you hear is every bit as vivid as what you might hope to see.

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Headline photo: Jefferson St. Parade Band

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Artist Profiles: Robert Maseko

Robert Maseko - Photo by Simon Smith
Robert Maseko – Photo by Simon Smith

Born in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and raised in the UK, Robert Maseko is part of the new wave of Central African artists who are re-interpreting hip-swinging Congolese soukous music.

With his band the Congo Beat he has gone back to the rumba roots that so entranced Africa and added touches of reggae, flamenco, tango, merengue and zouk.

Elegant vocals, sizzling guitar and rumba propelled bass lines explore the deep roots of Afrobeat and the connections between African, Cuban and Caribbean music. “Congo has got plenty of clashes in it tradition and cultural rhythm where is rare for me to run out of beat and compositions it just flows out no stop, the gift every child has got is own – I love music,” Maseko says

His lyrics are written in Lingala, Swahili, French and English, accommodating the diversity and versatility audience.

Robert aims to promote African music, African literature and cultural diversity and understanding through his Drumming 4 Diversity project. Workshops include African drumming and music using ngoma, jembes, talking drum, marimba, xylophone and other instruments; African Literature using ancient African methods of story telling, poetry, dance and masks.

Discography:

Jumping Bango (2009)
African Keen

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Artist Profiles: M’bilia Bel

 M'bilia Bel
M’bilia Bel

Soukous singer M’bilia Bel, known as the Queen of Congolese rumba, was born in 1959 and brought up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. M’bilia Bel became successful in the early 1980s when she recorded and toured with Tabu Ley Rochereau, and made her own solo albums.

The birth of her first child prompted her to take a break from performing, however, and after a last album with Tabu Ley in 1987, she moved to Paris. There she started working with guitarist Rigo Star, and between 1989 and 1990 she went on tour to the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and West Africa.

With a combination of beauty, an angelic soprano voice, and tremendous agility on stage, M’bilia Bel stole the hearts of music fans all over the continent. She was Africa’s first female transcontinental diva. She became the first female musician from Africa who could claim popularity all over the entire continent and beyond. In fact, one could argue that there has not been any female musician from Africa who has captured the imagination of music fans across the continent as much as M’bilia Bel did in the eighties. South African Miriam Makeba, known as Mama Afrika, popularity peaked in the 1960s but could not attract as many fans as M’bilia Bel did later.

M’bilia Bel began her performing career at the age of seventeen singing backup for Abeti Masikini and later with Sam Mangwana. She burst into the music scene when she joined Tabu Ley’s Afrisa International in 1981. The duo of Tabu ley and M’bilia Bel was an instant hit. The combination of Tabu Ley’s composing genius and Mbilia Bel’s heavenly voice resulted in high sales of Afrisa records.

Her first album, released in 1983, was the extremely popular Eswi yo wapi, which roughly translates to “Where did it hurt you?”, composed by both Tabu Ley and M’bilia Bel. The song won the award for the best song of 1983 in Zaire, and M’bilia Bel won the award for best new performer.

Thanks to M’bilia Bel, the popularity of Afrisa International was soaring. Even songs that did not feature M’bilia Bel were receiving more exposure. The stranglehold that Franco’s TP OK Jazz had held in the music scene was now being loosened, as Afrisa could now match TP OK Jazz in popularity and record sales, thanks to the arrival of this new sensation who was now being referred to as the African tigress.

Concerts of Afrisa were now a huge draw. M’bilia Bel was always the main attraction, and when she made an appearance, the crowds often went into a frenzy. She was a talented stage performer and often tantalized crowds with her exceptional dancing ability when she would join the Rocherreautes (dancers) in their dance routine.

By the mid-eighties, Mbilia bel had officially married Tabu Ley and was a refined and mature performer. Her songs continued to dominate the scene. Among them was “Mobali na ngai wana”, which roughly translates to “This Husband of Mine”. The song was composed by Tabu Ley and Roger Izeidi and is an adaptation of a traditional song in Kikongo. In the song, M’bilia Bel praises her husband as being handsome and successful and stresses the fact that even though he has the opportunity to choose from any of Kinshasa’s beautiful women, he chose her. Other songs that blazed the charts during that period include “Balle a terre” and “Bameli soy”.

In 1987 Tabu Ley recruited another female artiste to accompany M’bilia Bel. Kishila Ngoyi was here real name, but she was known by her artistic name, Faya Tess. It was with this new lineup that Afrisa embarked on a tour of East Africa that took in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, culminating in the album Nadina, which had Lingala and Swahili versions of the title song.

M’bilia Bel quit the band late in 1987 to embark on a solo career. She briefly joined with a Gabonese producer in Libreville before leaving for Paris where she joined with guitarist Rigo Starr Bamundele. Her first album with Rigo Starr was entitled “Phénomène” and was a huge success in Kinshasa as well as abroad. Subsequent releases such as Yalowa, Desolé and Exploration have met with limited success.

Following the departure of M’bilia Bel, the popularity of Afrisa International as a band plummeted substantially. Tabu Ley himself seemed to lose inspiration for composing as is evidenced by the substantial reduction in the number of albums released. With the exception of her debut album, Phénomène, Mbilia Bel’s career also took on a downward spiral when she left Afriza.

Discography:

Faux Pas (1983)
Loyenghe (Genidia, 1984)
Boya Ye (Genidia, 1984)
Keyna (1985)
Ba Gerants Ya Mabala Paka Wewe (1985)
Beyanga (Genidia, 1986)
Contre Ma Volonte (1987)
Phénoméne (1988)
Bameli Soy (Shanachie, 1991)
Désolé (Celluloid, 1991)
Ironie, with Rigo Star (Celluloid, 1993)
Yalowa (1997)
Exploration (Terrascape, 1997)
Benedicta (Sonodisc, 1999)
Welcome (Syllart, 2001)
Boya Ye (2003)
Belissimo (Sterns Africa, 2004)
Bel Canto: Best of the Genidia Years (Congo Classics 1982-1987) (Sterns Africa, 2007)
Queen (2011)

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Hip Shaking Tanzanian Rumba

Zanzibara 9 – Mbaraka Mwinsheshe & Orchestra Super Volcano – Masika, A Fresh Breeze from Tanzania – 1972-74 (Buda Musique, 2015)

This population showcases one of the most popular dance bands from mainland Tanzania, Orchestra Super Volcano, led by singer-songwriter and guitarist Mbaraka Mwinsheshe.

The band’s style is characterized by strong vocal work, Congolese-style creative guitar, laid back percussion, and a brass section that sometimes sounds very Cuban. This is no coincidence since many Tanzanian bands were influenced by Congolese rumba, which in turn was influenced by Cuban music.

Mbaraka Mwinsheshe and Super Volcano were very successful throughout East Africa, touring throughout Tanzania and Kenya, as well as concerts in Uganda, Zambia, Zaire (Lubumbashi), and Ethiopia.

The CD booklet includes English and French liner notes, with details about the Zanzibara series that focuses on Swahili music from Tanzania, biographical information and song lyrics translations to English and French.

Mbaraka Mwinsheshe died in a car accident in Mombasa in January 1979, during a tour in Kenya.

Zanzibara 9 contains a great collection of hip-shaking songs, illustrating one of the finest Tanzanian dance bands from the 1970s.

Buy Mbaraka Mwinsheshe & Orchestra Super Volcano – Masika, A Fresh Breeze from Tanzania – 1972-74

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Congolese Music Star Papa Wemba Dies at 66

Popular Congolese singer Papa Wemba died April 24, 2016 after collapsing on stage during a performance in Ivory Coast.

Papa Wemba was born Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba in Kazai, in the former Zaire (now the Democratic Republic Congo). From humble village beginnings in the interior of his vast, Central African homeland, Shungu Wembadio moved to the capital city of Kinshasa when he was still a boy. There, the fledgling singer rose quickly to stardom in a series of ground breaking bands.

Famous for his flamboyant sense of style and emotional Lingala vocals, Papa Wemba was the ambassador of a truly global African music. Originally part of the adventurous Kinshasa music scene, Wemba departed for Paris in 1986, starting an international chapter in his career.

In 1996, Wemba joined Youssou N’Dour and other leading African musicians on an epic consciousness-raising journey through war-torn Africa, sponsored by the International Red Cross, and released the single “So Why?” to raise profits for the war victims.

Papa Wemba released 3 albums for Peter Gabriel’s Real World label: ‘Le Voyageur‘ (1992), ‘Emotion‘ (1995) and ‘Molokai‘ (1998), a live studio recording of classic hits and new songs. Also he appeared on the compilations ‘Voices of the Real World’ and ‘Spirit of Africa’ as well as the ‘Big Blue Ball‘ album project.

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Kinshasa: a Musical City & The Pictures Jean Depara Took

Like Dakar, Bamako, or Nairobi, Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is one Africa’s great cities for music and has been for some time. Some would argue that Kinshasa has eclipsed the other cities in terms of producing music that has dominated all of subsaharan Africa. It is debatable. One photographer Jean Depara spent an entire lifetime participating and photographing Kinshasa’s night life and urbanity, leaving behind him brilliant photographs that illustrate the gourmand consumption of Congolese rumba in Kinsasha and the world of emotions that propelled the rise of the musical powerhouse soukous.

Jean Depara was born in Angola but made a name for his self as a photographer in DRC. He focused Kinshasa’s nightlife from the 1950’s to the 1970’s, when he became an official parliamentary reporter in 1975. At the heyday of Depara’s career, around the time and right after “Les Independances” or when African nation states became independent, the great name in DRCongolese music was Franco. Franco, short for Francois Luambo Makiadi, like many other African musicians, was first well known for playing in an orchestra that fused Afro Latin American and African rhythms, OK Jazz.

Cuban rhythms were especially beloved in many African cities and it was the case in at first the Belgian Congo and then in the many names that the DRC has gone by where a Congolese rumba was developed. Franco not only played a terrific guitar but was also an incredible vocalist. He was the king of songs that hid messages and often political messages. OK Jazz would go on to develop into TPOK Jazz and become one of the country’s major figures in the soukous movement and dominate the music of subsaharan Africa in general. It would soon be globally recognized.

In 1954, Depara became Franco’s official photographer. He was granted access to the life that fed Franco’s music. TOPK Jazz’s only real rival was Grand Kalle et L’African Jazz who were well known for the phenomenal “Independance cha cha cha,” though Zaiko Langa Langa and Tabu Ley Rochereau were as well known on the music scene though not as well loved. They all thrilled Kinsasha. In addition to Franco’s TPOK Jazz and its rivals, there were many other groups. DRCongolese groups were the major acts of subsaharan African music of the time both in terms of popularity and critical acclaim.

Depara’s subjects were often under strain though it does not seem to be the case. As Latin-African fusion and eventually soukous made their way into DRCongolese hearts, DRCongo’s politics began to know its highs and lows. The much loved Prime minister Patrice Lumumba was violently followed by Kasavubu and then violently by the dictator Mobutu Sese Soko in 1965 until 1997.

By the beginning of Mobutu’s reigns, DRCongo’s great orchestra and Kinshasa’s nightlife were already in existence. With Mobutu came a time of general absurdity that included both harsh dictatorship but also a campaign of authenticity and of pride in one’s own history. The DRCongolese people, for some time renamed Zaire by Mobutu, lived to the rhythm of daily national life imposed by Mobutu Sese Soko as much as they did to Soukous and their other musical rhythms. The people of Kinshasa’s continuing to attend nightclubs and their living along to DRCongolese’s many musical rhythms created the sort of life that fed soukous and the songs of Franco.

Jean Depara captured the emotion in Kinshasa’s living that came from cultural glory and from political doubt; the living that fed music’s brilliance and perpetuity.

headline photo: Congolese rumba master Franco – Photo by Jean Depara

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