Tag Archives: Democratric Republic of Congo

Artist Profiles: KOKOKO!


KOKOKO! is a collective of musicians from Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The artists are known for creating a contemporary and distinctive dance style of music. KOKOKO! uses instruments built from up-cycling cans, engine parts, plastic containers, and other trash and scrap found on the city streets.


The core of the ensemble are musical instrument makers from the Ngwaka neighborhood, Makara Bianko, electronic producer Débruit and dancers from the Lingwala neighborhood.

In the spring of 2018, KOKOKO! concluded its first sold-out European tour. In 2019, the band embarked on an American tour.

KOKOKO! Have several recordings and have collaborated with other African artists on remixes and music. The EP Liboso EP was released in December 2018 on Transgressive Records.


Liboso (Transgressive Records, 2018)
Fongola (Transgressive Records, 2019)


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.


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)


Artist Profiles: Wendo Kolosoy

Wendo Kolosoy
Antoine “Wendo” Kolosoy was born in 1925. Kolosoy learned how to play guitar at a very young age, after his dead mother appeared in a dream and told him to do so. He started his musical career in 1936. He traveled to Leopoldville in the former Belgian Congo (the current Kinshasha in the Democratic Republic of Congo) and formed a band called Victoria Kin.

With the release of his breakthrough 1948 recording Marie Louise, Papa Wendo became the first superstar of Congo music and remained so into the 1960s. Anyone old enough to recall the so-called tango ya ba Wendo, the era of Wendo, does so with a wistful sigh, for it was a time of awakening, a time of hope, a time when a long oppressed land on the brink of independence found a national voice in music.

Congo’s rumba transcended the country’s vast ethnic diversity and embraced international music trends with a sound so universal in its appeal that it would keep the African continent; indeed, much of the world ? dancing for decades to come. Wendo mostly sat out the three-decade Mobutu era. But when it ended in 1997, there he was, still in fine voice, still writing songs and with a polished band of veterans and young players.

Kolosoy’s 1997 album Marie Louise (Indigo LBLC 2561) marked his comeback after many years of silence during the Mobutu regime. The title track of that album is a remake of Wendo’s 1936 pan-African hit single, which was rumored to wake the dead when played at midnight. When listening to this music, you get the feeling that you?re hearing the sound of Africa from another time.

Amba was Kolosoy’s first recording made in Kinshasa in nearly 40 years. The maestro picks up right where he left off, yodeling heartily and swinging hard in a powerful celebration. Amba was recorded in Kinshasa and released in Europe during Fall 2000 on the Marabi Label. With Amba, Papa Wendo clearly returned to the form that made him famous in the 1930s and 40s.

Wendo Kolosoy died on July 28, 2008 in Kinshasa.


Marie Louise (Indigo, 1997)
Amba (World Village, 1999)
On The Rumba River (Marabi, 2007)
Banaya Papa Wendo (Igloo, 2007)

July 28, 2008


Artist Profiles: Tabu Ley

Tabu Ley

Pascal-Emmanuel Sinamoyi Tabu, better known as Tabu Ley was born November 13, 1937 in Bagata, Belgian Congo. He was a renowned Congolese singer and band leader. His artistic name appeared in several forms: Tabu Ley, Rochereau, Signeur Rochereau, and Tabu Ley Rochereau. They are all the same person.

He began his career as a singer at age 14 in Joseph Kabasela’s legendary Africa Jazz orchestra. He subsequently left that orchestra and was one of the two largest figures (along with Franco et TPOK Jazz) of the Congo/Zaire soukous rumba scene of the late 1960s through the 1980s.

During the mid-90’s he and his Afrisa Internationale orchestra were living in exile in the USA.

A handful of the Afrisa band members – Modero Mekanisi, Wawali Bonane, Dodo Munoko and Huit-Kilos Nseka (who later joined Ricardo Lemvo’s Makina Loca ensemble) stayed in the USA.

Tabu Ley returned to Kinshasha in the late 1990s after the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko fell from power. He performed in Africa and Europe from time to time as well as serving a position as Cultural Governor for the government back home in Congo.

Tabu Ley died on November 30, 2013 in Brussels, Belgium.


Tabu Ley (Shanachie Records, 1967)
Kaful Mayay (Syllart, 1973)
Omana Wapi (Shanachie Records, 1976)
Babeti Soukous (Real World Records, 1989)
Live in Concert (Sonodisc, 1991)
Man from Kinshasa (Shanachie Records, 1991)
C’est Comme Ca La Vie (Sonodisc, 1994)
Soum-Djoum: Afrisa De L’an 20 (Sonodisc, 1994)
Feu D’artifice (Sonodisc, 1994)
Muzina (Rounder, 1994)
Faux-Pas (Sonodisc, 1995)
Sarah (Sonodisc, 1995)
1971, 1972, 1973 (Syllart, 1995)
Tete Nakozonga (Syllart, 1996)
Africa Worldwide: 35th Anniversary Album (Rounder, 1996)
Les Années 70 (Sonodisc, 1997)
A L’Olympia (Syllart, 1997)
Christine (Sonodisc, 1997)
Kebo Beat (Sonima, 1997)
Picnic Ya N’Sele (Ngoyarto, 1997)
Karibou Ya Bintou (Sonodisc, 1998)
Tempelo (Sonodisc, 2003)
The Voice of Lightness: Congo Classics 1961-1977 (Stern’s, 2010)


Artist Profiles: Sam Mangwana

Sam Mangwana
Sam Mangwana is one of the prime singers and innovators of Congolese rumba, a musical form which has animated dancers and listeners alike throughout the African continent. Commonly known as soukous, Congolese rumba combines hip-swinging rhythms with lyrical guitars and vocals to create a music whose influence continues to reverberate in the West.

Born in Kinshasa (Congo) of Angolan parents, Sam Mangwana’s story is a rich tapestry of international influences. As a child his parents took him to hear the music of artists coming from Cuba, Martinique, Jamaica, France, Spain, Italy, and the US, whose tours brought them to Kinshasa. In particular, the Caribbean musicians who passed through Congo-Kinshasa and Congo-Brazzaville had a tremendous influence on the local music scene.

The Congolese recognized their own African rhythms in the Latin beats of the tres (guitar) and percussion players who performed son, beguin, mazurkas, meringue and calypso. Extremely popular in the two Congos, this Caribbean music was re-Africanized through the artistry of musicians such as Joseph Kabasele (“Le Grand Kalle”), guitar wizard Dr. Nico, Rock-a-Mambo, Jazz Africaine, and the revered guitarist Franco with his TPOK Jazz big band. Later Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango, and singer Tabu Ley Rochereau contributed compositions based on bolero and cha-cha-cha rhythms. In the Congo, this re-Africanization of these rhythms came to be known as rumba. In much of the rest of Africa, where it enjoyed tremendous popularity, people called it Congo music.

Sam grew up in this prolific and creative musical environment. While still a 17 year old student at the Salvation Army School in Kinshasa he approached Tabu Ley Rochereau, showing the bandleader songs he had written. Tabu Ley was very impressed, and invited Sam to join his band, then known as African Fiesta. When African Fiesta broke up soon afterward, Sam joined Tabu Ley’s offshoot called African Fiesta National. He stayed at Tabu Ley’s side until 1968 when he left to form a new band called Festival des Maquisards with guitarist Dizzy Mandjeku. The Festival des Maquisards was truly a collaboration of several musicians who were interested in developing a new and democratic model for working musicians.

Sam’s work as vice-president of the Syndicat National de Travailleur Agricole Angloais (SNTAA- in exile), had a strong impact in the way he chose to champion musicians’ rights, and to better provide for their working conditions. This new model caught the attention of one Dennis Ilosono, who offered to establish a special fund which would help improve the social conditions of the musicians. Unfortunately, after one year, this new model caused such resentment and jealousy within the musicians’ community that the Festival des Maquisards was forced to disband. At this point Sam decided to throw his energy into producing records with La Belle Sonora, his own small label. For the next three years, he produced two LPs and 6 singles, including his hit “Domingo”.

In 1972, Sam was asked to join Franco and his band TPOK Jazz. They were looking for fresh input for the band’s repertoire, and chose Sam as the musician best able to implement this new direction. This was a controversial move for Sam because of his previous association with Tabu Ley, and because of the difference in musical philosophy between Tabu Ley Rochereau’s group, and that of Franco. However, despite personal threats and the stress of this new allegiance, Sam continued to perform with Franco until 1975, at which point he returned briefly to perform with Tabu Ley before leaving for West Africa in 1976.

He settled briefly in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where he met with other former members of Tabu Ley’s band including guitarists Dizzy Mandjeku , Lokassa ya Mbongo and drummer Ringo Moya. Together they formed the seminal group African All Stars. The African All Stars tinkered with the Congolese rumba, speeding it up a bit, adding touches of Afrobeat and highlife, and singing more of their songs in French. The changes produced a more “international” rumba which led directly to the Paris “soukous” sound that developed soon afterward.

After a year with the African All Stars Mangwana went solo, touring throughout the African continent, playing to audiences of 50,000 in stadiums and arenas. In 1991 he recorded another very popular release called Rumba Music, with guitarist Dizzy Mandjeku and several New York salseros. Since that time Sam has settled in France, near Paris. He is busy composing songs that carry messages of love, loss, political exile, and the environment, to the far-flung African diaspora. Pieces like Canto Mozambique, a salute to the Mozambican revolution which became a huge hit when it was released in 1983, and Manjani, calling for a halt to the destruction of Africa’s forests and grasslands, are two excellent examples of Sam’s concerns for what he sees going on around him.

The music of diverse African and Lusophone cultures continue to serve as the basis of inspiration for Mangwana’s creativity, including Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Brazil, Guinea Bissau, Cuba, and the Congo. Sam’s releases include Galo Negro (Putumayo, 1998) and Sam Mangwana Sings Dino Vangu (Stern’s, 2000). Both albums have been extremely well-received, with the latter release reaching #3 in the European World Music charts. Sam is proficient in several languages, and can sing passionately in Lingala, Kikongo, Swahili, Portuguese, French, and English.

Congolese rumba was my first love,” he declares, “and it will always be my deepest love. I feel compelled to show that there’s still a lot of life in Congolese rumba, a lot of grace and charm.”


Waka Waka (1978)
Maria Tebbo (1979)
Georgette Eckins (1979)
Matinda (1979)
Affaire Disco (1981)
Est-ce Que Tu Moyens? (1981)
Cooperation (1982)
Affaire Video (1982)
N’Simba Eli (1982)
Bonne Annee (1983)
In Nairobi (1984)
Aladji (1987)
For Ever (1989)
Lukolo (1989)
Capita General (1990)
Megamix (July 1990)
Rumba Music (Stern’s Africa, 1993)
No Me Digas No (1995)
Galo Negro (Putumayo, 1998)
Sam Mangwana Sings Dino Vangu (Stern’s Africa, 2000)
Volume 1 Bilinga Linga 1968/1969 (2000)
Volume 2 Eyebana 1980/1984 (2000)
Very Best of 2001 (2001)
Cantos de Esperanca (2003)


Artist Profiles: Ricardo Lemvo

Ricardo Lemvo

Ricardo Lemvo was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire. His roots reach all the way to Sao Salvador in northern Angola where his grandfathers, Don João Matantu N’lemvo and Andrada Andrè, were born.

Lemvo was eight years old when he first realized that he wanted to pursue a musical career. In Kinshasa, the capital of the Congo, he lived next to a bar. Bombarded day and night with Congolese rumbas and Cuban music from the bar’s loudspeakers, Lemvo memorized all of the songs and their melodies, imagining himself singing in front of an orchestra. He didn’t tell his mother about his dreams because music was not a “real” profession.

At the age of 12, Lemvo was sent to a Catholic boarding school in Gombe Matadi, 120 miles south of Kinshasa. Gombe Matadi was a “college town” with four schools run by Congolese and Belgian priests. It was a place where parents sent their children to keep them away from the temptations of the big city.

Although exposed to Cuban music since childhood, Lemvo’s formal introduction took place during one of the school breaks. His cousin, Hetman Ne-Kongo, had a huge record collection. Lemvo spent hours listening to Orquesta Aragón, Arsenio Rodríguez, Sonora Matancera and Abelardo Barroso.

At the time, Lemvo did not understand the lyrics, but the rhythms, the melody, and the spirit of the music touched him deeply. Whenever he heard Barroso and Ignacio Piñeiro, he felt a strong connection. In their songs Lemvo heard the drums and the voices of Africa. He was overcome by emotion when he realized that this was the music that his enslaved ancestors took with them to the Americas.

Lemvo landed his first job as a singer during another one of the breaks from boarding school. Another cousin, Josè Bipock, helped him get it because he was a board member of a band called Mira Mira. Mira Mira was a garage band of 13 and 14 year old kids trying to be hip. The oldest was the 17 year old bandleader, who went by the name of Laghos El Dorado Le Sentimental. Laghos was a guitarist who walked with a limp and played dazzling solo licks.

Mira Mira hired Lemvo as a rock and rhythm and blues singer. His cousin told Laghos that Lemvo was perfect for the job because he spoke fluent English. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Lemvo spoke some English but was certainly not fluent. “I was assigned two songs: James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” and Otis Redding’s “Direct Me,” which I sang in phonetic English, but what I really wanted to sing was Afro-Cuban music“. Mira Mira performed only Congolese rumba and American soul music, and Lemvo’s brief career ended when he went back to school. He joined his father in the United States in the summer of 1972. He moved to the United States at age 15

In college, Lemvo began collecting Cuban records and met many French-speaking Africans who shared his passion for Cuban music. Most were “purists” who did not like salsa from New York, unless it was Johnny Pacheco. To many African aficionados of Cuban music, Pacheco was a god because he played the son montuno and charanga style that is revered throughout the continent. The influence of Cuban music in Africa is immeasurable. When Cuban music traveled back to Africa it was instantly recognized and embraced.

Lemvo’s musical career began in the late 1980s as a backup vocalist for various bands. It was during this time that he discovered, and fell in love with Mexican rancheras. He even participated in singing contests backed by mariachi bands. In the beginning Lemvo encountered many obstacles. He had a nine-to-five job while pursuing a degree in political science and dreaming of becoming an international lawyer. Music was still a hobby. However, the closer he got to graduation, the more disillusioned he became about law school.

The Los Angeles salsa scene of the 1980’s was vibrant. There were many local bands performing at venues such as Candilejas Night Club and Riviera. The most prominent group was Orquesta Versailles featuring two excellent Cuban musicians: Rodolfo “Fito” Foster and Jesús Alejandro Pérez “Niño Jesús.” Fito played the piano with great intensity. He often wore dark glasses on stage and swayed his head from side to side, like Stevie Wonder. “I was awestruck by Niño Jesús’ versatility. He was a true virtuoso! He not only sang, but played the flute, tres guitar and he was also an accomplished arranger. We soon became friends and he has played an important role in my musical development“.

When Lemvo decided to record his first album, Tata Masamba, Niño Jesús was instrumental with the musical arrangements. He also participated by writing a song for the CD, playing keyboards, bass, flute, tres, and singing background vocals.

In 1990, Lemvo formed Makina Loca (crazy machine in Spanish) in order to combine the two schools of music he adores: Congolese rumba and Cuban son montuno. This idea was not new. The foundation had been laid by the founding fathers of Congolese rumba-Grand Kallè &African Jazz, Tabu Ley, Dr Nico Kasanda, and Franco’s T.P. OK Jazz. In the 1950s and 1960s, Congolese bands were performing Cuban songs in phonetic Spanish as well as adapting the arrangements to fit Congolese languages. This is how Congolese rumba and soukous came to be.

With Makina Loca Lemvo’s goal has been to expand Kallè and Franco’s ideas by Africanizing the soul of Cuban music-son montuno. “The introduction of Congolese guitar, and singing in Kikongo, Lingala, and Spanish has enabled me to create a mosaic of sounds“.

Through his songs, Lemvo hopes to share his Congolese heritage with others. With Mambo Yo Yo he has continued to develop the idea of synchronizing the sounds of his Congolese roots with those of Cuba’s African diaspora.

Isabela, (2007) Ricardo Lemvo’s self-released fifth album, is the product of much hard work and knowledge. Its cosmopolitan bouquet of musical styles is sung in six languages (including Portuguese, Spanish, Swahili, Lingala and Kikongo), each with its own distinct musicality.

Isabela’s, repertoire ranges from “Kasongo Boogaloo,” a fiery upbeat boogaloo, to 1950s Congo classic Lollobrigida (written by the late Congolese guitarist Tino Baroza in honor of Italian movie star Gina Lollobrigida), to Serenata Angolana, a duet with Cape Verdean songstress Maria de Barros that Lemvo dedicated to his beloved Angola.

Invited guest musicians include Congolese guitar legend Papa Noel , singers Wuta Mayi and Nyboma, and Cuban Alfredo de la Fe on violin and cello.

Isabela is also the name of Ricardo Lemvo’s new daughter, born as the album was nearing completion.


Tata Masamba (Mopiato Music, 1996)
Mambo Yo Yo (Putumayo World Music, 1998)
São Salvador (Putumayo World Music, 1999)
Ay Valeria! (Mopiato Music, 2003)
Isabela (Mopiato Music, 2007)
Retrospectiva (Mopiato Music, 2009)
La Rumba SoYo (Cumbancha, 2015)


Artist Profiles: Ray Lema

Ray Lema

Ray Lema has long been acknowledged as one of the most innovative and creative artists in the African and world music scene. His career has brought him from the tribal enclaves of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) to the electrified streets of Europe. It has been a whirlwind tour during which Lema has solidified his artistic stature by making some of African music’s greatest recordings.

Born in Lufutoto 1946 in Zaire, his first musical training was very conservative. He did not begin learning on traditional African instruments, rather he was trained in Western classical piano at a seminary in Kinshasa. He played the church organ every Sunday and made his concert debut with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. In fact, Lema was planning a career in the Catholic priesthood before he fell in love with music, and he dedicated himself to more popular styles.

Lema began performing in the nightclubs of Kinshasa, lending his skills as a keyboardist to artists such as Tabu Ley Rochereau, Abeti, and Papa Wemba. He also developed his skills on the guitar, and although he was accomplished in the rumba styles developed to perfection by legendary compatriots Franco and Dr. Nico, it was Western rock that first appealed to Lema. A fan of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and Eric Clapton, Lema quit his classical studies in order to dedicate himself to the club circuit. Even then, Lema was the object of criticism. The music of choice in Zaire was rumba and soukous, and few of Lema’s peers approved of rock music. It was clear that Lema was a visionary who was not held back by cultural norms and boundaries. His view was clearly global and cross-cultural regardless of the relatively conservative musical environment of both school and clubs.

In 1974, Lema was commissioned by the Zairean government on a daunting mission to create the Zairean national ballet. A devoted musicologist, Lema took on the task of investigating the traditional music and dances of Zaires wide range of ethnic groups, more than 250 in all. He traveled the countryside collecting rhythms and immersing himself in the diversity of his country’s music. He recruited the best dancers and musicians for the national ballet and developed a reputation as a knowledgeable and respected expert in Zairean music.

A few years later, Lema formed his band Ya Tupas, which was one of the first true fusion groups of his generation. Incorporating all of Lema’s diverse influences, the first album earned him a number of awards and allowed him to tour the United States. There he explored further styles like R&B, soul, funk and jazz developing his “cross-cultural cocktail” even more. In fact, Lema ended up settling for a few years in Washington DC.

In 1979, he received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to perform in the US, where he decided to spend some years exploring the musical mix. He recorded his first solo album in the US in 1982. Koteja was released to wide acclaim on the Paris-based Celluloid label, followed by the groundbreaking and critically praised Kinshasa Washington DC Paris in 1983.

Lema eventually moved to Europe, settling first in Brussels then in Paris where he has been based ever since. He became an active part of the European world music scene and recorded as well with pop artists such as Stewart Copeland of The Police.


Kinshasa, Washington D.C. Paris (Celluloid, 1983)
Medecine (Celluloid, 1985)
Nangadeef (Mango, 1989)
Gaia (Mango, 1990)
Ray Lema, Professeur Stefanov* Et Les Voix Bulgares De L’Ensemble Pirin (Buda Records, 1992)
Euro African Suite, with Joachim Kühn ‎(Buda Records, 1992)
Tout Partout (Ruda Records, 1995)
Green Light (Ruda Records, 1996)
Stoptime (Ruda Records, 1997)
The Dream Of The Gazelle (Detour, 1998)
Safi, with Tyour Gnaoua ‎(Buda Musique, 2000)
Mizila (One Drop, 2004)
V.S.N.P. (One Drop, 2012)
Riddles (Gazebo, 2016)


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)