Congolese rumba

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Congolese rumba
Bakolo Music International, the oldest traditional Congolese rumba music group, during a rehearsal in 2014
CountryDemocratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of the Congo
Reference01711
RegionCentral Africa
Inscription history
Inscription2021

Congolese rumba, also known as African rumba, is a dance music genre originating from the Republic of the Congo (formerly French Congo) and Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). With its rhythms, melodies, and lyrics, Congolese rumba has gained global recognition and remains an integral part of African music heritage. In December 2021, it was added to the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage.[1][2][3]

Emerging in the mid-20th century in the urban centers of Brazzaville and Léopoldville (now Kinshasa) during the colonial era, the genre's roots can be traced to the Bakongo partner dance music known as maringa, which was traditionally practiced within the former Kingdom of Loango, encompassing regions of contemporary Republic of the Congo, southern Gabon, and Cabinda Province of Angola.[4][5][6] The style gained prominence in the 1920s–1940s, introducing the advent of the "bar-dancing" culture in Brazzaville and Léopoldville, which incorporated distinctive elements such as a bass drum, a bottle employed as a triangle, and an accordion known as likembe.[5][7][8][9] During the mid-1940s and 1950s, the influence of Cuban son bands transformed maringa into "Congolese rumba", as imported records by Sexteto Habanero, Trio Matamoros, and Los Guaracheros de Oriente were frequently misattributed as "rumba".[10][11][10][11] The 1960s and 1970s saw the emergence of soukous, an urban dance music style that emanated from Congolese rumba, imbuing it with lively rhythms, intricate high-pitched guitar melodies, and large brass and polyrhythmic percussion sections.[12]

Congolese rumba is characterized by its distinct sébène guitar-playing style, which employs arpeggios, rapid chord changes, and melodic embellishments.[13][14] Notably, the style frequently employs the "mi-solo" guitar style, popularized by musicians such as Franco Luambo, wherein the rhythm guitar lays down a basic cyclic pattern, and the "mi-solo and lead guitar create intricate intertwining lines", with "mi-solo" being a "bridge between the ecstatically high-pitched lead guitar and the low-pitched rhythm guitar".[15][16][17] Groovy basslines, catchy rhythms based on ostinato or looping phrases, and danceable beats are also typical elements of the genre.[18][19]

The style has gained widespread popularity in Africa, reaching countries like Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Zambia, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Nigeria, Ghana, South Sudan, Senegal, Burundi, Malawi, and Namibia. Additionally, it has found a following in Europe, particularly in France, Belgium, Germany, and the UK, as well as the US, as a result of touring by Congolese musicians, who have performed at various festivals internationally. Musicians such as Henri Bowane, Wendo Kolosoy, Franco Luambo Makiadi, Le Grand Kallé, Nico Kasanda, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Sam Mangwana, Papa Noel Nedule, Vicky Longomba, and Papa Wemba have made significant contributions to the genre, pushing its boundaries and incorporating modern musical elements.[20][21][1]

Musical examples[edit]

According to Africanist Phyllis Martin, the early style of Congolese rumba was rooted in agbaye dance music and maringa, a Kongo-partnered dance music practiced in the former Kingdom of Loango.[22][4] Initially, local tunes were created using instruments such as the likembe, a bottle struck with a metal rod, and a small, skin-covered frame drum called patenge. However, in the 1920s, accordions and acoustic guitars replaced the likembe in maringa bands.[22] In the early 1940s, the Odéon Kinois Orchestra introduced the sébène guitar-playing style, which became a defining characteristic of modern Congolese rumba.[23][24][25] This style incorporates arpeggios, rapid chord changes, and melodic embellishments.[26][27] During the sébène instrumental section, the rhythm section halts, creating an open space for intricate and syncopated guitar riffs.[28]

In the mid-1940s and 1950s, the syncopated Afro-Cuban rhythms of Cuban son bands exerted a significant influence on Congolese rumba. This can be seen in the rhythmic structures, lead guitar melodies, and the tumbao-based bass patterns typical of son montuno. The following example is from the Congolese rumba "Passi Ya Boloko", by Franco Luambo Makiadi and O.K. Jazz (c. mid-1950s).[29] The bass is playing a tresillo-based tumbao, typical of son montuno. The rhythm guitar plays all of the offbeats, the exact pattern of the rhythm guitar in Cuban son. According to the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, the lead guitar part "recalls the blues-tinged guitar solos heard in bluegrass and rockabilly music of the 1950s, with its characteristic insistence on the opposition of the major-third and minor-third degrees of the scale."[30]

"Passi ya boloko" by Franco (c. mid-1950s). From top: lead guitar; rhythm guitar; bass guitar.
Seben[clarification needed] section of a soukous song. From top: solo guitar; mi-solo guitar; accompaniment guitar.

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

A proposed etymology for the term "rumba" is that it derives from the Kikongo word nkumba, meaning "belly button", denoting the native dance practiced within the former Kingdom of Congo, encompassing parts of the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, and Angola.[31][32][33] Its rhythmic foundation draws from Bantu traditions, notably the Palo Kongo religion, which traces back to the Kongo people who were unceremoniously transported to Cuba by Spanish settlers in the 16th century.[34][35][36][37]

Miguel Ángel Barnet Lanza's treatise On Congo Cults of Bantu Origin in Cuba explains that the majority of enslaved Africans brought to Cuba were initially of Bantu lineage, although later, the Yoruba from Nigeria became dominant.[38] The musical traditions, dance forms, and spiritual practices were covertly preserved across generations within regions characterized by significant populations of enslaved Africans.[39] Musical instruments like the conga, makuta, catá, yambu, claves, güiro, and cajón de rumba were used to craft a musical dialogue that engaged in call and response with ancestral spirits and the deceased.[40][34] Notable figures like Arsenio Rodríguez blended traditional Bakongo sounds with Cuban son.[37]

A Congolese rumba group performing in Léopoldville

According to Phyllis Martin's Leisure and Society in Colonial Brazzaville, the popular partnered dance music in the former Belgian Congo and French Congo, which now constitute the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of the Congo, respectively, was known as maringa.[5] Maringa was a Bakongo dance similar to West African highlife and historically practiced within the former Kingdom of Loango, covering areas in the present-day Republic of the Congo, southern Gabon, and Cabinda Province of Angola.[4] The dance involved a small skin-covered frame drum called patenge for counter-rhythms, a bottle functioning as a triangle, and an accordion known as likembe, with seven to nine steel reeds.[5] The distinctive movements of maringa dancers involved a rhythmic hip sway that shifted body weight alternately from one leg to the other, reminiscent of the Afro-Cuban rumba dance, which later eclipsed older dances and musical forms.[5] The penchant for partnered dance traversed the Congo region by 1930.[5]

Ethnomusicology professor Kazadi wa Mukuna of Kent State University explains that many recording studio proprietors at the time sought to reinterpret the term maringa by infusing it with the new "rumba" rhythm while retaining its original name.[10] Martin also observes that White society in Brazzaville, much like elsewhere, developed an interest in Latin American dance music, particularly the rumba, after it had been featured and made respectable at the 1932 Chicago World Fair.[41] However, both the White elite and African aristocracy predominantly embraced the tango and the biguine—a dance reminiscent of the Brazilian samba but originating from Martinique, alongside other transatlantic dances.[41]

In 1934, Jean Réal, a French entertainment director from Martinique, coined the term "Congo Rumba" when he founded an ensemble by that name in Brazzaville.[11][5] Clément Ossinondé, a Congolese musicologist specializing in Congolese music, notes that among the Congolese musicians affiliated with Congo Rumba, Gabriel Kakou and Georges Mozebo were prominent figures instrumental in popularizing the genre and mentoring emerging local musicians.[42][43][44]

Modern Congolese rumba evolution[edit]

Nico Kasanda leading the African Fiesta Sukisa orchestra

By 1937, Réal had refined his arrangements and equipped local musicians with contemporary instruments, leading to substantial advantages for Brazzaville's native artists, including Alphonse Samba, Michel Kouka, Georges Nganga, Côme Batoukama (guitars), Vital Kinzonzi (accordion), Emmanuel Dadet (saxophone, guitar, and more), and Albert Loboko (banjo, piano, guitar).[42][45] Four brass bands were later established in Brazzaville, notably the Fanfare Militaire, the Fanfare de la Milice, the Fanfare Catholique, and the Fanfare Municipale.[46] Dadet and Antoine Kasongo became the first Congolese artists to contemporize Congolese folk music by incorporating new influences into their songs.[46] Dadet became one of the rare homegrown artists proficient in saxophone, clarinet, and guitar simultaneously. Inspired by jazz soloists, he developed a musical style that incorporated diverse instruments, leaning towards "free polyphony".[46] His dance band, "Melo-Congo," gained prominence among the white elites, performing a diverse repertoire ranging from more geriatric waltzes and foxtrots to the contemporary rumba, biguines, and tangos.[5] It significantly contributed to the prominence of local artists like Pierre Mara, Georges Ondaye, Jean-Marie Okoko, Philippe Ngaba, Pierre Kanza, Casimir Bounda, Jean Dongou, Augustin Thony, André Tsimba, Pierre Loemba, Barète Mody, Pascal Kakou, Félix Maleka, and Botokoua. The band enjoyed tremendous success, performing in Poto-Poto at the dance bar PICKUP, then at dance halls like Chez Faignond, Macumba, Beauté Brazza, Chez Ngambali, Mon Pays, and Léopoldville.[46][5][43]

As maringa thrived in Brazzaville, accordionist Camille Feruzi, originally from Kisangani, relocated to Léopoldville at the age of 15, where he established one of the city's notable professional maringa ensembles in 1937—a quartet featuring a piano, acoustic guitar, saxophone, and Feruzi's preferred instrument, the accordion.[47][48][49]

In August 1941, Paul Kamba formed the Victoria Brazza ensemble in Poto-Poto, accompanied by Henri Pali Baudoin, Jacques Elenga Eboma, Jean Oddet Ekwaka, François Likundu, Moïse Dinga, Philippe Moukouami, Paul Monguele, François Lokwa, Paul Wonga, Joseph Bakalé, and Auguste Boukaka.[50] The ensemble's rhythm section incorporated the maringa rhythm and traditional instruments, including a bass drum, a patengé, bells (reminiscent of maracas affixed to hunting dogs), double bells known as ekonga, a likembe, and modern instruments such as an accordion, a guitar, a mandolin, a banjo, and a rackett. This fusion of modern programmable sounds and the intuitive resonance of maringa with non-programmable traditional instruments emerged as a defining characteristic of the "modern Congolese rumba".[50]

Congolese rumba bar in Léopoldville

In the mid-1940s–50s, the music of Cuban son groups, such as Sexteto Habanero, Trio Matamoros, and Los Guaracheros de Oriente, was played on Radio Congo Belge in Léopoldville, gaining popularity in the country during the following decades.[51][52] Maringa dance music—although unrelated to Cuban rumba—became known as "Congolese rumba", as imported records by Sexteto Habanero and Trio Matamoros were often mislabeled as "rumba".[10] Various artists and groups emerged on the Congolese music scene, with Paul Kamba, Zacharie Elenga, and Antoine Wendo Kolosoy credited as pioneers.[43][5][42][53]

Elenga revolutionized the Congolese rumba rhythm by introducing guitar solos into the musical lineup and instituting a musical training that included a rhythm guitar, a lead guitar, a double bass, a saxophone, and percussion instruments.[54]

Odéon Kinois Orchestra and sebène[edit]

The Odéon Kinois Orchestra, led by Antoine Kasongo, played a pivotal role in the development of modern Congolese rumba at the end of the 1940s, particularly in pioneering the sebène guitar playing style, performed by guitarist Zacharie Elenga during his brief stint in the group before joining Opika.[55][46][56]

Young people grooving to Congolese rumba rhythms in Léopoldville, 1960s

With the support of white-owned labels like Olympia and Ngoma, Antoine Kasongo and his ensemble, supported by the vocal contributions of Ninin Jeanne and Mpia Caroline, released a series of songs, including "Libala Liboso Se Sukali", "Baloba Balemba", "Naboyaki Kobina", "Se Na Mboka", "Sebene", and "Nzungu Ya Sika".[55] Their success coincided with the rapid urbanization of Léopoldville, where bars became hubs of social activity and provided a platform for musicians to showcase their talent and connect with audiences.[55]

Apart from their musical contributions, the Odéon Kinois Orchestra played a significant role in challenging entrenched societal norms concerning gender and race.[55] Women's associations like L'Harmonie Kinoise and L'Odéon Kinois, sponsored by bars and music labels, provided platforms for women to express themselves freely and assert their autonomy in a male-dominated society. Led by trailblazers like Victorine Ndjoli Elongo, these associations empowered women to challenge traditional roles and expectations, paving the way for greater gender equality and social change.[55]

While the Odéon Kinois Orchestra is credited with pioneering sebène, guitarist Henri Bowane gained prominence for popularizing the style during the 1950s.[55] He performed a duet with Antoine Wendo Kolosoy in their hit "Marie-Louise" in 1948. He also accompanied the singer Marie Kitoto on "Ya Biso Sé Malembé" and "Yokolo".[55] Sebène burgeoned in popularity during the ensuing decade, with Franco Luambo emerging as a leading practitioner.

International success and emergence of homegrown bands[edit]

In 1948, Kolosoy's chart-topping hit "Marie-Louise", co-written with guitarist Henri Bowane and produced by the Greek Nico Jeronimidis of Ngoma Editions, achieved significant success, selling over two million copies.[54] A few months after its debut, a pervasive rumor circulated across the Belgian Congo, positing that Kolosoy's "angel voice" possessed the mystical ability to summon the apparition of a "missing beauty".[57] This sudden surge of fame sparked concern among colonial authorities, who were grappling with the resurgence of Kimbanguism, a mystical independence movement spearheaded by Simon Kimbangu. The latter, of the same Bakongo ethnic group as the singer, had proclaimed the "negritude of God", which earned him imprisonment but also garnered immense national recognition.[57] This established Léopoldville as a hub of Congolese rumba "musical leadership", bolstered by the advent of the recording industry and recording studios operated by priests and record production units affiliated with Greek traders.[54]

Franco Luambo was widely referred to as the "rumba king"[58] for redefining and popularizing the genre.[59] Léopoldville, 1956.

In the early 1950s, local artists associated with eclectic Congolese labels owned by white settlers, such as Ngoma, Cognolia, Opika, Loningisa, and CEFA, began producing a similar style of Congolese rumba.[42][43] This style, often characterized by a slower tempo and minimal distinctions between orchestras, included songs like Zacharie Elenga, Antoine Wendo Kolosoy, and Antoine Moundanda's "Paul Kamba Atiki Biso" (1950) and Antoine Moundanda's "Mabele Ya Paulo" (1953), recorded by Ngoma Editions.[42][43][60] These record labels also provided the Belgian Congo a substantial platform for the proliferation and cultivation of homegrown orchestras and bands, such as African Jazz, OK Jazz, Conga Jazz, Negro Band, and Rumbanella Band.[42][43]

Although the band names frequently included the word "jazz", Martin notes that "the essential musical inspiration came from African and Latin American roots". The name was used because young men were bedazzled by the American soldiers, especially African Americans, who were based at a military camp in Léopoldville during the Second World War.[5] Scholars such as Isaac A. Kamola of Trinity College and Shiera S. el-Malik of DePaul University suggest that these Congolese "jazz" ensembles exhibited minimal musical affinity with American jazz, interpreting the appropriation as "identification with another culturally vibrant yet politically under-represented population" and that it symbolized a form of modernity that deviated from Eurocentric norms.[61] This hybridity and foreign essence ensured that Congolese rumba did not align exclusively with "any particular tradition, region, or grouping" and allowed "Congolese rumba a broad and shared appeal".[61]

Schools of Congolese rumba[edit]

OK Jazz (left) and African Jazz (right) were two major schools of Congolese rumba during the 1950s and 1960s.

By the mid-1950s, a schism emerged between musicians receptive to foreign influences and those rooted in traditional Congolese rumba. This gave rise to two schools of modern Congolese rumba: the African Jazz School and the OK Jazz School.[62][63] In 1957, these schools made significant advancements to the genre, with OK Jazz embracing a style known as odemba, characterized by a fast tempo and influenced by the rhythm from the Mongo folklore of Mbandaka, along the Congo River. Meanwhile, the African Jazz School introduced "rumba-rock", which had a faster tempo, with jazz and Afro-Cuban "accents in the arrangements".[63][64][62][65][66] African Jazz also introduced tumba drums and electronic instruments.[67] Classics like "Afrika Mokili Mobimba" made them one of Africa's most prominent bands, with its "loopy-riffing guitars, peculiar drum and bass grooves that lock in while twisting the beat, and horn parts that tell little melodic stories of their own."[68][69]

One of the musical innovations of Franco Luambo's OK Jazz was the "mi-solo" (meaning "half solo") guitarist, playing arpeggio patterns and filling a role between the lead and rhythm guitars.[70] OK Jazz held sway over the Congolese rumba style until 1959, when Les Bantous de la Capitale was established, ushering in a third musical school that synthesized elements from the preceding two styles.[63][71][72]

In 1969, a collective of students, spearheaded by Papa Wemba, Jossart N'Yoka Longo, and Félix Manuaku Waku, emerged as Zaïko Langa Langa, introducing a fourth school of Congolese rumba, characterized by an unconventional structure, abrupt movements, and elements described as "jerky and complex in [their] basic contributions".[63][73][74] The group was most influential in the 1970s, popularizing distinctive features such as variations in drum tempo, snare drum usage, sebène, and an entertainment ensemble comprising atalaku (singing entertainers), a unified choir, a soloist, and soukous "shocked" dance, characterized by intricate body movements.[63][73]

Early 1960s, mi-solo and soukous[edit]

In the late years of colonial rule, many musicians sought to express their dissenting messages and daily tribulations through various forms of art, such as plastic arts, street theatre productions, literary compositions, and music.[75] On 27 January 1960, Joseph Athanase Tshamala Kabasele and his band, Le Grand Kallé et l'African Jazz, performed their Congolese rumba-infused song "Indépendance Cha Cha" at the Hotel Plaza in Brussels to celebrate the officialization of the Congo's independence from Belgian rule, which was granted on 30 June 1960.[75][76][77] Sung in Lingala, it became a celebratory song of independence in various parts of French-speaking Africa and was played at various events, festivities, and gatherings, especially when Congolese artists were present, due to its popularity among subsequent generations.[75] According to Belgian researcher Matthias De Groof, "Indépendance Cha Cha" still stands today as a "symbol of the Congolese independence and Congolese rumba music."[78]

Papa Wemba and Félix Manuaku Waku performing in Kinshasa in 1970

By the latter half of 1960, Congolese rumba was an established genre in most of Central Africa, and it would also impact the music of West and East Africa.[79][80][81] Certain artists who had performed in Franco Luambo and Grand Kalle's bands went on to establish their own ensembles, such as Tabu Ley Rochereau and Nico Kasanda, who formed African Fiesta in 1963.[82] Kasanda's faction, including Charles Mwamba Déchaud, went on to create a new ensemble called African Fiesta Sukisa.[83][84] By 1967, African Fiesta Sukisa had assembled a powerhouse of vocalists and instrumentalists, but what set them apart were the three guitarists—Nico, his brother Dechaud, and De La France—who had become a defining characteristic of Congolese rumba.[85] Les Bantous featured Gerry Gérard, Samba Mascott, and Mpassy Mermans, while Franco Luambo collaborated with Simaro Lutumba and Brazzos as well as several of its successors. Rochereau enlisted Jean Paul "Guvano" Vangu, Faugus Izeidi, and Johnny Bokasa in his Fiesta, and Dewayon worked with Ray Braynck and Henri Bowole in Cobantou. This practice gave rise to the term "mi-solo", to designate the third guitar, which played between the solo (lead) guitar and the (rhythm) accompaniment.[85][86] Subsequently, Rochereau and Roger Izeidi departed from the band to establish African Fiesta National.[83][84] Others, such as Mujos and Depuissant, left to join different musical collectives;[83] they were later joined by Papa Wemba and Sam Mangwana.[87][88]

While Congolese rumba exerted influence on bands such as African Jazz and OK Jazz, younger Congolese artists sought to attenuate this influence and embrace a faster-paced soukous style.[89][90] Soukous contributed to the development of Congolese rumba by infusing social and political themes into its lyrics.[91][92][93][94] Meanwhile, soukous bands like Zaïko Langa Langa pioneered distinct elements, including variances in percussive tempo, utilization of snare drums, the sebène guitar technique, and a performance ensemble comprising atalaku, a harmonized choir, and a soloist.[90][95] Soukous achieved international prominence as numerous musicians moved abroad during the late 1970s due to the economic downturn in Zaire. The leading figures such as Papa Wemba and Abeti Masikini (the first female soukous star) were drawn to Paris for recording opportunities.[94] Other Zairean artists such as Tabu Ley Rochereau, M'bilia Bel, Kanda Bongo Man, Pépé Kallé, Syran Mbenza, Franklin Boukaka, Bozi Boziana, Evoloko Jocker, Rigo Star, Josky Kiambukuta, Diblo Dibala, Jolie Detta, Dindo Yogo, Gaby Lita Bembo, and Koffi Olomide garnered substantial followings in the United States, Europe, and across Africa.[94]

1970s, the Paris scene, and cavacha[edit]

Tabu Ley Rochereau performing at the Paris Olympia in 1970

During the 1970s, a considerable contingent of prominent Zairean musicians moved to Paris due to economic hardship and the country's underdeveloped music industry.[96][97] The oppressive reign of the autocratic dictator Mobutu Sese Seko instilled weariness among artists toward the constraints of Kinshasa's public sphere, compelling them to seek alternative audiences.[98][99][100] In December 1970, Tabu Ley Rochereau became the first Congolese rumba artist and the first African artist to headline one of Paris's major concert venues, the Olympia. Despite concerns about how the French audience would receive their music, the concert was a success and significantly boosted Rochereau's international career. The performance spurred the venue to book other Zairean musicians, including Abeti Masikini, on 19 February 1973, which significantly elevated her status back in Zaire.[96][101][102] Consequently, Congolese rumba and its offshoot soukous garnered acclaim in the Western world during this epoch. In 1974, the three-day Zaire 74 music festival emphasized the significance of internationalism in music in Africa and beyond. It featured American artists like James Brown, B. B. King, Bill Withers, and the Spinners, as well as international ones like Celia Cruz, Miriam Makeba, and Zairian musicians like Tabu Ley Rochereau, Abeti Masikini, Franco Luambo & OK Jazz, and Zaïko Langa Langa.[98][103][104] Alongside acts of cultural diplomacy like Sister Sledge teaching young African girls how to dance the Bump, Americans and other Westerners witnessed and celebrated the vibrant musical performances and genres of Congolese and other African artists that thrilled local populations.[98]

Zaïko Langa Langa performance in 1971. From left to right: Beaudoin Mitsho, Meridjo Belobi (behind), Enoch Zamuangana (behind), Teddy Sukami, Papa Wemba, Damien Ndebo (behind), Evoloko Jocker, Félix Manuaku Waku
Gaby Lita Bembo playing piano in the 1970s

By the late 1970s, a wave of Zairean musicians began to make their way to Paris. Some went for short recording stays, while others made it a permanent base.[96] Péla Nsimba, a guitarist and singer who had garnered acclaim in Zaire during the late 1960s and early 1970s with his ensemble Thu Zahina, arrived in 1977.[105] The emergence of specialized record stores catering to African music burgeoned in the mid-1970s, exemplified by Afric Music in Montparnasse.[106][107] In 1976, Eddy Gustave, a jazz musician from Martinique, opened a record shop near Père Lachaise Cemetery, where he sold Caribbean and African music. In 1978, Gustave moved into production and began inviting musicians from Zaire to come to Paris to record.[108][109]

Meanwhile, in Africa, Zaïko Langa Langa became "the leader of a new generation of orchestras".[97] The band's drummer, Meridjo Belobi, gained popularity and is credited for inventing a dance craze named cavacha, rooted in the Congolese traditional rhythm.[110]

1980s, Paris, and kwassa kwassa[edit]

As sociopolitical upheaval deteriorated in Zaire in the 1980s, numerous musicians sought refuge in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Colombia, and a significant number migrated to Paris, Brussels, and London.[111][112][113][114][115]

Paris became a hub for soukous musicians, serving as a crossroads where other African and European music styles, synthesizers, and production values could feed into the sound. Consequently, soukous garnered an eclectic international following, with Zairean performers in Paris and London navigating the demands of European, African, and Caribbean markets.[98] Artists like Papa Wemba profited from an international following that praised his musical compositions.[98] With the growing international popularity of soukous in the 1980s, lyrics began to deal with a broader range of topics not limited to life in the DRC and the Republic of the Congo.[116]

In the late 1980s, Congolese choreographer Jeanora pioneered a dance form called kwassa kwassa, a dance step within the soukous style (with "kwassa" serving as a playful allusion to the French interrogative "C'est quoi ça?" – "What's that?").[117][118] This dance form was adopted by many artists and notably popularized by Kanda Bongo Man and Abeti Masikini, during her passage at the Zenith de Paris.[117]

Meanwhile, Pépé Kallé and his ensemble Empire Bakuba, co-founded alongside Papy Tex, rose to prominence across Africa with their stripped-down, high-octane rendition of Franco and Rochereau's music.[119]

Ndombolo[edit]

Koffi Olomide and Papa Wemba performing in 1988

Emerging at the end of the 1990s and drawing inspiration from Congolese rumba and soukouss, ndombolo became a popular and danceable fast-paced, hip-swaying dance music in Africa. Defined by its spirited sébéné or "heated part", ndombolo featured vocal entertainment by atalakus and swirling guitar riffs.[120][121][122][123][124][125] Although initiated by Radja Kula in 1995,[126][127] it was notably popularized and refined in the 1990s by Wenge Musica and Koffi Olomide.[128][129][130]

21st century[edit]

In December 2021, Congolese rumba was added to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.[131][132]

Congolese rumba is a musical genre and a dance used in formal and informal spaces for celebration and mourning. It is primarily an urban practice danced by a male-female couple. Performed by professional and amateur artists, the practice is passed down to younger generations through neighbourhood clubs, formal training schools and community organisations. The rumba is considered an integral part of Congolese identity and a means of promoting intergenerational cohesion and solidarity.

— UNESCO, news release

Women in Congolese rumba[edit]

Women in a Congolese rumba barroom

While the genre's influence reverberated throughout Africa, the spectacle of female artists taking the stage and expressing their melodic abilities was a rarity, as song composition and performance were predominantly the domain of male artists.[133][134] In the 1930s, up-and-coming female vocalists like Nathalie and Emma Louise laid the groundwork for the emergence of female artists in Kinshasa and Brazzaville.[133][135] Despite remaining largely anonymous due to limited documentation, they are regarded as prominent figures in the Congolese music scene.[133] In the 1940s, artists such as Gabrielle Maleka and Anne Mbassou made significant contributions to the evolving sound of Congolese rumba as part of Paul Kamba's Victoria Brazza ensemble.[133] By the 1950s, women singers emerged as powerful voices with momentous messages about amorous entanglements, protection, and ordinary struggles, and successes. Martha Badibala, Tekele Mokango, Anne Ako, Ester Sudila, Léonine Mbongo, Joséphine Sambeya, Jeanne Ninin, and Caroline Mpia became influential in sculpting the genre during this transformative epoch.[133][136][137][138] Marie Kitoto became prominent through her exuberant and mellifluous vocalism in chart-toppers like "Mbokamosika". Meanwhile, Lucie Eyenga distinguished herself in African Jazz through her vocal dexterity and later in the fusion of Rock-a-Mambo and African Jazz.[133][139] Despite her popularity, Lucie Eyenga was not primarily recognized as a vocalist but as the hostess of female recreational associations, occasionally performing in bars.[134]

Abeti Masikini in 1978
Lucie Eyenga, 1957

Throughout the metamorphosing musical terrain, women persistently occupied crucial positions in various studios and record labels. Cameroonian singer Marcelle Ebibi, for instance, introduced electric guitar rhythms to the genre with her opus "Mama é", chaperoned by her fiancé Guy Léon Fylla and Belgian guitarist Bill Alexandre.[140][141][142][143] In the 1970s, Abeti Masikini and her troupe Les Tigresses gained critical acclaim for their performance at the Olympia Hall in Paris in 1973 and Carnegie Hall in New York in June 1974, and sharing the stage with James Brown, Miriam Makeba, Tabu Ley Rochereau, and Franco Luambo in October 1974, during the opening show of the historic Rumble in the Jungle in Kinshasa.[144][145][146][147] Abeti's second album, La voix du Zaire, l'idole de l'Afrique, released in 1975, with hits such as "Likayabo", "Yamba Yamba", "Kiliki Bamba", "Naliku Penda", and "Ngoyaye Bella Bellow", elevated her popularity, especially in West Africa. Her band, Les Redoutables, served as a launching pad for numerous female and male musicians, including M'bilia Bel, Lokua Kanza, and Tshala Muana.[145][144][140]

The 1976 release of M'Pongo Love's song "Pas Possible Mati" is recognized as one of the best female compositions in Congolese rumba.[148] In early 1984, Tshala Muana recorded several albums—Kami, Mbanda Matière, and M'Pokolo—for the Safari Ambiance label. Through her albums and performances, she popularized the mutuashi rhythm, a Luba traditional dance characterized by pronounced hip rotations. Her 1988 single "Karibu Yangu" gained traction across East Africa, fostering the introduction of new female artists such as Faya Tess and Barbara Kanam.[149][150][140][151]

Concurrently, alongside secular Congolese rumba, Christian-infused renditions of the genre emerged as a potent avenue for female expression.[140] Ensembles such as Les Makoma played a pivotal role in establishing the presence of female gospel artists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including Deborah Lukalu, Sandra Mbuyi, and Dena Mwana.[140]

Influence[edit]

Colombian champeta[edit]

African music has been popular in Colombia since the 1970s and has had a significant impact on the local musical genre known as champeta.[152][153] In the mid-1970s, a group of sailors introduced records from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria to Colombia, including a plate-numbered 45 RPM titled El Mambote by Congo's l'Orchestre Veve, which gained popularity when played by DJ Victor Conde.[154][155][156][157] Record labels proactively dispatched producers to find African records that would resonate with DJs and audiences. The music gained traction, especially in economically underprivileged urban areas, predominantly inhabited by Afro-Colombian communities, where it was incorporated into sound systems at parties across cities such as Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Palenque de San Basilio.[154]

The emergence of champeta involved replicating musical arrangements by Congolese artists like Nicolas Kasanda wa Mikalay, Tabu Ley Rochereau, M'bilia Bel, Syran Mbenza, Lokassa Ya M'Bongo, Pépé Kallé, Rémy Sahlomon, and Kanda Bongo Man.[156][155] Local artists such as Viviano Torres, Luis Towers, and Charles King, all from Palenque de San Basilio, started composing their own songs and producing unique musical arrangements, while still maintaining the Congolese soukous influence, a derivative of Congolese rumba.[154] They composed and sang in their native language, Palenquero, a creole mix of Spanish and Bantu languages like Kikongo and Lingala.[154][158]

Champeta's sound is intimately intertwined with Congolese rumba, particularly the soukous style, sharing the same rhythmic foundation. The guitar and the use of the Casio brand synthesizer for sound effects are instrumental in shaping champeta's distinct sound.[157]

During the Super Bowl LIV halftime show on 2 February 2020, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, Shakira danced to the song "Icha" by the Congolese artist Syran Mbenza, accompanied by several dancers. The track is colloquially known as "El Sebastián" in Colombia. Shakira's performance inspired the #ChampetaChallenge on various social media platforms.[157][159]

Ivorian coupé-décalé[edit]

The Congolese rumba dance called ndombolo has significantly impacted coupé-décalé dance music with the incorporation of atalaku, a term referencing animators or hype men who enhance the rhythm and interactivity of performances, into its songs.[160][161][162][163] The first Congolese band to employ atalaku was Zaïko Langa Langa, in the 1980s. In one of their early compositions featuring these animators, the repeated chant "Atalaku! Tala! Atalaku mama, Zekete" (Look at me! Look! Look at me, mama! Zekete!) echoed, commanding attention.[164][165] As coupé-décalé emerged, the Congolese rumba influence remained conspicuous. Notably, with the release of "Sagacité", Douk Saga's debut hit, the explicit imprint of atalaku was apparent.[160] In an RFI interview, DJ Arafat, an Ivorian musician, acknowledged atalaku's influence on his artistic approach. The term has transcended its origins, becoming embedded in the lexicon of Ivory Coast and neighboring countries, though it now signifies "flattery".[157][166]

French hip hop[edit]

With the emergence of satellite television across Africa in the early 1990s, coupled with the subsequent development and expansion of the internet across the continent in the subsequent decades, French hip hop flourished within the African francophone market.[167][168][169] Originating in the United States, the genre rapidly gained popularity among youth of African descent in France and various other European nations.[167][170][171] Initially molded by American hip hop, the French variant has since developed a distinct identity and sound, drawing influences from the African musical heritage shared by many French rappers.[167]

By the late 1990s, Bisso Na Bisso, a collective of French rappers from the Republic of the Congo, pioneered the infusion of Congolese rumba rhythms into French rap.[172][173][174] Their album Racines melds American hip hop, Congolese rumba, soukous, and zouk rhythms, featuring collaborations with African artists like Koffi Olomidé, Papa Wemba, Ismaël Lô, Lokua Kanza, and Manu Dibango, alongside the French-Caribbean zouk group Kassav'.[175] Nearly all their thematic elements revolve around a reconnection with their roots, evident through samples sourced directly from Congolese rumba and soukous.[172][175] In the early 2000s, the lingua franca of many French rap tracks was Lingala, accompanied by resonant rumba guitar riffs.[176][177] Mokobé Traoré, a Malian–French rapper, further accentuated this influence on the album Mon Afrique, where he featured artists like Fally Ipupa on the soukous-inspired track "Malembe".[175] The far-reaching impact of "Congolization" transcends hip hop, permeating other genres like French R&B and religious music, all while concurrently gaining traction across Europe and francophone Africa.[157] Prominent artists include Youssoupha, Maître Gims, Dadju, Niska, Singuila, Damso, KeBlack, Naza, Zola, Kalash Criminel, Ninho, Kaysha, Franglish, Gradur, Shay, Bramsito, Baloji, Tiakola, and Ya Levis Dalwear—all descendants of Congolese musical lineage.[176][177][178][179]

East African music[edit]

Following the establishment of Radio Congo Belge, with its extensive broadcasting reach in East, Central, and West Africa, Congolese rumba garnered an extensive audience, evolving into a central focus for East African artists to observe and emulate.[180] According to ethnomusicology professor Alex Perullo of Bryant University, Mobutu's Zairianization movement precipitated an upsurge in the popularity of Congolese rumba in Tanzania and Kenya,[181] and pirated albums and cassettes from Kinshasa made their way to local markets in East Africa.[181] Congolese rumba bands, such as Orchestra Maquis Original, established their operational base in Tanzania, alongside Mzee Makassy.[180] Proficient in executing Congolese rumba in Kiswahili, these bands exerted influence over local musicians like Simba Wanyika, Les Wanyika, Fundi Konde, Daudi Kabaka, and Fadhili William, who fused Congolese rumba rhythms with East African linguistic and cultural elements.[180] Kenyan local bands, such as TP Luna Kidi[182][183] and Limpopo International, embraced the Congolese rumba style while singing in their native language, Dholuo, interspersed with Swahili.[180] Meanwhile, other homegrown artists heavily leaned towards the Congolese rumba style, singing entirely in Lingala, to the extent that their local languages were seemingly overshadowed.[180] The popularity of rumba in East Africa, particularly in Kenya, coupled with the evolution of musical tastes, became a musical touchstone for older audiences, with resident bands in entertainment spots consistently including rumba in their repertoire.[180]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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