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Memory lane… With Robert Adam (PART 2)

Continued from Part 1

Shirati Jazz

Article written by Robert Adam, UK

Kanindo music flavours can be clearly detected in some Zimbabwean artists’ music, such as  Khiama Boys, John Chibadura, Job Mashanda and Sulumani Chimbetu for example. The integrated Kanindo sound was often referred to as Museve. But at the end of the day, Kanindo itself had unmistakable derivatives of African Rumba, as did Sungura.
African Rumba began to reach its regional zenith in the 1960s. Perhaps two of the most memorable, early pioneers of this music were Franco Luambo Makiadi and his TPOK Jazz band as well as Le Grande Kalle’s African Jazz. But the original African Rumba sound was on an onward evolvement during the mid 60s into another discernable genre, first called Super Rumba and then called Soukous, being a French language derivative word meaning ‘ to shake’.  A new generation was taking African Rumba in this more dynamic and polished direction. It was much faster-paced music with some performers displaying rhythmic hip gyrations, something which would prove troublesome for them on moral grounds in some countries. Names, such as African Fiesta L’Orchestra, featuring the legendary Tabu Ley (insistently re-named with the surname Rochereau by Zaire’s Mabuto Sese Seko) led the way, together with colleague Dr. Nic Kasanda who later split from their band, naming his short-lived outfit African Fiesta Sukisa. Tabu Ley Rochereau renamed his band African Fiesta National. The latter contained more names which the music world was to hear a lot of in years to come; Sam Mangwana and Pepe Kalle.

Tabu Ley

Soukous had been born. It was initially carried into momentous popularity by Joseph Kabasele’s phenomenal hit African Jazz Mokili Mombinda, (also just  known as African Mokili Mobimba). The piece was covered by a number of other artists at the time. Emerging artists which were to become synonymous with early Soukous music were, for example, Koffi Olomide  and Tshala Muana, the latter also finding herself banned in some countries due to her risque stage performances. It also pulled established African Rumba artists into this new arena, such as Zaiko Langa Langa, Grande Kalle, Empire Bakada and Papy Tex. Visually more seductive versions of Soukous were successfully portrayed by acts such as Dr. Sakis and Dany Engobo et le Coeurs Brises. Attractive and well choreographed dancing girls supported more sugary musical versions of Soukous and its Ndombolo offshoot (see below). It created highly marketable music products and touring stage shows which were also to appeal to a more international market. Unfortunately, some dancers’ moves and costumes did carry a banning penalty in some African countries on moral grounds.

Dr Sakis

Papa Wemba (Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba) also served his ‘apprenticeship’ in the African Rumba arena before recognising the potential of the emerging Soukous market. There were actually in-between moments during the emergence of Soukous, called Rock Rumba and Super Rumba. Papa Wemba was one of Soukous’s successful commercial exponents through his association with Zaiko Langa Langa and then his own outfits called Isife Lokele and then Yoka Lokole. With his more commercialised promotion of Soukous as an exciting musical and visual entertainment experience, the style became known as Ndombolo and more loosely as ‘Kwassa Kwassa’ (‘Dance Dance’) music. Ndombolo became particularly popular in East and Central Africa.

Dany Engobo

Kanda Bongo Man would often contend that he invented ‘Kwassa Kwassa’ terminology. However, Cameroonians might disagree. Yet another offshoot of Soukous, called Makossa, had developed in the 1980s and bore its inspiration from Cameroon. A traditional dance called Kossa meaning ‘dance’ in the Douala language had been enjoyed there in accompaniment of a fast-paced music style called Makossa. Indeed, the chant ‘Kossa Kossa’ (Dance, Dance) was often heard within such music. Sampling of it featured in some musical productions of mainline international artists such as Shakira and Michael Jackson. Makossa’s incorporation into Soukous and emerging as Ndombolo enriched the music formulae pioneered by Papa Wemba and Kanda Bongo Man. It led to their significant international popularity. The Cameroonian influence would suggest that the ‘Kossa Kossa’ chant had somehow by then been twisted into ‘Kwassa Kwassa’ terminology.

Kanda Bongo Man (Bongo Kanda) had thus been quite opportunist in also perceiving the commercial marketability of Soukous/Makossa/Ndombolo. Similarly to Papa Wemba, Kanda Bongo Man (KBM) served his extensive ‘apprenticeship’ in the Rumba arena, having been heavily influenced by Tabu Ley Rochereau in the late 70s. KBM had then formed his own band called Orchestra Belle Mambo. He also incorporated elements of Zouk sounds and dance into his routines. Zouk music and dance originated in the French West Indies, particularly in the Caribbean Islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique with some influence also from Haiti.  The word Zouk loosely translated from the Creole through the French languages to mean ‘repeatedly shake intensely’. Over time, it came to represent party or carnival music in the same way the Rumba word had. Eventually, the Zouk sound had made its way into African music anywhere from Angola to Cape Verde and it was therefore unsurprising that it had also turned up in Congolese music’s evolvement. But it wasn’t a new idea as even Franco Luambo Makiadi and Grande Kalle had experimented with Caribbean sounds many years earlier. The end result for KBM was his own brand of Soukous/Makossa/Ndombolo adaptation which had unconventional Soukous musical structures featuring much more solo guitar representation. With the faster paced Zouk influence, the associated dance moves caused KBM to define it as his own brand of ‘Kwassa Kwassa’ (‘Dance Dance’).  KBM’s band also provided a success story for one of its accomplished guitarists, Diblo Dibelo, who later enjoyed a successful career himself with his band Matchatcha. In the same way that Papa Wemba had provided an entertaining stage act which appealed across the cultural divide, KBM also went on to considerable international success and from the early 1980s was enjoying a long string of hit singles and LPs.
It is pretty obvious that most of these music genres developed within current or past Francophone regions of Africa. Influences could have come from any one or more territories, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Republic of the Congo, Mauritius, Seychelles and Reunion. Indeed, the French language features in many of the songs, particularly from acts which successfully transcended the said cultural divides and particularly in France where the music was known as la musique moderne. This popularity in France was also not too surprising given that French and Belgian recording facilities were largely used as were French marketing structures which took appreciable financial benefit. An accumulated bank of session musicians and dancers could also be drawn on from Paris both for recordings and stage tours. The music also became popular in many other parts of western Europe, the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. Particularly in France, the music and stage shows received good TV exposure. Together with their exodus from an economically crippled Zaire, this vibrant scenario encouraged more Zairian artists to join their successful compatriots in France, including such names as Tabu Ley Rochereau, Yondo Sister, Diblo Dibala, Mbilia Bel, Rigo Star, Madilu System and Extra Musica .

Yondo Sister

Now, some artistes were able to take French citizenship and bought houses in France and Belgium. A vibrant African night club scene developed in Paris. Record stores carried the music and some stage shows were televised. Most importantly, there existed solidly structured French music entrepreneurship to properly manage and produce the emerging talent although it needs to be said that the experience did not lead to great success or wealth for all those artists who had made the move
So where does this music stand today? Some people will lament the passing of African Rumba whilst others will lament the passing of certain stages of its onward evolvement. People tend to emotionally associate their musical memories with how life was at particular moments in time, who they hung out with, maybe what challenges they were facing and how they dealt with them. But without any doubt, Soukous, as we can collectively call the genre cocktail as a generalisation, continues its periodical renewal. Some current artists who are labelled under the Soukous banner might never have been to Africa. Meanwhile, some legendary artists from the early years who are still alive and able to perform remain active and popular, such as Koffi Olomide, Fally Ipupa, Ferre Gola, JB M’piana, and Werra Son. Indeed, Koffi Olomide can still sell-out a concert hall in many parts of the world. The Soukous genre also carries something of a cult status, representing certain dress and accessory styles which are copied by followers. In the list of names following this article you will find a number of more recent newcomers to the Soukous arena. The legacy lives on.

Koffi Olomide

Regrettably, original, quality copies of Soukous music in any medium format had always been difficult to obtain inside South Africa. Remember, this was all before the on-line digital music revolution had taken hold. A few titles were available from local speciality stores at very high prices but with no consistency of availability. The majority of availability was in poor quality pirated copies from street vendors, that is, if there was anything more than an empty case or blank disc provided in the sealed packet! Otherwise, pirated copies of even the very latest releases would be available for example in the clubs and bars of the more cosmopolitan areas of Johannesburg. By contrast, in Paris France, the number of music retailing outlets for music from all over Africa was growing and fed a ready market at affordable prices. That situation remains, today. A fairly large selection of old and new Soukous music is now also available to enjoy on-line albeit visual and sound quality is not always that good.

Contact the writer for guidance on obtaining quality Soukous/Makossa/Ndombolo/Kanindo  DVDs and CDs (afriquality@yahoo.com).
So there you have it in this relatively brief summation of the development of a music genre cocktail which meant so much to so many people over the years and continues to tug at peoples’ heart strings anytime it is heard. The mood- changing smiles which envelope the faces of appreciative people when they hear an old Sam Mangwana, Tabu Ley Rochereau, or Mbilia Bel  track or particularly Nguashi Ntimbo and Festival du Zaire’s  Shauri Yako, is a joy to behold. Likewise, I hope you have beholden some joy from this article.

Sam Mangwana



Article by Robert Adam. Get in touch with him on afriquality@yahoo.com

About Constance van Niekerk

Constance van Niekerk, (Connie V) is a creative writer, poet, music lover, spoken word artist, freelance writer, blogger and educator. She has contributed to several anthologies and published her own collection, Echoes of My Heart: A Poetry Collection available for purchase on all Amazon Stores Worldwide. Follow her on Twitter : @convanniekerk Connect with her on Facebook and Linkedin.


One thought on “Memory lane… With Robert Adam (PART 2)

  1. Just loving modern age lingala especially Ferre Gola and Fally Ipupa. Very talented dudes!

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Peter Pareno | Jul 13, 2017, 16:34

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