Sunday, August 4, 2013


Rooted in the musical styles of central and western Africa, Congo is no stranger to a strong music and rhythmic background.  Some of the more common instruments are xylophones and marimbas, as well as the mvet, which is somewhat of a cross between a zither and a harp, except that it has one or two gourds that act as resonators. Of course, they also use a variety of drums and percussion instruments as well. 

Much of the music that is played and listened to in the Republic of the Congo is highly influenced by its neighbor with a similar name, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (or DRC). One style called soukous is a major influence on the music scenes of most major cities in central and western Africa. Soukous is a sort of cross between Cuban rumba, American jazz, and traditional Congolese music.  It rose to popularity in the 1950s and 1960s as it entertained the dance halls across this area and still remains as one of the favorite styles of African music in general. 

American- and French-influenced hip-hop is also highly popular with artists such as Bisso na Bisso and Passi. I really like the group Bisso na Bisso; I found the album Le 15 Mai 99 on Spotify and have listened to it a dozen times. I also found it on iTunes for $8.99. I like their style: you can tell it’s been influenced by soul, by jazz, by blues, by Latin music – but that may be the soukous speaking. It’s catchy, and I like it. I might buy the album one day (even though I’m not a huge fan of live albums and generally avoid them, but this one might be an exemption.) The video above is the song "Tata N'Zambe," and every time I hear it, I think they're saying "zombie." Two other groups that bear mentioning are Extra Musica and Les Bantous de la Capitale.

The Congolese has used dance as a means of expression since the earliest of days. The Kyébé-Kyébé dance of the Mbochis tribe is one of the more famous dances. Another famous dance is the traditional stilt dance used with brightly-colored puppets.  During the 1920s and 1930s, people would come out on Sunday afternoons to the different cultural centers of Brazzaville – the largest being the Grande Place in Poto-Poto – and hold these large dance competitions. Drummers would line up and perform different rhythms that were indicative of their particular section of the city or tribal background (like the walla rhythm that is commonly used by the Kongo people), and while just about anyone could join in the dances, many of the serious dancers dressed in full traditional costumes. They’d go on all afternoon and at the end, there would be a prize for the best dancers. I found this video (above) and would LOVE to find something like this to show my kids. The costumes are amazing, and it makes me think that this is where the choreographers who did The Lion King live-stage version of the musical got their inspiration. 

Up next: the food

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