The Congolese refer to their music simply as ndule, the Lingala word for music. In fact, most of their own music is sung in Lingala with some French mixed in as well. After WWII, music in the DRC became more or less a fusion of African folk music mixed with Latin music, especially rumba coming out of Cuba. They adapted their music to include Latin instrumentation and styles. The Belgians actually helped by bringing in electric guitars and equipment necessary to start recording music. The first recording studios were in Kinshasa. Besides Cuban rumba, Congolese musicians were also influenced by American swing music and jazz, cabaret music from France, and a style known as highlife coming out of Ghana. This new blend of Congolese became known as soukous and is highly influential in other areas around central Africa.
African jazz was super popular during the middle part of the 20th century, and many jazz bands popped up all over the country, especially in the large cities. There were a lot of musicians who jumped back and forth between Kinshasa and Brazzaville.
Soukous more or less became the base for almost all of the other styles of music in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And then there were offshoots: rumba-rock, n’dombolo, etc. One band named Zaiko Langa Langa emerged and changed the genre to include a more smoother, pop-like sound, which many other bands and music groups followed as well. The term soukous has now become more of a catch-all term for all Congolese music.
And essentially, all Congolese music is dance music. Dance is so integrated with music that it’s hard to separate the two. Dance styles are generally named after the music it’s danced to. Different ethnic groups had their own dances and musical styles used to tell stories and act as part of special ceremonies. The clip above is a great piece I found about Congolese dance today, combining tradition dance styles and ballet, telling the most pressing stories of women and other important issues at hand.
Two super huge musicians that shaped Congolese music as we know it are definitely in my Spotify playlist. The first one is Joseph “Grand Kalle” Kabasele. I can definitely tell the Cuban influence on his music, but there’s also definitely an African quality to the guitar riffs. There are times that I’ve wondered if I accidently switched over to my Cuban playlist instead. I love this music. I have the album Le Grande Kallé: His Life, His Music in my playlist.
Another musician I found is Papa Wemba. When I pulled up the photo of movie cover to La Vie est Belle, the DRC’s first major film produced (I mentioned it in my last post), it listed Papa Wemba on the cover – he did much of the music on the soundtrack. I really like his music as well, and again, I can sense some of the Latin flavor in his music in regards to instrumentation and rhythms. I liked the album Best of Papa Wemba: Cantos Essentials.
Another album in my playlist is Zaiko Langa Langa’s Tout Choc. It’s upbeat, and really, who doesn’t love a little cowbell? It almost makes me think of outdoor cabanas, eating some kind of spicy, charred meat with a side of some fried plantains, drinking cold beer, taking in the warm breezes, and listening to this music for hours.
Up next: the food