Traditional Congolese Music

Congolese music, with its many dialects of nearly 500 ethnic groups, is a singular richness in terms of the intrinsic quality of its songs and folk music transmitted orally for centuries.

These tribal musics have a diverse instrumentation, varied rhythms, colorful melodies, inspiration and a blend of words. In all, they are an art belonging to social groups.

Traditional tribal and folk music, it essentially comprises two voices, the viola and the soprano, with a vocal style that contemporary musicians have adopted. This is the case of the Chem Chem Yetu youth group created by Ben van deu Boom, who is of Dutch nationality and was followed by Bas, who was headed by Gommaire Basunga, the present leader of the troupe Tuta Ngoma, and songs like “Analengo”. (1978), “Ufukutanu” (1981) and “Endena” (1996) by Papa Wemba (1).

(1) LONOH, M, Commentary essay of Congolese music, Kinshasa, SEI, 1963, p.56.

Michel Lonoh Malangi Bokelenge has subdivided traditional Congolese music into six musical areas obeying the political and administrative divisions of the former Belgian colony.

1 °) Kinshasa area:
with the most important musical groups that have a repertoire of folk songs capable of arousing the enthusiasm of the masses. It is classified as Ekonda dancers, traditional groups of Pende, Yanzi and Bamboma dancers, Basakata folk rhythms and Yombe and Ndibu songs;

Ecuador area:
with Ekonda dances and rhythms, groups of Mongo dancers, Mbuza singers and dancers and Ngombe folk rhythms and songs;

3 °) Zone of the Eastern Province:
grouping several musical foci that still retain ancestral traditions with groups of Topoke dancers, players of traditional Bangelema music, Bakumu and Wagenia dancers and dancers Azande and Makere;

4 °) Kivu region:
with folk groups of Warega singers, Bangubangu dancers and Babembe rhythms and songs;

5 °) Kasai area:
with the great cradles of traditional Congolese music such as Baluba and Kuba folk rhythms and songs, groups of Lulua singers and dancers, Pende du Kasai, and also Tetela songs and dances;

6 °) And in the region of Katanga:
with the main groups that preserve the vestiges of traditional music: Balubakat dancers, Chokwe singers and dancers, Basanga rhythms and songs, Lunda, Songe, Babembe and Bahemba folk songs.

Social functions of Congolese traditional music

Traditional music had its functions in society. These functions are not far from those granted to the current music. Only the evolution of data to a new universe gives them different aspects. At the center of music is always social, religious, hunting, war, agriculture, moral and civic education, and so on.

From its origins, Congolese music was educational and functional. Primitive society and its demands, conduct towards superiors, vices and virtues, tales, legends and riddles, etc. were the themes. They were documentary songs. They had a ritual, religious and historical meaning. This music also had an ornamental, circumstantial or casual aspect.

Singing, dancing, traditional screams in contemporary music

Traditional dance and songs, particularly in the Congo, and in Africa in general, are closely linked. Who says song, says dance. A song is a sufficient condition for there to be dancing. The first dances introduced in the years 1930-40 and even 1950 by Coastmans were the “Maringa” (Malinga), the “Rumba” and folk dances of Afro-Cuban origin tinged with African ingredients ().

During these decades, on the music scene, there was the creation of a new choreography that regularly fed on new dances released from the Congolese mold. The song is usually in Lingala, it is the beginning of a process that will develop a kind of urban music composed of vernacular songs and dances dominated by “Zebola”, “Agbaya”, “Maringa”, ” Rumba “,” Nzango “,” Kebo “and” Polka pike “.

Traditional dances themselves have undergone the same fate during these two decades as the rhythms, although they do not carry well-defined denominations like the tetela dance “Nieka-nieka” that Viva La Musica danced in 1977 under the denomination “Mukonyonyo”.

Already in 1974, the Isifi Lokole orchestra had inserted the “lokole” among its musical instruments and towards the end of the 70’s, the folklore group Bana Odeon of the commune of Kintambo, directed by Beta Kumaye and Zumbu Sonnery, the Pamba group -Pamba, still from Kintambo and the folklore group Nzila Sambila from Bahumbu of Matadi-Kibala, have begun to breathe new life into Congolese music.

The first group that used this musical genre was Zaiko Langa-Langa All-Shock in 1979 through the song “Ba mbuta ye baleke”, a composition of Manuaku Waku. This same orchestra favored traditional cries in 1982 with an instrument made from a box of insecticide, introduced pieces of pebbles and scraps of bottles, which are generally used in traditional African music.

In the latter, drummers drummers and their teammates also repeat harmoniously and easily the appropriate sounds with such dance or another.

They methodically establish the difference between the sounds of a tom-tom announcing the death, the hunt, of those who serve as warning for a possible combat.

This music of the village, the tribe or the ethnic group was married by the modern Congolese composer with the new elements coming from the contact with the modern instruments: first by the guitar introduced by the Belgian Bill Alexander and then by the introduction brass by the Coastmans and Kru boy’s, as well as by the Salvation Army.

The introduction of the Western drum and also the electric drums have changed many things in the traditional rhythm. This music is part of an ethnic, tribal or regional setting. Currently, it encompasses disparate elements, products of ethnic mixing in a state, the Rd-Congo. This is the consequence of the mutation of men and their grouping into a large organized society. That’s when you have to talk about national music.

The drum: source of the world music

Since the late 1960s, rooted in Bantu traditions has allowed the flourishing of African folk groups who are invited to festivals in Europe and the Americas. The African drum has been considered a medium of cultural affirmation around the world.

The African tam-tam took a place and went on to conquer the world. He is the source of World Music, as stated by the late musicologist and writer Francis Bebey Cameroonian.

Kenge’s group of small singers, Chem Chem Yetu, and today Tuta Ngoma, Ballet Walo Wafeka, Ballet Umoja, Ballet Kiti na Mesa, etc., through cultural animation inspired by Mobutian authenticity, animated by shock groups, such as Kake from Kinshasa, Okapi from Upper Zaire, Mbengo-Mbengo from Lower Zaire, Nkashama from Western Kasa, Mikenia from Kasai Oriental, Mukuba. Shaba, Molunge of Ecuador, Moto-Moto of Kivu and Bilombe of Bandundu are a confirmation of the national cultural diversity of the packing drum rhythm.

Traditional music presents an astonishing diversity. Today’s music, coming from contact with the outside, is undeniably the continuity of the first and deserves the epithet of national music. It is a superposition of disparate elements, a mixture of melodies, accents, tones and inter-tribal rhythms in contact with the outside.

Section 2. Modern Congolese Music

Modern Congolese music comes from traditional and modern sources. The former provinces of the Rd-Congo are therefore the most influential historical cradles that have been exploited by Congolese composers. Several musical groupings result from ethnic groups.

Congo has a very rich musical culture, its music known as rumba or ndombolo makes dance all over Africa. Congolese music has been successful across borders since the 1960s alongside music from Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea or Nigeria.

Currently called soukous, she gave birth to other styles of music such as quassa-quassa and others. The kotazo is a style of music that appeared in 2002, a mix of soukous and ndombolo.

2.1. First generation: 1930-1950

During this generation, the traditional music of the Léopoldville region was merged with other styles of music, notably Afro-Cuban and Haitian, as well as others from Latin America; which gave birth to very varied styles. But the Cuban style surpassed any other style and Congolese music got its first name: the Congolese rumba and the most famous singer of that time was WENDO KOLOSOY.

Second generation: 1950-1970

The year 1953 marks the beginning of this generation; it is the one that gave birth to modern Congolese music. The most famous artists are the pioneers of modern music: Grand Kalle with his African jazz, Luambo Makiadi Franco with his “OK Jazz” become “T.P. OK Jazz”, Tabu Ley Rochereau who trained “African fiesta” with Nico KAsanda. With the “African fiesta” the music of the Congo was known as soukous which has its roots in the rumba of the 1950s, and whose name is a distortion of the word “jolt”.

2.3. Third generation: 1970-1990

It is marked by the birth of several groups just after the withdrawal of Papa Wemba from the group Zaiko Langa Langa, the latter created his group Viva la Musica and several musicians made their appearances among others; Koffi Olomide, King Kester Emeneya … Still in this third generation, we can mention the presence of the following musicians: Pepe Kalle, Kanda Bongo Man, Tshala Muana, Defao, Sam Mangwana, Mayaula Mayoni, etc.

2.4. Fourth generation: 1990-2010

Marked by the rise of the musical group Wenge Musica, it is the time of the glory of the Congolese music. The music of Congo takes the name of “ndombolo”. The outstanding figures of this era are the singers JB Mpiana and his rival Werrason, both from Wenge Musica.

2.5. Fifth generation: 2010

It is marked by the birth of two great figures of this generation, it is about Fally Ipupa (ex-musician of the Latin Quarter International group of Koffi Olomide where he could learn the style of his boss during 8 years, of 1999 to 2006, being also conductor at the beginning of 2002 until his departure). Also, Ferre Gola (former musician of Wenge Musica group then of Wenge Musica Mother House of Werrason from 1997 to 2004 also passing by Koffi Olomide) could evolve alongside his current rival, Fally, from May 2005 to June 2006.

Congolese music, in its modern form, dates back to the early 1930s. Paul Kamba, Albert Loboko, Dadet Damongo, Massamba dit Lebel, etc. … for Congo-Brazzaville; Antoine Kasongo, Alexis Tchimanga, Camille Ferruzi, Bowane, Wendo, etc., for the Congo-Leopoldville, are the emblematic figures of this nascent modern music influenced by Afro-Cuban music but also by the rhythms derived from the Gold Coast, the jazz, polka, waltz, mazurka, etc. it is a music that, in the author’s mind, forms a coherent whole.

“Independence Cha Cha”, the latest work by Mfumu Difua Dissassa, is an exciting journey through the history of Congolese music from both shores. The author chose, for his study which covers the decade 1959-1969, fifteen “timeless works” of the Congolese musical repertoire, of which he publishes the texts in their entirety: “Pot pourri sur le passé” (interpreted on saxophone by Nino Malapet and Jean Serges Essous), “Keliya” (Rochereau), “Independence cha cha” (collective work composed during the Brussels Round Table, 1960), “Hele wa bolingo” (Mujos), “Liwa ya Wech” (Franco) , “Never kolonga” (Tino Baroza), “Africa mokili mobimba” (Déchaud), “Kj” (Rochereau), “Paquita” (Rochereau), “Mama Adele” (Jean Serge Essous), “Bantu Committee” (Célestin Kouka ), “Bridge over the Congo” (Franklin Boukaka), “Choose where he is or it’s me” (Alphonse Taloulou), “Congo na biso” (Pamelo Mounk’a), “Masuwa” (Pamelo Mounk ‘) at).

The musical repertory of the decades 1950-1960-1970 and beyond, was built around the two principal schools which are African Jazz and Ok Jazz. Most of the great musical creations of this period are derived from these two founding schools.

The Congolese song fulfills a well-defined social function: its task is to distract the public from urban cities at the same time as it assumes a role of chronicler of social life and “guardian of morals”. Among the great voices of Congolese music of past decades, we can add Franklin Boukaka probably because of his militant commitment; he was a committed singer ().

Congolese music as a whole is doing badly. The author’s judgment on this subject is without hesitation: “The Congolese music is, despite everything, sick, sick of its musicians, a cohort of individuals often without talent, fallen in there without preparation and often without vocation, a second-best, in a way “().

Because of the socio-economic situation in the country, characterized by a lack of employment, Congolese music had become an outlet for absorbing the overcrowded unemployed and unemployed people in Kinshasa.

Another thing, Congolese music knows a phenomenon that nobody can ignore: “Libanga”, singing or quoting a character in their compositions at all times in order to promote the visibility of the person cited in public space for a certain amount of money.

The “libanga” phenomenon, which tends to spread in Africa, represents a significant additional resource. The author estimates about a thousand dollars, the price paid by a customer to be quoted in a song in addition to the royalties collected by the musicians. For Mfumu, we must “expurgate the neo-rumba slag libanga” () because “the song, in fact, experiencing a continual degradation via this practice that illustrates the caricature bitterness to the earnings of Congolese artists.” But in our countries, where political decision-makers are among the main demanders of musical advertising, what can the musicians, if not the concomitant pressure of politics and money, actually do? Mfumu recalls the role played by women in the development of modern Congolese music. These musicians, who, in the collective imagination of the populations of both banks, were, most of the time, assimilated to women of joy.

His essay, in fact, is in the form of a patchwork clothing arranged including tracks on the musical news, the biographies of the composers of the fifteen songs selected by the care of the author and other musicians, historical reminders portraits and speeches of Congolese and foreign statesmen, press extracts, poems, etc.

Excerpt from LONOH, M, Commentary on Congolese Music, Kinshasa, SEI, 1963.