My aunt was a nun
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Date: August 2007


 

'My generation followed that one; Rumba music used to be a bit slow, and my generation speeded it up.'

 

George Luke interviews Kanda Bongo Man

Tell us a little about your background.

I’m originally from Congo. As you probably know, there are two Congoes separated by a river: Congo-Brazzaville, and Congo-Kinshasa, which is where I’m from.

I started performing in 1972 when I was in school. I’d go to school in the morning, and then spend the afternoon rehearsing music. I didn’t know that I’d be a professional one day. That was a decision that came later.

Thanks for that; now give us a bluffer’s guide to Congolese popular music.

Back home, we have this traditional music we call Rumba. Its origins are from the Caribbean: Cuba, Martinique, the Bahamas, all those places. Round about 1960, that music made its way to Congo, in the form of songs in the Spanish language.

Our musicians tried to copy this music; gradually, it took on elements from our own music until it evolved into what we have today. If you listen to old recordings from the late 50s and 60s, you’ll find that the music sounds very similar to the music from the Caribbean.

As far as influential musicians go, the pioneers would be people such as the late Franco. He was one of the biggest guitarists and singers, along with Tabu Ley Rochereau.

After that generation of musicians, we had a second generation: guys such as Zaiko Langa Langa. My generation followed that one; Rumba music used to be a bit slow, and my generation speeded it up.

That transformed it from Rumba to what we now call Soukous. Soukous means ‘to make people shake’.

Gospel songs seem to make up a huge part of your repertoire. How important is faith to you?

I’m a believer; I’m a Christian and I love God. I attended a Catholic school, so I grew up in that tradition of praying before classes. One of my aunts was a nun and one of my uncles was a pastor, so Christianity was big part of my upbringing.

And yes, I do record and perform a lot of gospel songs. I’ll be performing one of my favourite ones tonight; it’s called ‘Yesu Kristi’ and I wrote it during a trip to Sierra Leone.

A lot of leading African musicians – including yourself – have settled in Europe. What affect has that had on the music industry back in Africa?

I’d say South Africa’s the one country in Africa where you’ll find a properly structured music industry. I’m signed to Gallo Records; they’re a South African label, and they’ve got artists such as Lucky Dube, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

A lot of Congolese musicians are signed to them. It’s a lot more difficult in other African countries, because that infrastructure isn’t there. So I go to South Africa at least twice a year.

And how’s the future looking for African music over here in the West?

It looks good. I can remember about 20 years ago in Europe, you couldn’t even find a single in the shops. But today you can find African music in just about any big record store. We’ve done a good job promoting it – especially me!

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