Kanda Bongo Man Biography

Kanda Bongo, 1955, Inongo, the Belgian Congo. Soukous vocalist and band leader Bongo Man is the nephew of the celebrated Zairean singer-songwriter Jean Bokelo, who was instrumental in encouraging his musical talent as a child and later helped him to gain his first foothold in the local music scene. In 1973, with the brothers Soki Vangu and Soki Dianzenza, Bongo Man formed his first band, Orchestre Bella Mambo (later known as Orchestre Bella Bella). Stylistically, Bella Mambo struck a balance between the older big bands and younger dance groups such as Zaiko Langa Langa. The outfit toured widely in Zaire, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya before Bongo Man left in 1979, to settle in Paris, then a powerful European magnet for Francophone African musicians. He spent his first two years in the city working as a labourer, before signing to the Afro Rythmes label in 1981 and releasing two superb albums, Iyole and Djessy, which mixed soukous with internationally appealing pop melodies. With Djessy, he further broadened soukous’ established style by adding Latin-American-derived beguine rhythms. In 1983, Kanda Bongo Man visited the UK to play an acclaimed set at the high-profile WOMAD (World Music And Dance) Festival. Setting up his own Paris-based label, Bongo Man Records, in 1984, he released his third album, Amour Fou. In 1985 British-based specialist label Globestyle released the compilation Non Stop Non Stop. The new studio set Malinga followed in 1986, then the zouk-influenced Lela Lela in 1987. The artist’s flirtation with zouk that year continued when he played on Kassav’s classic album Zouk Time.

As the decade closed Kanda Bongo Man immersed himself in dance trends such as the Kwassa Kwassa (also the title of his first US-distributed album) and Mayebo, though his style was still located primarily in the high-speed soukous tradition that he had pioneered. He continued to release records on a regular basis throughout the 90s, including the wonderful live album Soukous In Central Park. Kanda Bongo Man relocated to South Africa to record 2001’s Balobi, on which he essayed a dynamic mix of kwassa kwassa and mbqanga.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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