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Tuesday 26 September 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 14 - Democratic Republic of Congo

After a month's IT enforced break, our African Odyssey is back on the road and our latest destination is a big one in every sense. 

It's the second largest country in Africa after Algeria. With a population of 112 million it is the most populous Francophone country in the world. And with an average of 4.3 sparkling guitars per head (according to 2019 data) that creates an enormous musical legacy.

I am of course talking about the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC for short), birthplace of the rumba sound that has enchanted the region and later the world since the 1950s. 

There is so much good DRC music to choose from that I have decided to break my self-imposed rule and include seven not five audio tracks. Even doing that I have had to leave out many excellent acts - Pepe Kalle, Koffi Olomide and Kanda Bongo Man to name just three. In the Barbara Kanam video at the end she runs through many more.

The two undisputed giants of Congolese music are Franco and Tabu Ley (aka Rochereau) and their bands, OK Jazz and Afrisa International. OK Jazz were founded in 1956 and and are generally considered the first rumba or soukous band, so it is only right that we kick things off with a tune from their pioneer days. 

The Tabu Ley track actually features lead vocals from Mbilia M'Bel with the great man on harmonies. It is taken from their 1985 album "Boya Ye". As possibly the finest female singer ever from the DRC I could not leave Ms M'Bel out.

Her main rival for that title is Tshala Muana, who pops up next (it is almost as if this was planned). I had originally selected "Amina" from 1981 but there is some fault with the file so I have replaced it with something equally splendid but a lot more recent. The stand-in dates from 2009 and can be found on the album "Sikila".

One of the DRC's biggest bands of the last 50 years are Zaiko Langa Langa. Founded in 1971 by Jossart N'Yoka Longo and still going strong, this track is from their 1995 album "Avis De Recherche".

Papa Wemba was part of the original Zaiko Langa Langa line-up but left in the mid 1970s to set up Viva le Musica. Among its many members were the aforementioned Koffi Olomide and King Kester Emeneya, who went solo in the early 1980s and is a personal favourite of mine. This slightly atypical track comes from his 1997 album with Safro Manzangi.

Moving into this century, as I suppose we must, we have a band I was lucky enough to see play live ten years ago when they were promoting the excellent "Hotel Univers" album from which today's selection comes. Ladies and gents, we present Jupiter & Okwess International.

Which finally brings us to the Mandatory African Reggae and one of the highlights of this post, if not the entire series. Back in the late 1970s, the Congolese singers Seskain Molenga and Kalo Kawongolo rocked up at the Black Ark Studios in Jamaica to work with one Lee 'Scratch' Perry (who he?). 

The resulting album, "Roots From The Congo", came out briefly in 1979 and then promptly disappeared until 2020 when it was reissued by the bright sparks at the Planet Ilunga label in Brussels. It is an amazing record and I could happily have chosen any of the tracks. You really need to buy it - just click on the title and it will take you to Bandcamp.

Enough of me. Here's the music.

"Radio Trottoir (Parts 1 & 2)" - Franco & l'OK Jazz

"Shawuri Yako" - M'Bilia Bel with Tabu Ley & Afrisa International

 "Fimbo Ya Bakandja" - Tshala Muana with Meje 30

"Zekira" - Zaiko Langa Langa

"Wiseman" - King Kester Emeneya & Safro Manzangi

"Mwana Yokatoli" - Jupiter & Okwess International

"Moto Ya Motema" - Seskain Molenga & Kalo Kawongolo 

That's it from me for this week. See you next week, hopefully with a bagful of Croatian psychedelic tamburica albums to share.


  1. Before I start rambling on about the tracks, I have to tell you that the M'Bilia Bel track (one that I have, thanks to you) is one of my Top Ten Go-To songs.

  2. Is it me?? The Tshala Muana cuts out at one min 32 seconds.(it is available on youtube so I could listen to it)

    1. Very odd. "Amina" plays fine on iTunes etc but cut out both times I loaded it to Box. Apologies. I have replaced it with another Tshala Muana track.

  3. The Koffi Olomide and King Kester Emeneya is outstanding

  4. Too much great stuff to take in here on a quick Friday night stopover so I'll be back later in the week.

  5. I came back. What a great way to brighten up a grey, cloudy morning! Mbilia M'Bel my fave

    1. You are clearly a man with very discerning taste (although we knew that already)