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A brief introduction to Soukous

Soukous from the French word for "shake" is a generic term for modern Zairean/Congolese dance music, but now widely played throughout Africa, known as Lingala music in East Africa, Congo music in Anglophone West Africa. It developed in work camps of European companies in 1900 to 30's, where a mix of cultures led to new forms; originally performed on likembe (sanza), guitar and bottle, early innovators such as Wendo and Djhimmy gave it a more modern feel; early influences include highlife and Cuban rumba, but the abiding strength of the style lay in adaptation of indigenous traditions. The development of a radio network '40s and the opening of studios helped in its diffusion; foreign instruments, especially electric guitars, began to give it its modern sound '50s. Early exponents incl. Joseph Kabaselle, OK Jazz, Dr Nico, Les Bantous de la Capitale. The first 'orchestres' appeared '50s with guitars, double bass, congas, clips and male vocals; later the 'mi-solo', a third guitar line between lead and rhythm, was introduced, along with brass and woodwinds. It flourished '60s with heavy rumba overtones evident in recordings of orchestres Kamale, Kiam, Lipua-Lipua, Bella Bella and Veve; toward the decade's end a new, rougher version appeared, associated with Stukas, Zaiko Langa Langa and Empire Bukuba; Kazadi indentified eight stages in the evolution of soukous '73, but by then two distinct styles were identifiable, differentiated by the vocal presentation of melodic material and its reproduction on lead guitar. By this time it had spread to East Africa while also playing a formative role in the development of Francophone West African music.

In the 1980's this style of music became very popular in London, UK and Paris, France. A number of musicians left Kinshasa to work around central and east Africa, before settling in either the UK or France. The basic lineup for a Soukous band included three or four guitars, bass, drums, brass, vocals, and some of them having over 20 musicians, lyrics are usually in Lingala.

Notable musicians:

  • Mose Se "Fan Fan" and the band Somo Somo

  • Sam Mangwana and the African All Stars

  • Papa Wemba and Viva la Musica

  • Kanda Bongo Man and his guitarist Diblo Dibala

With the move to Europe and better studio engineering, the music has become big in the dance clubs as more "electronics"  entered the music.


Super Guitar Soukous

Super Guitar Soukous
A great Compiliation Album and one that should be a first buy. It has a whole roster of great artists and the the interweiving guitar lines are superb! Highly recommended.

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Papa Wemba Papa Wemba

Papa Wemba - Papa Wemba
Papa Wemba, based in Paris, has steadily built an international following. His unique voice adds a yearning almost religious quality to the music.

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Kanda Bongo Man Soukous In Central Park

Soukous In Central Park - Kanda Bongo Man
With a move to Paris in 1979, Kanda moved Soukous into hi-energy dance floor music. Traditional Soukous follows a standard Zaiko song which has a long Rhumba section followed by a faster Seben. Kanda, eliminated the Rhumba using only the Seben, producing tracks that were suitable for the dance floors of London and Paris.

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