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World: African Moods: Mood: Upbeat World: Soukous

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Kanda Bongo Man

Kanda Bongo Man is the Soukous superstar in the continent of Africa. His music has always been driven by optimism and happiness; it contains melodies that curl through the patterns like vines on a trellis. It’s lilting, rippling, dance groove that seems to smile from every register, with inseparable melody and rhythm. He is without a doubt one of the most famous exponents of music from Congo and, has been at the heart of the Soukous scene since the 80’s. From Iyole (1983) to Swalati (2002) until today, Kanda Bongo Man has shown no signs of slowing down. Here he is again with a new album NON-STOP FEELING from Tabilulu Productions. It is an album with 11 smashing titles, which reflects Kanda Bongo Man's vibrancy during his tours and live shows. He is a true professional and a hard working man in the African music industry, always touring around the world, non-stop spreading optimism and happiness through his music and dance. This time around, the irony is that Kanda Bongo Man, known for his message of happiness and hope, has made political statements in some of his songs. Well, looking at the reality in his home country in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it was inevitable for the artist of his caliber to omit statements regarding wars, violence against women and the economy of predators in Congo.

Make no mistake; he knows how to uplift his fans, no wonder why he is the man, who gave the world Kwasa Kwasa, the infectiously charged Congolese dance style. And, he is credited as being one of the pioneers of modern Soukous, the one who transformed popular Congo music. He not only focused on Sebene or fast guitar solo but also on call & response during his live shows, and with his signature hat, Kanda is recognized as the "Leader of Soukous." Since he transformed the style in Paris, France long before many Soukous musicians came along, he is according to his fans, an icon, the one who brought Soukous to them. One of the Harvard University's publications by Corydon Ireland has Toussaint, a professor emeritus and researcher at McGill University, a pioneer in computational geometry, saying this of Kanda Bongo Man's music, "...it's a dangerous rhythm, it could degenerate into a party."

Kanda Bongo Man has performed in various venues and stadiums throughout the continent of Africa, Europe, in Australia, in the Middle East, in Canada, and of course in the USA. His popularity helped him meet with so many African heads of states as the leading “ambassador” of popular culture of Africa. His big break goes back to the 80’s with the album Iyole, which became a number one hit all over Africa. He performed at the Womad in England in 1983 and also in 2008 for Live Aid where he reached a new audience and made new fans. It was back in 1989 that Kanda released his first American-distributed album, Kwasa Kwasa, which successfully reached a newer and challenging audience only used to Rock-n- Roll. Nevertheless, Mr. Kanda made his mark; Soukous was introduced into American “World Music scene” via his projects with the famous record label Rycodisc and later with his countless performances at several prestigious venues such as the NYC B.B King, Prince’s First Avenue in Minneapolis, Washington, D.C.’s Zanzibar, the legendary Summer Stage at Central Park in front of 10,000 souls as the sole headliner for the day in New York City, a smashing performance at the legendary Reggae on the River in California, an electrifying performance in presence of 15,000 fans at Celebrate Brooklyn in NY. Let’s not exclude other institutions such as American prestigious Universities like Harvard University, University of Virginia, the Symphony Space, etc. Without a question, Kanda has created a winning Soukous formula that has moved millions of people throughout his career and it has also sold millions of albums worldwide, some of which are listed below:

Iyole, Non Stop-Non Stop, Sai-Liza, Amour Fou, Kwasa-Kwasa, Zing Zong, Soukous in Central Park, The Best of Kanda Bongo Man, Songo, Sweet, Balobi and Swalati.

Kanda Bongo Man, the nightingale from Congo presents an exciting & fast moving show of music and dance. His style is known for its shimmering duel guitar parts, which produce intensity, which is very hypnotic on the dance floor. He sometimes breaks the barrier between the audience and the performers to bring people on their feet for a better enjoyment of his performance. Audiences always take home a new dance move every time they go to his shows.

His dance moves are remarkable, rooted in Congolese tradition, he presents hundred and one moves effortlessly, but the one dance that has made its mark all over the world is the one that the hips move back and forth while the hands move to follow the hips. It is also performed with amazing dexterity by his exhilarating female dancers who have become part of the Kanda Bongo Man show. Some press says: “if Kanda Bongo doesn’t make you want to dance, call an ambulance. You’re dead.” Kanda Bongo Man’s vibrancy and experience on stage didn’t come easy at all, although he makes it seem so. He is indeed part of the famous third generation of Congolese pop musicians.

He was born in Inongo, Congo. Kanda grew up listening to Congolese legends such as Le Grand Kalle, Franco, Vicky Longomba, Dr. Nico, Tabu Ley, Zaiko Langa Langa and a synthesis of traditional melodies and several other Afro-rhythms, which without a doubt developed into a distinctive Kanda’s sound. His first professional musical experience came in the 1970’s when he was given the opportunity to front then Zaire’s Bella Bella of the very famous Soki brothers. And later Kanda partnered with Soki Dianzenza, one of the brothers, in his Bella Mambo, a group that gave him a center stage, and also influenced him tremendously like many others such as Pepe Kalle, Nyboma, Diblo Dibala and Madilu. Kanda Bongo Man is a living legend in Soukous world today, the man who has paved the road for Congo music outside Central Africa.

Lubangi Muniania