Soukous, the dance music of Zaire, was updated by Paris-based vocalist and bandleader Konda Bongo Man. With his high tenor vocals alternating between lyrics in Lingala and French, Bongo Man and his band, which has included influential guitarists Diblo Dibala in the 1980s and Rigo Star in the 1990s, has sparked dancing in audiences around the globe. The New York Times wrote, "Zairean soukous is a lilting, rippling, dance groove that seems to smile from every register, with melody and rhythm inseparable. Kanda Bongo Man himself sings melodies that curl through the patterns like vines on a trellis." Option magazine took a similar view, writing, "Kanda Bongo Man sure knows how to have fun. This is some of the most joyous music I've ever heard, heavy on both melody and rhythm." While rooted in the soukous tradition, Bongo Man has incorporated an eclectic range of influences. M. Doughty of alt-rock band Soul Coughing explained, "You can infer all sorts of stuff in that loping beat and those guitars soaked in digital delay: flamenco, surf music, the wacked-out chops of a master oud player, steel guitar of the Hawaiian and Nashvillian varieties. The combined effect feels something like a distillation of sunshine and spring's bloom rhythm."
The son and grandson of drummer/percussionists, Bongo Man left school to perform with a Kinshasa band in 1973. Three years later, he performed with Orchestre Bella Mambo, one of Zaire's most popular dance bands. Moving to Paris in search of a larger audience in 1979, Bongo Man worked in a windowpane factory while building a solo career. His earliest success came with his album Iyole, recorded with Orchestre Bella Mambo and Diblo in 1981.
Performing at the WOMAD in England in 1983, he reached the audience he had hoped to find. In 1989, Bongo Man released his first American-distributed album, Kwassa Kwassa, which combined tracks from two French releases: "Lela Lela" and "Sai." He continued to expand his following with Zing Zong, dedicated to Soki Vangu and Soki Diazenza of Bella Bella, in 1991. Bongo Man's third U.S.-distributed album, Soukous in Central Park, released in 1993, captures the excitement of his live performances. With his 1998 album, Welcome to South Africa Mr. Kanda Bongo Man, Bongo Man emphasized the South African influences on his music. ~ Craig Harris
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