2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Musical genres, styles, eras and events

Stylistic origins: Rumba, Caribbean & Afro-Cuban, Congolese music & other African traditional music,
Cultural origins: late 1930s in The Congos (esp. Kinshasa and Brazzaville)
Typical instruments: Guitar (esp. fingerstyle) - bass (esp. acoustic ) - drums - brass - vocals
Mainstream popularity: Significant throughout Africa from the 1960s and in the world music scene from the 1980s
Kwassa kwassa, Ndombolo
Fusion genres
Benga, Tanzanian rumba, Makossa
Regional scenes
Congolese sound (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania), Fast-paced soukous (Paris)
Other topics
Soukous Musicians

Soukous (also known as lingala or congo, and previously as African rumba) is a musical genre that originated in the two neighbouring countries of Congo during the 1930s and early 1940s, and which has gained popularity throughout Africa. "Soukous" (derived from the French word secouer, to shake) was originally the name of a dance popular in the Congos in the late 1960s, and danced to an African version of rumba. Although the genre was initially known as rumba (sometimes termed specifically as African rumba), the term Soukous has come to refer to African rumba and its subsequent developments.

Soukous is called congo music in West Africa, and lingala in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania - referring to the Lingala language of the region from where it originated. In the 1980s and early 1990s, a fast paced style of soukous known as kwassa kwassa – named after a popular dance, was popular. A style called ndombolo, also named after a dance, is currently popular.


In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Congolese musicians fused Congolese & other African traditional music with Caribbean (especially Afro-Cuban) and South American sounds – rhythms that were not entirely foreign to the region, having been founded to varying degrees on musical traditions from the area. This music emerged in the cities of Leopoldville, as Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was then called, and Brazzaville, then capital of the French Congo, now capital of the Republic of the Congo. Most of the musicians performed in Lingala language, but some also used Swahili, Tshiluba and Kikongo.

The big bands

Antoine Kolosay, aka Papa Wendo, became the first star of African rumba, touring Europe and North America in the 1940s and 1950s with a group of seven musicians.

By the 1950s, big bands had become the preferred format, using acoustic bass guitar, multiple electric guitars, conga drums, maracas, scraper, flute or clarinet, saxophones, and trumpet. The bands "Grand Kalle & l'African Jazz" (better known as African Jazz) led by Joseph Kabasele Tshamala ( Grand Kalle), and OK Jazz, later renamed TPOK Jazz (Tout Puissant Orchestre Kinshasa) led by Francois Luambo Makiadi became the leading bands. These bands were known as orchestras.

In the 1950s and 1960s some artists who had been groomed in the bands of Franco Luambo and Grand Kalle formed their own bands. Tabu Ley Rochereau and Dr Nico Kasanda formed African Fiesta and transformed their music further by fusing elements of Congolese folk music with soul music, as well as Caribbean and Latin beats and instrumentation. They were joined by Papa Wemba and Sam Mangwana, and classics like Afrika Mokili Mobimba made them one of Africa's greatest bands, rivalled only by TP OK Jazz. Tabu Ley Rochereau and Dr Nico Kasanda are considered the pioneers of modern soukous.

1960s – 1970s

While the influence of rumba became stronger in some bands, including Lipua-Lipua, Veve, TP OK Jazz and Bella Bella, younger Congolese musicians looked for ways to reduce the rumba influence and play a faster paced soukous, inspired by rock n roll. A group of students calling themselves Zaiko Langa Langa came together in 1969. The energy of their music, and the high-fashion sense of the singers and dancers, inspired by founding vocalist Papa Wemba, made them very popular. Pepe Kalle, a protégé of Grand Kalle, created the band Empire Bakuba together with Papy Tex, and they soon became Kinshasa's most popular youth band, equaled only by Zaiko Langa Langa.

Other greats of this period include Koffi Olomide, Tshala Muana and Wenge Musica. Soukous now spread across Africa, and became an influence on virtually all the styles of modern African popular music, including highlife, palm-wine music, taarab and makossa.

East Africa

As political conditions in Zaire, as Congo DRC was known then, deteriorated in the 1970s, some groups made their way to Tanzania and Kenya. By the mid-seventies, several Congolese groups were playing soukous at Kenyan night clubs. The fast paced cavacha, a dance craze that swept East and Central Africa during the seventies, was popularized through recordings of bands such as Zaiko Langa Langa and Orchestra Shama Shama, influencing Kenyan musicians. This fast paced rhythm, played on the snare drum or hi-hat, quickly became a hallmark of the Congolese sound in Nairobi and is frequently used by many of the regional bands. Several of Nairobi's renowned Swahili rumba bands formed around Tanzanian groups like Simba Wanyika and its offshoots, Les Wanyika and Super Wanyika Stars.

In the late 1970s, Virgin records got involved in a couple of projects in Nairobi that produced two acclaimed LPs from the Tanzanian-Congolese group, Orchestra Makassy and the Kenya-based band, Super Mazembe. One of the tracks from this album was the Swahili song Shauri Yako (it's your problem), which became a hit in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. About this same time, the Nairobi based Congolese vocalist Samba Mapangala and his band Orchestra Virunga, released the LP Malako, which became one of the pioneering releases of the newly emerging world music scene in Europe. The musical style of the East Africa based Congolese bands gradually incorporated new elements, including Kenyan benga music, and spawned what is sometimes called the "swahili sound" or "congolese sound".

The Paris scene

In the 1980s soukous became popular in London and Paris. A few more musicians left Kinshasa to work around central and east Africa, before settling in either the UK or France. The basic line-up for a Soukous band included three or four guitars, bass guitar, drums, brass, vocals, and some of them having over 20 musicians, lyrics were often in Lingala and occasionally in French. In the late 1980s and 1990s, Parisian studios were used by many soukous stars, and the music became heavily reliant on synthesizers and other electronic instruments. Some artists continued to record for the Congolese market, but others abandoned the demands of the Kinshasa public and set out to pursue new audiences. Some, like Paris-based Papa Wemba maintained two bands, Viva la Musica for soukous, and a group including French session players for his international pop.

Kanda Bongo Man, another Paris-based artist, pioneered fast-paced, short dance tracks suitable for play on dance floors everywhere, and popularily known as Kwassa kwassa after the dance moves popularized by his and other artist's music videos. This music appealed to Africans and to new audiences as well. Groups like Diblo Dibala, Mbilia Bel, Yondo Sister, Loketo, Rigo Star, Madilu System, Soukous Stars and veterans like Pepe Kalle and Koffi Olomide followed suit. Soon Paris became home to talented studio musicians who recorded for the African and Caribbean markets, and filling out bands for occasional tours.


The fast paced soukous music currently dominating dance floors in central, eastern and western Africa is called soukous ndombolo, performed by Awilo Longomba, Aurlus Mabele, Koffi Olomide and others.

The hip-swinging, booty-shaking dance to the fast pace of soukous ndombolo has come under criticism amid charges that it is obscene. There have been attempts to ban it in Mali, Cameroon and Kenya. After an attempt to ban it from state radio and television in DR Congo in 2000, it became even more popular. In On February, 2005 ndombolo music videos in DR Congo were censored for indecency, and video clips by Koffi Olomide, JB M'Piana and Werrason were banned from the airwaves.

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