When you talk about music in Africa, artists from a few countries dominate the scene. You will hardly hear people from southern or western Africa talking about Congo musicians. Interestingly, there are great musicians from other African countries contributing to music diversity on the continent. Do you know that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) also produces rich music?
Also, do you even know what their music is called? This article gives an insight into a bit of DRC music history and looks at some upcoming and elite Congo musicians. So let’s jump right in!
Brief History of DRC music
Historically, rumba has been the mainstream music performed in the DRC. The rumba was developed in colonial times and went along with Congo into independence. Songs like Indépendance Cha Cha helped in solidifying rumba as mainstream music in the DRC. Rumba or rock-rumba is also generally used to refer to Congolese music. However, neither term is descriptive enough to explain the kind of music produced in Congo.
People from Congo have no particular term for their music. They commonly use the word ndule, meaning music in the Lingala language to describe their music. In modern times, rumba has diversified into faster-paced music such as soukous and ndombolo.
Some Elite DRC musicians
#1. Papa Wemba
It is practically impossible to talk about Congolese music and not mention Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba, aka Papa Wemba. He is popularly referred to as the “King of Rumba Rock”. Moreover, Papa Wemba is called the “King of Rumba Rock” due to his immense contributions to Congolese music and Africa at large. He played the rumba, soukous, and ndombolo while he was alive. Hit song like Analengo is a testament to his contributions to Congolese music. He is one of the best Congo musicians of all time.
#2. Le Grand Kallé
Joseph Athanase Tshamala Kabasele, popular as Le Grand Kallé, was the singer, bandleader, and songwriter of the most popular song ever performed on African soil, the Indépendance Cha Cha (the Congolese independence song). Le Grand Kallé is largely considered the father of modern-day Congolese music. Also, he was the first musician to mix Cuban rhythms with a traditional African beat to create what is now Soukous.
#3. Franco Luambo
François Luambo Luanzo Makiadi will always be regarded as the undisputed “King of Rumba”. Popularly called Franco, he was nicknamed the “Sorcerer of the Guitar” primarily because of his mastery of the skills of fluidly playing the guitar. He spent over 40 years in the music industry and produced over 100 albums. Also, he has about 1,000 songs to his name. His kind of song attracted both the young and the old. Up till today, his influence can be heard in local music in Congo and remain popular in nightclubs. He is also one of the best Congo musicians to listen to.
#4. Koffi Olomide
Antoine Christophe Agbepa Mumba particularly majors in fast soukous ndombolo music. He’s a singer, producer, composer, and dancer, and has several gold records in his career. Also, Koffi goes by a couple of self-acclaimed nicknames, such as “Mopao Mokonzi,” meaning “the chief,” “le Maximum,” and “Lettre A”. He founded the Quartier Latin International orchestra with many notable artists like Fally Ipupa and Ferré Gola. His latest song is Hercule.
#5. Lokua Kanza
Lokua Kanza was born in Bukavu (the eastern part of the DRC) to a Congolese father and a Rwandan mother. He is a singer and a songwriter famous for his soulful, folksy sound. Wapi Yo is his most famous song, and he is well known within the acoustic music scene in Europe.
#6. Fally Ipupa
Fally Ipupa N’simba, commonly known by his stage name Fally Ipupa, is currently the most famous artist in the DRC. He is the nation’s pride. He rose to fame through the Quartier Latin International created by Koffi Olomide. However, he went solo in 2006, mixing the local soukous ndombolo with R&B beats. Ipupa, like his mentor, has many self-proclaimed nicknames including “Di Caprio,” “Anelka” and “El Maravilloso”. Nevertheless, there is no Congolese party that songs like droit Chemin, ko ko ko ko and kidiamfuka will not play at least once.
#7. Zaiko Langa Langa
Zaiko Langa Langa is a contemporary Congolese soukous band formed in 1969. The word “Zaiko” is a shortened version of the Lingala sentence “Zaire ya bankoko,” meaning “Zaire of our ancestors.” In that sentence, Zaire refers to the river now known as the Congo. “Langa Langa” means “marvelous”. The band became a symbol of the post-independence generation primarily because of their rebellious attitude. They were named the best Congolese music group of the 20th century in 2000.
Noël Ngiama Makanda, popularly known as Werra Son, is the biggest competitor of Koffi Olomide. They both are amazing dancers with similar dancing styles. They also have a vast stock of ndombolo music, they both share a renowned pride and arrogance, and they both have a huge local fanbase. One edge Koffi has is that he is more popular abroad. However, Werrason is a master of the ndombolo (soukous) in its purest form.
#9. Taz Bolingo
Taz Bolingo was the first all-women Congolese orchestra. The group was formed in the late 80s in Kinshasa. While the group is no longer together, they have made a significant impact on Congolese music and Congolese history in general.
#10. Awilo Longomba
Awilo Longomba is a popular Congolese soukous musician. He started as a drummer in Viva la Musica Stukas, Nouvelle Generation and Loketo. Subsequently, he left drumming for singing and released his first album in 1995. However, his popular song Coupé Bibamba released in 1998, remains relevant till today. He is also one of the most popular Congo musicians of all time.
Some Upcoming DRC musicians
When you talk about DRC musicians, there is no way you will not mention the below-listed individuals. Hence, we highly recommend you adjust your playlist, listen to these upcoming artistes, and play them repeatedly. These upcoming Congo musicians are not only successful in Congo, they are also making waves around the world.
#1. Maître Gims
Gandhi Bilel Djuna, popularly known as Maître Gims and more recently Gims, is a Congolese-France singer-songwriter and rapper. He started rapping in college, and he is today a famous Congolese rapper making waves in the diaspora. His song, Only You is still snowballing on YouTube with over 50million views at the moment.
#2. Maud Elka
Maud Elka is a Congolese-French pop and R&B singer based in France. In 2013, she collaborated with the rapper Dinoson in the song “Buzz l’éclair au chocolat”. In 2018, Elka won a prestigious musical contest and performed with artists like Dadju and Vegedream. Her last album was released in 2020. However, she dropped a video to her song, Comme Toi 2 months ago.
Dadju Djuna Nsungula is Gims younger brother. He was signed to the label Wati B and in 2017 signed with Polydor Records of Universal Music Group. His childhood was filled with songs of Congolese religious music, rumba, rap, and R&B. Dadju is one of the upcoming Congo musicians to watch.
#4. Lu Kala
Lusamba Vanessa Kalala is a Congolese-Canadian singer and songwriter. She majors in R&B and has been streamed half a million times. She also won the grand prize at the RBC’s Emerging Musician Program, earning $10,000 worth of studio time among other prizes.
Siboy was born in Brazzaville, in the DRC. However, he left to live in France at an early age and has since grown in leaps and bounds to become a famous rapper in France. He’s acclaimed to be a part of the new school of French rap.
#6: Céline Banza
She is a singer-songwriter and guitarist from the DRC, and she won the 2019 RFI Discoveries Music Award. She is particularly inclined to sing in her native language to show her culture and identity. Banza released her last video Départ 8 months ago. Her sonorous voice makes her one of the upcoming Congo musicians to listen to.
Cédric Matéta Nkomi became fascinated with music at the age of 15. Consequently, he started recording himself on YouTube and he became very popular when French soccer stars Patrice Evra and Paul Pogba recorded themselves dancing to his chart-topping track J’ai déconné. This publicity led to his first album release in January 2017.
Deogracias ‘Gracias’ Masomi is a Congolese-born, Finnish rapper trying to merge his African roots with an upbringing in a country that is majorly Caucasian. He is breaking ground and gaining popularity in a country that lacks representation for people like him.
#9. Sista Becky
The Congolese singer and rapper released her first song on YouTube in 2017. In April 2019, she released a music video for her song II fait semblant. She was nominated in two categories at the 2017 Africa Hip-hop Awards. The DRC rapper is setting her sights on conquering the continent.
#10. Tatiana Kruz
Kruz is a Congolese artist based in Kinshasa. She approached Fabregas, one of the top fifth-generation Congolese musicians for support. The collaboration was handy since Fabregas launched his label called Wanted Record. Wanted Record helped Kruz release a singer title Les Hommes (Men). The single discusses how men presumably never get satisfaction. Le Hommes was the success Tatiana needed. She recently dropped her single, Reviens which has received massive airplay time. Tatiana is one of the Congo musicians making the African continent proud.
Having had the opportunity to learn about some Congo musicians, both home-based and abroad, did any of them appeal to you? How do you think Congo’s music industry can grow to become like Nigeria, Ghana, or South Africa? We hope by the end of this post you will find a reason to update your playlist.