A potentially exciting product of Congolese and Kenyan co-operation is in the making and is bound to shake up the music scene in the two countries, East and Central Africa and beyond.
The brains behind the project that is reminiscent of the collaboration in the early 1960s in which musicians such as the late Congolese maestro Jean Bosco Mwenda were pivotal, is London-based guitarist Fiston Ngoy Lusambo. He has in the past few months been working on an album which will incorporate the contributions of some select Kenyan and Congolese musicians.
The venture also echoes the excellent co-operation that existed in the late 1960s and early 70s, when many leading Congolese musicians, including Tabu Ley Rochereau and Franco Luambo Makiadi, often crossed over from today’s Democratic Republic of Congo to record in the most superior studios in the region then available in Nairobi.
Then, Polygram and AIT Records were some of the most sought after recording labels by other groups that originated from eastern DR Congo such as Orch Super Mazembe, Baba Nationale Illunga wa Illunga, Les Kinois of Samba Mapangala and Orch Les Mangelepa.
Fiston, who is a close associate of another London-based Congolese maestro, veteran former TP OK Jazz guitar wizard Mose Fan, of the “Papa Lolo” hit song fame, said in an interview that it has been his ambition to bring together Kenyan and Congolese musicians to produce great new music.
Early last year, Fiston was among the musicians who accompanied Mose Fan during a concert tour to Kenya dubbed, the “Papa Lolo Kenya tour”.
Speaking to the Saturday Nation during a recent visit to Nairobi, Fiston revealed that he was putting the finishing touches to the new album, which is scheduled for release later in the year.
“I will return early next month to finalise incorporating Kenyan musicians such John Junior, Akuku Danger and saxophone player Ken Makokha,” he said.
Also featuring on the tracks is mercurial Congolese singer General Defao, who has in recent times been living and performing in Nairobi. He features on ‘Kukosa” and “Tusitengane” songs. He was backed by Guy Kadi, another Nairobi-based Congolese singer.
Fiston was also able to incorporate vocals back-up of Congolese superstar Bozi Boziana of the 1980s Anti-Choc band fame on the track “Uvumilivu”. Bozi was in Kenya for most of last month where he was involved in a series of other recordings.
Back home in Kinshasa, Bozi is remembered for his stints with the legendary Zaiko Langa Langa, Choc Stars and later his L’ Anti-Choc band.
He is also highly reputed for having groomed some of the top Congolese women singers in his band, including Scola Miel Ekofo, Betty Bis Kindobika, and Deesse Mukangi.
Fiston has been recording his music at Tabu Osusa’s Ketebel Records in Nairobi’s Industrial Area. Incidentally Osusa was the long serving manager of the Orch Virunga Band, with which Fiston performed with before moving to settle in London in 1991.
“I have since kept in regular contact with most former band members of Orch Virunga and others in Kenya,” Fiston said.
Also featuring on the vocals on the new album will be former top Congolese Orch Lipua Lipua Band member and London-based singer Nzaya Nzayadio.
Nzaya, who also accompanied Mose Fan during the Kenya tour, is remembered for some of his popular songs with Orch Lipua Lipua like “Se Kizenge” and “Matoba”.
Nzaya and Fiston feature on Mose Fan’s “Musicatelma album.
Fiston is from a musical family. His father Depuissant (Yaka Antoine) used to play congas in the legendary African Jazz that featured Grand Kalle Jeff and guitarist Dr Nico Kasanda.
In Kinshasa, Fiston made his debut with the Kanako Shiprike Bango Band, which featured Debaba and Jolie Mubiala (a younger brother to King Kester Emeneya). Later, Fiston had a stint with the Ototale Zangala Band under Priest Buffalo with other renowned musicians such Carlito Lassa, Ngouma Lokito and Maray.
When Maray left Papa Wemba’s Viva la Musica band in 1985, he asked Fiston to join him in forming their own group Rumba Ray.
The Rumba Ray group is reputed for its collaboration with the Japanese Yoka Shock group, whose clips on social media depict their excellent rendition of Congolese music.
Fiston played a leading role in assisting the Japanese musicians to play Congolese music until he moved to Kenya in 1991. After
stints with church choir bands, Fiston’s guitar prowess drew the attention of Orch Virunga solo guitarist Mwalimu Bedjos Beya, who invited him to play alongside him in Samba’s Orch Virunga. Others in the group were Pepe Ibrahim, Risa Kwempa, Rama, Bavon Masudi, Mokili Sesty, Juma Abasi and Abdallah.
It was during an overseas tour by the Virunga band in October 1991 that Fiston chose to settle in the UK where he still lives to date.
During his recent visit to Kenya, Fiston also met up with his early childhood musical companion and guitarist Sedjokha Tshomba, who also played with Defao in Kinshasa.
Lingala music fans will be eagerly looking forward to what promises to be a great addition to the repertoire of Congolese-Kenyan inspired music.
“I have a soft spot for Kenya and always feel like I have some unfinished to do here.”