Mangelepa were once the top Congolese band in Nairobi. Over the years, most of the band members have left. Some have since died.
This year, however, the band is marking its 43rd anniversary by returning to where it all started - in Nairobi.
In 1976, the then youthful members of the band arrived with an older compatriot at the city'sInn on the Park Restaurant at Uhuru Park before relocating to Garden Square Restaurant.
Last week, former members of the group met in Nairobi for a reunion at Garden Square. This same spot was once home to Orch Les Wanyika, an outfit that comprised Tanzanians and Kenyans. Orch Les Mangelepa was then rivalled in popularity by groups such as Orch Super Mazembe and Samba Mapangala’s Orch Les Kinois.
July has always been a special month for members of Mangelepa, who often take time to reflect on the band’s enduring heritage.
Veteran band leader Kabila Kabanze said though the 43rd anniversary was not marked with a concert, they members met and bonded.
The group was formed following the split of Baba Nationale Band that was led by the burly Baba Gaston Ilunga wa Illunga. Incidentally, it was Illunga who took most of these musicians through eastern DR Congo, Tanzania and on to Kenya.
“Though some of the band members live in other countries today, we are considering recording some songs together,” says Kabila Kabanze.
Among the group’s songs released soon after leaving Baba Gaston were Mbungu and Kijana, both of which were composed Mukala Kanyinda “Coco”. It was Kanyinda, who also penned the soothing Aoko and Sakina hit songs.
Still going strong in Nairobi four decades later, Kabila regularly teams up with three of his fellow long-serving Les Mangelepa vocalists, Kalenga Nzazi “Vivi’ and Lutulu Kanicky “Macky”.
Kanicky joined Les Mangelepa after composing the evergreen Kakolelele Viva Christmas song with the Baba Nationale Band in late 1976.
For Tokyo-based sax player Tabu Ngongo “Super Sax”, who arrived in Kenya last month, it has been a reunion to treasure. Tabu has settled in Tokyo.
He composed the song Harrare. He left Les Mangelepa in early 1982 for a brief stint with Samba Mapangala’s Orch Virunga, which was then based Starlight Night Club in Nairobi. He later was later a founder member of Orch Vundumuna Band in 1985. The group was based at the Carnivore Restaurant in Nairobi.
Other members included Mofranck (who also lives in Japan), Frantal Tabu, Kelly Kanku and Nsilu wa Basilu “Manitsho”.
Also visiting Kenya last month was their Norway-based former band leader Bwamy Walumona “Le Captaine”. Walumona, who switched from secular to gospel music, played the solo guitar on some of the group’s earlier popular songs such as Embakasi, Nyako Konya, Walter, Mimba and Aoko.
A long-serving guitarist with the band, Twikwale wa Twikale, now a freelance musician also attended the reunion. Twikwale, who composed Amua, now often shuttles between Lubumbashi, his hometown in DR Congo, and Nairobi.
In his heydays with the Les Mangelepa in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he used to team up with fellow guitarists Lumwanga Mayombo “Ambassadeur’, Lukangika Maindusa “Petit Moustang’, William Tambwe, Kabebe Mukangwa ‘Picollo’ and Kazadi.
Another notable member of the group was Badibanga wa Tshilumba ‘KaiKai’, the composer of the Nyako Konya, and who died in South Africa in February 2015.
Other former Orch Les Mangelepa members based outside Kenya, include drummer Kasongo Fundi “Petit Jean”, who lives in Canada, Kawele, Jean Mulamba and Mukala Kanyinda “Coco” Kanyinda, all whom live in the United Kingdom.
“Though we are now based in different places, the spirit of Les Mangelepa still lives on amongst us,” Kabila said.
Plans are underway for the Les Mangelepa band to perform at the Mutengene Resort Club near Webuye town on August 3.
The Keco International Band featuring Principessa Eve Namulanda will also perform during the same show.