For decades now, Congolese music has been king on the African music scene. It would not be an exaggeration to say that most people in the entire continent have loved, cried, lived and danced to the rhythms of Congolese beats, from rumba to ballads and ndombolo. Congolese artists are legends that have filled the world’s biggest concert halls, and this list explores the 10 best Congolese bands and musicians you should know about.
Papa Wemba is such an important figure in Congolese music that it is nearly impossible to compete with him. Regardless of the popular hits and artists of the moment, for Africans all across the continent, the first name that comes to mind when thinking about Congolese music and rumba is Papa Wemba. With songs such as ‘Analengo,’ Papa Wemba is not only one of the most popular artists in Africa, he is also a prominent figure in world music.
Le Grand Kallé
Le Grand Kallé was the singer, band leader and songwriter of the most popular song ever sang on African soil: the Congolese independence song called ‘Indépendance Cha Cha.’ Being a prominent character in the Belgian Congo, he became a member of the Congolese delegation at the ‘Round Table Talks’ regarding independence in 1960. He then composed a couple of politically themed songs, which became very famous. Le Grand Kallé is also considered to be the father of modern-day Congolese music, since, in 1953, he started one of the most important and earliest Congolese Rumba bands; namely ‘L’African Jazz.’
Franco Luambo Makiadi will forever remain in the collective memory of the Congolese, and Africans in general, as the undisputed ‘King of Rumba.’ Most commonly referred to as ‘Franco,’ he was nicknamed the ‘Sorcerer of the Guitar’ as he mastered the skills of playing fluidly with seemingly little effort. During a span of 40 years in the music industry, Franco produced over 100 albums and approximately 1000 songs to his name. His music blendedCuban rumba with local Congolese rhythms, attracting both the young and the elderly. Until today, his influence can be heard in local music, remaining popular in nightclubs all around Africa.
With a couple of gold records in his career, Koffi Olomide is a superstar of fast Soukous Ndombolo music, dominating dance floors across the African continent. He is a producer, composer, dancer and singer who is not only famous in Africa, but worldwide. He has succeeded in filling the biggest mega-venues in France that French artists themselves have not managed to fill. ‘Effrakata,’ ‘Loi,’ and ‘Force de Frappe’ are definitely songs worth listening to, and of course dancing to! Koffi is also known by a variety of self proclaimed nicknames such as ‘Mopao Mokonzi (translating as ‘the chief’) le Maximum’ and ‘Lettre A,’ reffering to the first letter of the alphabet.
Born in Bukavu in the eastern part of the DRC to a Congolese father and a Rwandan mother, Lokua Kanza is both a singer and songwriter known for his ballads mostly. His style is more mainstream compared to the rest as he explores a more modern tradition of Congolese music that speaks to people worldwide. ‘Wapi Yo’ might be his most popular song, but all together, his repertoire is full of great material for easy listening, but not dancing. In Europe, Lokua Kanza is well known on the acoustic music scene.
Fally Ipupa is currently the most popular artist in the DR Congo; the nation’s pride. He first became popular with ‘Quartier Latin’; a group of singers that would accompany Koffi Olomide in singing and dancing. Koffi then started singing featuring Fally Ipupa alone, which propelled him in the music scene. Feeling the need to be emancipated from his mentor, Fally decided to continue his career solo, mixing the local soukous ndombolo to RnB beats. Fally is also known through his self proclaimed nicknames such as ‘Fally Ipupa Dicaprio la Merveille Pibe de Oro Pitshishi Hustler’. No Congolese party would now be complete without Fally Ipupa songs such as ‘droit chemin’, ‘ko ko ko ko’ and ‘kidiamfuka’ playing at least once!
Zaiko Langa Langa
Founded in 1969, Zaiko Langa Langa is a seminal Congolese soukous band in the DR Congo which has been popular throughout the decades, surviving until the 2000s. The word Zaiko is a shortened version of the lingala sentence ‘Zaire ya bankoko,’ which translates as ‘Zaire of our ancestors’ with Zaire referring to the river now known as ‘Congo;’ and ‘Langa Langa’ in turn translates as ‘marvelous.’ Known for having a hippie and rebel attitude, the band became a symbol of the post-indepence generation. Sometimes, because of their large appeal on the youth of the DR Congo, a comparison is made between them and the Rolling Stones. Over the years, a number of important Soukous artists have joined the band, including Papa Wemba. In 2000, they were recognized as the ‘best Congolese music group of the 20th century’ by the Congolese Media Association.
As famous across the country as Koffi Olomide, Werrason is Koffi’s biggest competitor. They both have a big ndombolo music repertoire, are amazing dancers with similar dance moves, share a well known pride and arrogance, and have a very big fan base nationwide. However, Werrason is less famous abroad. Contrary to Koffi who adds some poetry into his music, Werrason is a master of the Ndombolo (Soukous) in its purest form. In his early teenage years, Werrason won a martial arts contest and was nicknamed ‘Tarzan, le Roi de la Forêt,’ which later became ‘Roi de la Forêt,’ meaning the king of the forest, as he is known today.
Seigneur Tabu ley Rochereau
During his lifetime, Seigneur Tabu Ley Rochereau was a prominent Congolese rumba singer, a prolific songwriter, one of the continent’s most important vocalists and a politician. He is also the father of the French rapper Youssoupha and 67 other children. Over the years, Tabu Ley produced 250 music albums and composed around 3000 songs! He was also known as the bandleader of Orchestre Afrisa International. A pioneer in soukous music along with his guitarist Dr Nico Kasanda, Tabu Ley made his music international by taking elements of Caribbean, Cuban and Latin American rumba to fuse with Congolese folk music. He has been described as the ‘African Elvis.’
Ferre Gola is a Kinshasa born singer, songwriter and dancer. Music has been his passion since early ages. He always dreamed of becoming a musician; a dream that would turn reality in 1995 when Werrason saw him singing at a fair organised at Bandalungwa in Kinshasa. Werrason recruited him to join the band Wenge Musica 4×4 BCBG. Since then, Ferre Gola has been part of several groups, including Quartier Latin, before starting his solo career in late 2006. His first solo album, ‘Sens interdit,’ had a huge success in Kinshasa, but also in France, the Netherlands and Belgium where everyone rushed to buy the album. In 2014, his song ‘Pakadjuma’ took the fifth position in Trace Africa’s Top 10 chart, and ‘Chichiwash’ took the third in the Top 30 chart, becoming international hits.