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Zaiko Langa Langa
'Zaire-Ghana' (RETRO5CD)
Zaiko Langa Langa

The beginning of the 1970s was an important milestone in the cultural history of the country then known as Congo-Kinshasa. Exactly a decade had passed since independence from Belgium - a turbulent period in which the vast fledgling state had endured civil war, international intrigue, coups and assassinations. Parallel with the images of confusion and horror, however, Kinshasa had established an identity as a city of joy and delight, Kin Kiesse, and was recognised throughout Africa as the capital of Congolese rumba.

Prime movers were the prolific dance orchestras led by Franco, Vicky Longomba, Dr Nico and Tabu Ley, whose sound combined the popular elements of Latin-American rumba with the rich folklore traditions of Central Africa. Congolese or Congo-rumba had swept the continent from west to east coasts, north to south. It had provided the accompaniment to the independence era and launched a myriad dance crazes.

But times were changing, and group of students at Kinshasa's Gombe High School were about to rewrite musical history and pre-empt the renaming of the country. During the 1969 Christmas holidays they began to rehearse with a minimum of equipment and an abundance of enthusiasm. On New Year's Eve the band ushered in the new decade at a student dance, making its debut under the name Zaiko Langa Langa.

The word Zaiko was a contraction of the Lingala 'Zaire ya bakoko' - the Zaire of our ancestors - while Langa Langa was taken from the name of a riverine people in the Equatorial region.

Zaiko turned away from the brassy, big-band sound of OK Jazz and Afrisa. Inspired by Western pop groups of the Sixties, they made a virtue of dropping the horn section in favour of a vocal-and-guitar attack, and supercharged the rhythm section by bringing the snappy snare drum sound to the fore. The raw, youthful treatment of the characteristic sebene (an improvised instrumental section which concluded every number) was the most striking feature of this 'new generation' music. Zaiko caught on instantly with the hip young people who had come of age since independence. And to this day they have managed to retain that youthful attraction with subsequent generations of 20-year-old fans.

Zaiko's founder was a conga player, the late D.V. Moanda, who gathered together a line-up of exceptional talent. Some later found solo fame or established competing bands and by 1976, when they visited Ghana, Zaiko had lost the services of Papa Wemba, Bozi Boziana and Evoloko. But the core of the group on this recording remained intact until the mid-1990s.

The lead vocalist Nyoka Longo, solo guitarist Matima, bassist 'Uncle' Bapius, drummer Meri-Jo Belobi and rhythm guitarist Enoch Zamuangana can be heard on this atmospheric session which evokes both the African ambience and the optimism of the times. Others taking part who quit the band in the interim include Manuaku, Teddy Sukami, Likinga and Ilko Pablo.

All their names can be heard in the shouted praises during the sebenes, as can that of producer Henri Bowane. A seminal guitar stylist, Bowane left Zaire after independence as manager of Ry-Co Jazz and was already based in Ghana when Zaiko arrived to tour the region and play a residency at the Caprice club in Accra. He added the uncharacteristic horns to Astrida after the band had left the country. Bowane died at home in Zaire in 1991.

The songs collected here were all hits in Zaire and will also be remembered fondly in west Africa. Zaiko Wa Wa and Ngeli Ngeli have become anthems, just as enjoyable 25 years later. Titles 5, 6 and 7 on this album are previously unreleased versions of the these Zairean classics.

Zaiko aficionados should also check out Bowane's CD Double Take - Tala Kaka (RETRO6CD) for a unique track from this same session, Wabon'kum Blues, in which the Kinshasa Kids join their producer to have a go at creating a 70s international fusion sound of their own.


Zaiko Langa Langa

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