A reunion of one of Democratic Republic of Congo’s biggest and most popular bands is in the offing. The stage is being set for a concert by Wenge Musica Band BCBG 4X4 next Thursday in the capital Kinshasa that has excited the band’s fans in DR Congo and abroad.
The group was one the top bands from the fourth generation of the popular Congolese music in Lingala. For nearly two months, the two leading Wenge Musica lights, mercurial band leaders JB Mpiana and Werrason (Ngiama Makanda), have been guiding the rehearsals for the grand reunion. This will be the one of the key highlights during the country’s 62nd Independence Day celebrations slated for the giant Stade des Martyrs Stadium in Kinshasa.
Since the split of the original Wenge Musica in 1997, Werrason and Mpiana have been based in Kinshasa with their respective splinter groups, Orch Wenge Musica Maison Mere and Wenge Musica BCBG, respectively.
Many Kenyan fans of Wenge Musica will recall that Nairobi was among the last places where the group performed before its split.
This followed the release of Mpiana’s solo album titled, Feux de L amour. It is widely believed that it was one of the reasons for the fallout within the group soon after the musicians returned to Kinshasa. The album contains popular songs like Masuwa, Ndombolo and Cavalier Solitaire (featuring Papa Wemba).
Previous attempts to get them to perform together have failed, with both band leaders retaining their rival Wenge groups in a bitter competition for dominance in DRC, East, West and southern Africa and the African diaspora in Europe and the United States.
The journey to the Wenge reunion concert started in February, with renowned music producer Amadou Diaby putting together a deal for the Wenge groups to not only perform together as one, but also to record a documentary on their place in the rich Congolese music legacy, an album, and later go on tour.
One of the priorities was to have the Europe-based artistes return to Kinshasa in time for the rehearsals for the reunion concert.
This was also seen as the best way to have them bond for the big show, as they have not performed together for over two decades.
The stars started arriving home in Kinshasa from late April when the rehearsal sessions began. Among the first arrivals was London-based solo guitarist Bukina Faso (Mboka Liya).
Speaking to the Saturday Nation recently, he confirmed that intensive practice sessions have been going at the Show Buzz in the Gombe area of Kinshasa.
As Bukina Faso pointed out, the rehearsals were being held behind closed doors for the much-needed privacy, away from their adoring fans.
“The rehearsals have been intense, focusing on playing hits that were released by the band, especially before the breakup,” Bukina said.
The hit songs include Kin e Bouge, Kalayi Boeing, Pentagone, Voÿage Mboso and Hi Ho Ha New Image.
Other stars back home from Europe include guitarists Prince Alain Makaba, Didier Masela, and Patent Kusangila, drummer Titina Alcapone, singer Aimelia, rappers Tutu Calugi and Roberto Ekokota. There is also guitarist Fi Carré Mwamba and singers Manda Chante and Adolphe Dominguez who are based in Kinshasa. Manda is the leader of the Bana OK band.
Besides performing at the Stade des Martyr next Thursday during the big show expected to be graced by President Felix Tshisekedi, a VIP concert is planned for July 9, also in Kinshasa.
According to Bukina Faso, after the two shows, the group will travel to Cape Verde Islands for a month-long recording of a documentary and an album. They will then return to DR Congo for another joint musical tour in late September.
“We are awaiting confirmation of more shows later in the year,” he added.
Bassist Didier Masela is considered the brains behind the formation of the original Wenge Musica, which started off as a college band in 1981.
He teamed up then with Werrason, Prince Alain Makaba, Aime Buanga, Papy Sanji, Alain Mwanga, Christian Zitu among others.
Mpiana and Blaise Bula joined the group a year after it was formed, with Mpiana going on to become the longest-serving president of the band.
Billed one of the top transition groups from the third to fourth generation of Congolese music, Wenge Musica grew to fame in the shadow of other up-tempo groups such as Orch Zaiko Langa Langa, Viva La Musica, Langa Langa, and Choc Stars.
The original Wenge Musica’s first split saw the formation of Wenge El Paris, featuring Aime Buanga, Alain Mwanga, and Marie Paul, among others, in the early 1990s. In the mid-1990s, with the advent of the “Ndombolo” dance craze, Wenge Musica was pivotal in popularising it.
This was also the period when Belgium-based guitar wizard Prince Alain Makaba released his solo album Pile Ou Face, which featured tracks such as Nadangwe and Chance.
Speaking to the Saturday Nation last week, US-based veteran Congolese producer and musician Mekanisi Modero lauded the planned coming together of the original members of the band.
“This will be a boon to the younger and middle generations of Congolese music fans, some whom may not have had an opportunity to watch the original group perform,” he said.
Modero, who was a long serving saxophonist with the legendary Tabu Ley’s Afrisa International band, is among the stars who featured in the transition between the second and third generations.
The legendary band leader, the grandmaster Franco Luambo Luanzo Makiadi and his massive TPOK Jazz Band came up in the second generation. They arrived on the heels of the first generation, which had such great music stars as Wendo Kolosoy, Antonie Kasongo and Adou Elenga. Starting out in the mid-1950s, Franco was among the kingpins of Congolese music until his death in 1989.
Le Grand Kalle (Joseph Kabasele Tshamala) led the transition from the old to the modern rhumba beats. According to Modero, it was Grand Kalle who enabled some of Tabu Ley’s earlier compositions to be recorded when the immensely talented singer was still a student.
Notably, the first version of the big song Kelya was first recorded by Grand Kalle, who was a distinguished arranger and singer.
It was him who encouraged Tabu Ley into playing music alongside composer Dechaud Mongala (Charles Mwamba) who was a guitarist in African Jazz Band. He was Dr Nico Kasanda’s elder brother.
Modero also recalled that it was the Thu Zaina Band, among other groups, which acted as a transitional link between the second and third generation of musicians. It started as a student group in 1967 with members such as Denis Bonyeme and Bruno Banyene.
From Thu Zaina followed the era of Zaiko Langa Langa, which started as a youthful students group featuring Nyoka Longo, Papa Wemba and Manu Waku. Other bands later were Orch Bella Bella, Orch Viva La Musica until the era of Wenge Musica in the early 1980s.
For many youth in Kinshasa and other Congolese towns, Orch Wenge Musica was a trend setter in vibrant dance and stage attire.
The group was also seen as an alternative to Franco’s TPOK Jazz band and Tabu Ley’s Afrisa International. Speaking to the Saturday Nation recently, Kinshasa-based musician Sedjokha Tshomba also lauded the planned Wenge Musica reunion.
“It is encouraging to have the original Wenge band members working together after many failed past attempts,” he said.
Kenyan fans are also delighted about the news of the reunion.
Bungoma County-based fan Jasson Sumba said: “I recall some of the Wenge Musica hit songs of the early 1990s such as King e Bouger and Kalayi Boeing,” he said.
He also cited two debut albums by the splinter groups, Rapid Intervention (Wenge Musica Mere) and Titanic (Wenge BCBG), which were very popular.
Crooner Ferre Gola, who performed briefly with Wenge Musica BCBG before joining Werrason’s Wenge Musica Maison Mere, and later, went solo is a mega star in the current generation of Lingala musicians.
Lingala rhumba fan Nicholas Murithi of Nyeri recalled with nostalgia the last trip to Kenya by the original Wenge Musica. They performed at the Courtyard in Nairobi’s Lang’ata estate,
Baringo County–based fan Patrick Mukanda Farah is also enthusiastic of the group performing together again.