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Rumba on the River: A History of the Popular Music of the Two Congos

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There had always been music along the banks of the Congo River—lutes and drums, the myriad instruments handed down from ancestors. But when Joseph Kabasele and his African Jazz went chop for chop with O.K. Jazz and Bantous de la Capitale, music in Africa would never be the same. A sultry rumba washed in relentless waves across new nations springing up below the Sahara. The There had always been music along the banks of the Congo River—lutes and drums, the myriad instruments handed down from ancestors. But when Joseph Kabasele and his African Jazz went chop for chop with O.K. Jazz and Bantous de la Capitale, music in Africa would never be the same. A sultry rumba washed in relentless waves across new nations springing up below the Sahara. The Western press would dub the sound soukous or rumba rock; most of Africa called in Congo music. Born in Kinshasa and Brazzaville at the end of World War II, Congon music matured as Africans fought to consolidate their hard-won independence. In addition to great musicians—Franco, Essous, Abeti, Tabu Ley, and youth bands like Zaiko Langa Langa—the cast of characters includes the conniving King Leopold II, the martyred Patrice Lumumba, corrupt dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, military strongman Denis Sassou Nguesso, heavyweight boxing champs George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, along with a Belgian baron and a clutch of enterprising Greek expatriates who pioneered the Congolese recording industry. Rumba on the River presents a snapshot of an era when the currents of tradition and modernization collided along the banks of the Congo. It is the story of twin capitals engulfed in political struggle and the vibrant new music that flowered amidst the ferment. For more information on the book, visit its other online home at rumbaontheriver.com—an impressive resource.


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There had always been music along the banks of the Congo River—lutes and drums, the myriad instruments handed down from ancestors. But when Joseph Kabasele and his African Jazz went chop for chop with O.K. Jazz and Bantous de la Capitale, music in Africa would never be the same. A sultry rumba washed in relentless waves across new nations springing up below the Sahara. The There had always been music along the banks of the Congo River—lutes and drums, the myriad instruments handed down from ancestors. But when Joseph Kabasele and his African Jazz went chop for chop with O.K. Jazz and Bantous de la Capitale, music in Africa would never be the same. A sultry rumba washed in relentless waves across new nations springing up below the Sahara. The Western press would dub the sound soukous or rumba rock; most of Africa called in Congo music. Born in Kinshasa and Brazzaville at the end of World War II, Congon music matured as Africans fought to consolidate their hard-won independence. In addition to great musicians—Franco, Essous, Abeti, Tabu Ley, and youth bands like Zaiko Langa Langa—the cast of characters includes the conniving King Leopold II, the martyred Patrice Lumumba, corrupt dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, military strongman Denis Sassou Nguesso, heavyweight boxing champs George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, along with a Belgian baron and a clutch of enterprising Greek expatriates who pioneered the Congolese recording industry. Rumba on the River presents a snapshot of an era when the currents of tradition and modernization collided along the banks of the Congo. It is the story of twin capitals engulfed in political struggle and the vibrant new music that flowered amidst the ferment. For more information on the book, visit its other online home at rumbaontheriver.com—an impressive resource.

48 review for Rumba on the River: A History of the Popular Music of the Two Congos

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    Starting just after WWII, this is a detailed and scholarly history of the music from the "two Congos" (French and Belgian) that became known as "soukous" by the 1980s, when its center of gravity had largely moved to Paris. The welter of detail is almost overwhelming - every line-up of every band is documented with what songs they recorded, at what studio and on what label. Every musician has a given name and stage name, so lists like the following proliferate: Nicolas "Docteur Nico" Kasanda, Etie Starting just after WWII, this is a detailed and scholarly history of the music from the "two Congos" (French and Belgian) that became known as "soukous" by the 1980s, when its center of gravity had largely moved to Paris. The welter of detail is almost overwhelming - every line-up of every band is documented with what songs they recorded, at what studio and on what label. Every musician has a given name and stage name, so lists like the following proliferate: Nicolas "Docteur Nico" Kasanda, Etienne "Chantal" Kazadi, Dominique "Apôtre" Dionga, Lambert "Vigny" Kolamoy, Victor "Bovic" Bondo, André "Zorro" Lumingu and Pedro "Cailloux" Matandu. Under the dictator Mobutu's "authenticity" movement of the early 70s, there was pressure to drop European given names: François "Franco" Luambo became Luambo Makiadi (and briefly Abubacar Sidick after a half-hearted conversion to Islam), Nicolas "Docteur Nico" Kasanda became Kasanda wa Mikalayi and so on (and the Republic of the Congo changed to Zaire). The amount of accompanying political history is perfect and relieves some of my sense that I don't know anything about late- and post-colonial Africa, at least it does so for a few countries. The book is plainly intended to concentrate on the musical history including musician's unions, night-club owners, record producers and all of their economies. I could have used a little more sociological detail on life-style, diet, drinking habits, the relation of Western to traditional medicine and so on, if only to explain why so many of the key figures died in their 30s and 40s but that might have necessitated a hundred more pages! The publication date of the book and end of what it covers actually is just at the start of the almost-decade long and unbelievably brutal Second Congo War, which provides a tragic postscript to a chronicle that already has its share of struggle.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Wes Freeman

    Bought this book because it was about African music and I liked the cover guy's hat. Had no idea that Rumba in the Franco-Belgian Congo was a thing, which, if you're from Africa, is like not knowing that the U.S. has a music called rock'n'roll. Turns out to be a head-flipping story about a whole separate musical system, just as important in the global sense as jazz, rock music, or anything else that changed everything it touched in the 20th century. Reading the history of Congolese rumba music, Bought this book because it was about African music and I liked the cover guy's hat. Had no idea that Rumba in the Franco-Belgian Congo was a thing, which, if you're from Africa, is like not knowing that the U.S. has a music called rock'n'roll. Turns out to be a head-flipping story about a whole separate musical system, just as important in the global sense as jazz, rock music, or anything else that changed everything it touched in the 20th century. Reading the history of Congolese rumba music, which is an almost perfect contemporary of U.S. rock music, is like absorbing a whole new paradigm, a whole new set of legends and stories and records, and this book presents it to you as fully-formed as a still-evolving popular music can be. Even if you don't dig the music you can still get off on the story, which keeps on trucking, strong enough to carry the load of detail it's accumulated in 60 odd years, without losing much momentum.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kulwanotes

    For most of africans like me, who were born in 1980s, we have growing up listening to Congolese Music. Our parents used to play on their radio cassettes songs by Tabou Ley, Simaro Lutumba, Madilu System, Mbilia Bel and Maestro- Franco Luambo Makiadi. Despite the fact that we didn't understand the meaning of the songs, rumba music remained dominant across african continent. Due to its rich culture and beautiful rhythm, it has remained [one of] the most influential music in africa. Today due to te For most of africans like me, who were born in 1980s, we have growing up listening to Congolese Music. Our parents used to play on their radio cassettes songs by Tabou Ley, Simaro Lutumba, Madilu System, Mbilia Bel and Maestro- Franco Luambo Makiadi. Despite the fact that we didn't understand the meaning of the songs, rumba music remained dominant across african continent. Due to its rich culture and beautiful rhythm, it has remained [one of] the most influential music in africa. Today due to technological advancement, lingala language and specifically rumba songs are translated and we do understand what these lyrics really mean. For example, today in Tanzania, men who are in relation with women solely to be cared financially by women are called 'mario' from the song Mario by Franco which talks about a man of such behaviour. So, due to influence of rumba music, books like this becomes must read and more enjoyable to music lovers. Gary, has packed this book with the historical development of Rumba music from both Congo (Kinshasa and Brazzaville) from late 1800s to 1995. He has show how expeditions of both Henry Morton Stanley and Brazza brought with them various musical instruments in both Congo which in combination with traditional instruments began to revolutionize music. In early 1900s the latin music from Cuba entered in Congo. Congolese musicians started to imitate this songs and later in 1940s they started to record officially in Lingala and Kikongo. Gary chronologically has mixed political development of Congo from Belgian rule, to Lumumba and Mobutu and how it shaped and evolved rumba music. If you wonder today why most congolese musicians record their songs in France and Belgian, this is the book to read. All music studios in Congo like Ngoma record, Longinisa and Opica as well as CEFA were founded and owned by some Greek businessmen and mostly Belgians in Congo. This was the root. What i observed is that for almost 33 years, from 1950s to 1989, Franco with his band O.K Jazz dominated Congolese Music industry. The life of Franco was not only Musical but political. Gary has shown how Mobutu and Franco had a 'scratch-my-back and i will-scratch-your-back relation'. Mobutu made Franco rich with business investments in France anr Belgiam and giant musically in exchange of political propaganda. Generally in this book three areas are covered: History and social life of both Congo from Stanley and Brazza from 1800s upto independent congo in 1995; Evolution of Congo Music; and lastly history of all music bands and Artist from 1940s (days of first generation like Henri Bowane, Vicky Longomba, joseph Kabasele etc) upto 1995 (days of third generation of wenge musica, Koffi olomide etc). It's a simple written and engaging book, with pictures.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brooke

    The topic was interesting because I have lived in Kinshasa for the past two years and wanted to learn more about the history of the music, in addition to how the political situation had an affect on the musicians. Overall I enjoyed the story, but too much detail about every band and "stage" name of each musician made it drag on. The topic was interesting because I have lived in Kinshasa for the past two years and wanted to learn more about the history of the music, in addition to how the political situation had an affect on the musicians. Overall I enjoyed the story, but too much detail about every band and "stage" name of each musician made it drag on.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Reece Welsh

    Incredible book with a lovely attention to detail and care in telling the important story of Congolese music history. Could not recommend highly enough for anyone with even a passing interest in the history of Congolese music

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jakob Myers

    Can sometimes drag into an interminable list of bands with similar names, but as long as you're not reading it for facts the shape of the narrative and comments on how global intellectual trends shaped music in Congo are fun Can sometimes drag into an interminable list of bands with similar names, but as long as you're not reading it for facts the shape of the narrative and comments on how global intellectual trends shaped music in Congo are fun

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tobias

    This book is a great historical text and storybook for anyone who loves a good story; in this case a collection of several stories about the lives of the people who cooked rumba from its early beginnings. It is wonderful tribute to Congolese music and the legends who created it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    He badly shortchanges the post-Zaiko/Empire Bakuba bands (poor Wenge Musica is a footnote), but he's magisterial about the music he likes. He badly shortchanges the post-Zaiko/Empire Bakuba bands (poor Wenge Musica is a footnote), but he's magisterial about the music he likes.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Charlie

    A parable of culture.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Magnus

  11. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nate Rabe

  13. 4 out of 5

    Monsieurboule

  14. 4 out of 5

    Serge MBikina

  15. 4 out of 5

    Susan Orlean

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lukas

  18. 4 out of 5

    mashogo

  19. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Etyang

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rupert

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bonita

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dmitry Kurkin

  23. 5 out of 5

    Robert Baird

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bastien Lavigne

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ashish

  26. 4 out of 5

    agnostic

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joe Mureithi

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Rynerson

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  30. 5 out of 5

    John

  31. 4 out of 5

    A.

  32. 5 out of 5

    Terrance

  33. 5 out of 5

    Reggie

  34. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Brown

  35. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  36. 5 out of 5

    Kris Haamer

  37. 4 out of 5

    Sara-Maria

  38. 4 out of 5

    Marina

  39. 4 out of 5

    Vanhatman

  40. 5 out of 5

    Marina

  41. 5 out of 5

    Simran

  42. 5 out of 5

    Umugaba

  43. 5 out of 5

    Wikimedia Italia

  44. 5 out of 5

    Verso Books

  45. 5 out of 5

    Dan Kauppi

  46. 4 out of 5

    Mpho3

  47. 4 out of 5

    Nick Holden

  48. 5 out of 5

    David

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