Tunaiita ‘Lingala’, but really Lingala is the language. Ulaya they call it ‘Soukous’ lakini whatever you call it is is unmistakable. The moment you hear those tingling guitars, you amka and start dancing whilst they sing “mama mundu ehh.. na bolingo o-yoo” Aaah I love that music sana sana.
When Lingala fever tokead in Nairobi, circa 1991, I fikiri it was Kanda Bongo Man who made even mathes and fithes shake their bolingos when he sang “kwasa kwasa.” Hata I kumbuka my kid-cousin singing that song, and when she heard Kanda anza “eeh mwana ngu saaii” aah she would simama and show everyone the moves. Lakini Kanda was kidogo gimmicky, what with his balloon-like trousers and a haircut that can cut mkate.
I fikiri Pepe Kalle was/is the Rolls-Royce of Lingala; for some reason, every thing he ever tokead with was just perfection. Listen to his album ‘Larger than life’ and amua that music has never aged. He was a kubwa man, was it him that used to eat mingi eggs? I also have a sahani by Pepe Kalle’s 90s band ‘Empire Bakuba’ – from market mamas in Kinshasa and Kenyatta marko to jungu backpacker types, I fikiri every world music fan enjoys his music.
The days of Lingala anzaad kitambo. I was somaiing ati it actually began amongst wakina Franco, Sam Mangwana, Nyboma, Wuta Mayi, when they were hanging out in West Africa and Cameroon in the 70s. Kwa hivyo Lingala music is based on West African high-life (“shake body-o, not so?”), Cameroonian Makossa, Congolese Rumba (ever heard ‘Co-operation’ by Franco/Mangwana? A 15 minute song). Can you imagine going in a time machine and ingiaing a densi with kina Pepe Kalle on stage? Wooii. Wapi time travel?
Real instruments, lyrics with maana, combinations and key changes that shangaza, and no pretensions of being “westernised.” Hata even when they imba in French, the kitamaduni nature of the music remains.
When Lingala fever was seizing every stereo and radio and music progi, there were a few Congolese (not Congo-Brazzaville, but former Zaire, now DRCongo) families that moved into our esto. Kumbuka around that time, the military fujo tolewad by Mobutu Sese Seko (full name: “Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku wa Zabanga” – can you imagine kiddos in Kinshasa playgrounds just chezaing with that name! ha ha ha). So we had a few Zairean hunks let loose in the neighbourhood. Quickly, one of them kamatad the esto splengo. She and her jamii had just moved from Stato. Another Zairean guy conquered several of the esto housies, lakini when one said she’d toshad him, he physically kimbishad her round the esto with him saying ati “mama! Na kosana nini ehh?” with her kimbiaing bila turning back hata she lost her slippers on the way.
So there would be impromptu Lingala parties, with every vinyl record a kitamaduni DJ could wish for. And also the Zaireans, along with TZ-eans in the esto, pendad rice. Yani if you nyima them rice it’s vibaya sana, and I also happen to penda rice with a passion, so there’d be plates of pilau being kulwad, afterwhich the watu wazima would dance to Lingash and kunywa Tusker.
Even with all that utamaduni stuff going on, with so many Lingala musicians in Nai (as well as local Benga ones, kumbuka “vunja mifupa”?), the ubaya thing is that non-western music was deemed to be “uncool” by some. It was like if someone sikilizad those types of music, they’d be said to be “uncool.” I didn’t really appreciate that music until I grew up – and, irony sana, until I went to ulaya. I can walk into a music store in central London and find more African music than if I trawled through the whole of Nai’s central business district. A couple of years ago nilienda Yaya, ati to check out local music, and the shop assistant twirled her hair-weave and angaliad me like ‘oh we don’t deal with those kinds of music.’ It’s so pathetic. Aki if I was in siasa, I would have had her arrested. Ha hah. Make it the law for African music to be sold in every music shop, kama hawataki watoke hiyo nchi.
From Tabu Ley, to Tshala Mwana, from Mbilia Bel, to Les Quatre Etoiles (Syran, Bopol, Wuta Mayi and Nyboma). And don’t forget Koffi Olomide and his ndombolo. Even the names of Lingala musicians are just so mzuri: akini Dally Kimoko, Lokassa ya Mbongo (aah I love that name), then there are names like Dilu Dilomana. My favourite is Nyboma. His album ‘Anicet’ has never dated.
I saw a docu about Papa Wemba who ishis in Paris, and jameni that man was misbehaving sana with the ladies. It’s vizuri that huko Paris, all the Zairean people haven’t sahaud their culture and muziki, hata it’s in Pari that most of the muziki is recorded. You ona their mamis on stage, all ages and sizes, representing themselves. Kumbuka Yondo Sister, and those dancers in Lingash videos. Weh! The way they’d zungusha their limbs it was like they’d katika at the waist.
Sasa, if you want timeless Lingash, angalia anything produced by Ibrahim Sylla (he’s actually Malian/Senegalese, lakini that man is a Maestro sana with all genres of muziki ya Afrika). Songs produced by Sylla like ‘Manuela’ (sung by Ricardo Lemvo/Makina Loca), Zonga Aime (Pepe Kalle), Papy Sodolo/Coup de fil (Quartre Etoiles), Bapasi (Tshala Mwana) just furahisha someone. Manze I can andika all day about this music, even though I’m still learning about it, kwa jili there was so much Lingala produced in the 90s.
There was an episode of Vioja Mahakamani whereby a mshtakiwa woman allegedly had an affair with a Zairean man who was a musician, mpaka her husband stormed his music set and destroyed all his guitars and equipment. The woman denied all charges. Then the prosecutor asked her “well then how come all your watois are named ‘Bulanda’ and ‘Lokiyo-Boyo’”? Hah hah hah yani I chekad so much my tumbo hurt. Maze that programme is a national treasure.
I went to a party in Nai not too long ago and the hostess was from TZ. All afte and evening she to-ad for us Lingala albums that just shangazaad us, yani I thought I was a collector lakini kuna mingi Soukous albums and groups I have yet to jua. Long live Lingala fever. As for the language itself, Lingala words sound so vizuri, I hope to learn it one day. If you speak Swaha you can understand many of them, ‘cause Lingala’s a Lingua Franca like Swaha, but sometimes not knowing what the words mean makes music even more délicieux.