NZIMBU – Ray Lema, Ballou Canta, Fredy Massamba, Rodrigo Viana

Ray Lema, Ballou Canta, Fredy Massamba, three generations of Congolese singers, have reunited on the album Nzimbu (meaning the song, or the fortune in Kikongo), released on january 2015  On this album, Ray Lema, who at 69 is a father of modern central African music, taps into one of Congo’s most precious resources, its traditional music.  Without percussion, the music emphasizes its melodic strengths while displaying a contemporary flair with Lema’s piano groove accents and with rich harmonic riffs chiseled by the Brazilian guitarist, Rodrigo Viana.  To bring this project to life, Lema called on two of his “juniors” — former band-mate Ballou Canta, 60, and the youngster Fredy Massamba, 42, a rising star of Congolese music.

Ballou Canta, after an already accomplished singing career, teamed up in the 1990’s with the Soukous Stars. The group became the standard bearers of the Zairian rumba/soukous/kwasa scene centered around Kinshasa.

Fredy Massamba, long time member of the Drums of Brazza, released two album in recent years, Ethnophony and Makasi, where he introduced soul and hip-hop to village music.

All three musicians are Bakongo, the ethnic group of the ancient Kingdom of Kongo, whose pre-colonial era territory included the current province of Lower Congo (DRC), the southwest portion of Congo, and northern parts of Angola and Gabon. On Nzimbu, these three singers with melding harmonies, express themselves mostly in Kikongo, their ethnic group’s language, which lends itself well to the hip-hop of Massamba as on Nsongela, and in Lingala, more commonly heard in Kinshasa. After opening with a traditional song performed a cappela, the album crosses both Congos, starting with a typical Kinoise rumba, Aigre Doux, a pygmy inspirational, followed by Lusala, a song which borrows from the harmonies of the Luba, an ethnic group from southern DRC. Other songs continue the jouney beyond the Congos — Lusambu pays tribute to South Africa, Laila to Angola. Rodrigo Viana’s guitar punctuates these songs with subtle playing that even flirts at times with hints of country music. Also on this album, Les Oubliés du Kivu, sung in French, reminds us that daily life in parts of Congo is accentuated not only by song. The song addresses mass rapes and the conflict in this region in eastern DRC. (Christophe Cheynier – AFP)


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