Lingala is a Bantu trade language or com-mercial lingua franca that emerged along the Congo River in the 19th century. It began in the middle region of the river, around where Kinshasa and Brazza-ville, the modern capitals of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) would be built, and it is spoken by over 10 million people. One of the four major languages of the Democratic Repub-lic of Congo, it is used in broadcasts by Radio Television Congolaise and is one of the main means of communication in the army and other ofïcial organizations.
It is seen as the language of urban and modern life and is the main language used in modern music, particularly for what was called Lingala Jazz, soukous and sundama.Lingala was chosen as the main lan-guage for the dance music called soukous. Soukous grew from Congolese rumba that was popular in much of Africa from the 1940s through the 1960s. Congolese rumba developed a local sound, but was primarily borrowed from the Afro- Caribbean rumba that found its way back to Africa in the 1940s.
Latin American music with strong and noticeable African origins, such as rumba, became popular in the 1940s with Western audiences. The popularity of rumba, and other Cuban or Dominican dances, was such that local bands emerged in many of the European African colonies who performed at night clubs and bars. Some even attempted to sing in Spanish, but oftentimes it was more like trying to imitate the sound of Spanish rather than actually singing the words.
In the 1960s, a new sound was devel-oped as part of the break with the colonial past. The ﬁrst group to typify the new sound was OK Jazz, which had ﬁrst been a popular rumba band. Borrowing from Congolese popular music, they blended instruments such as the likembe or thumb piano and the acoustic guitar; a fusion occurred, and soukous was born.
The New Wave developed in 1970 with the group Zaiko Langa Langa among the lead-ers. Their group’s leader, Nyoka Longo, stated that the music is “like a fetish. Peo-ple don’t understand the effect of our music has on them.
But they have to dance.” (Ewens, 141). Among the new stars was Papa Wemba, who started the Sapeur movement. This movement took its name from the Society for Ambiencers and Persons of Elegance, where being dressed in the best fashions was taken up by the youth in cities like Kinshasa or kinois as they are called.
Soukous was also embraced by youth in other African countries and in Europe, where a new, reformed version of the dance music was started by Congolese living in Europe and called kwasa kwasa from the phrase that is repeated in many of the songs. Kwasa comes from the French phrase qua ca or “like that.” Among the most successful was Kanda Bongo Man, a “one-man band” who cut back on the large stage bands of Congolese soukous (Ewens, 154).
Although kwasa kwasa was extremely popular, the quick commercialization of this format brought an end to its popularity, though Kanda Bongo Man himself has remained popular.Soukous, though still internationally popular,waseventuallyreplacedbythe new dance craze in Congo, the sundama. Sundama groups, like Swede Swede, were large, but the lead singer was the most important member of the group.
The musi-cians borrowed from the traditional styles of the Mongo people of the Equatorial region of the country. Along with the Western set of drums, they included the lokole or slit long drum, which gave a “ragged” sound to the music. Sundama groups performed with Caribbean zouk bands and have added to the round of Afri-can and African diaspora inﬂuences in music.
John A. Shoup
Ewens, Graeme. Africa O-Ye! A Celebration of African Music. London: Guinness Publish-ing, 1991.
Eyre, Banning. Africa: Your Passport to a New World of Music. Los Angeles: Alfred Pub-lishing, 2006.
Graff, Folo. African Guitar Styles.Ontario,CA: A. D. G. Productions, 2001.
Mukenge, Tshilemalema. Culture and Cus-toms of the Congo. Westport, CT: Green-wood Press, 2002.