L’Orchestre Afrisa International

Congolese Rumba Soukous

Kinshasha, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Afrisa's roots go deep into the rich soil of the Congolese rumba. In the early 60s Afrisa's leader until his death in Brussels in 2014 was Tabu Ley who  sang behind the illustrious Joseph Kabasele in African Jazz, the archetype of the modern Congolese rumba band. The musicians left Kabasele in 1963 to form African Fiesta, and Ley emerged as a leader of the new group along with guitarist Docteur Nico and maracas player Roger Izeidi. Three years later African Fiesta split again into two groups: one led by Nico called African Fiesta Sukisa; the other, in the hands of Ley and Izeidi, became known as African Fiesta 66 and, the following year, as African Fiesta National.

Ley wrote most of the music and, on the strength of his exceptional voice, emerged as a charismatic presence at the mike. Promising singer Sam Mangwana and Henriette "Miss Bora" Borauzima, one of the few women to break into the Congolese music business, backed Ley on vocals.

The group produced many memorable songs including the hit "Mokolo Nakokufa" (the day I die), a rumination on life from the viewpoint of the poor, the rich, and the dissolute.

When the band showed up late for a 1967 New Year's Eve party thrown by Congo-Kinshasa's president Joseph Mobutu, they received a three-month suspension.. Inactivity triggered a walkout by Mangwana and several others. The band recovered with new personnel, including guitarist Lokassa ya Mbongo and singer Ndombe Opetun. The new lineup continued to produce hit records like "Toyota," a story centered on Kinshasa's newest status symbol.

Ley took control of Fiesta National  in 1969 and a year later the band played two concerts at the prestigious Olympia concert hall in Paris, the highest profile appearance to date for a Congolese band outside of Africa. Ley renamed the band Afrisa International following the Olympia shows. Back in Kinshasa, Afrisa pioneered the concept of "le show" by staging elaborate, Olympia-like concerts in large halls while leaving the night clubs to others.

Several notable musicians arrived in the 70's: guitarists "Michelino" Mavatiku Visi, Dizzy Mandjeku, and Dino Vangu; saxophonist Mekanisi Modero; drummer Ringo Moya; and Sam Mangwana for a brief return engagement. The decade was the band's most productive as new songs flooded the market every few months. Among a remarkable group of hits "Kaful Mayay" (go ask Mayay), the story of an arranged marriage gone bad, stands out.

Afrisa ranks as one of Africa's most enduring and prolific bands. In 30 years, the group produced several outstanding musicians who would go on to become stars in their own right. An uncountable number of records produced an extraordinary number of hits and helped spread the Congolese rumba across Africa and into Europe and America.

And now present members Modero Mekanisi, Dino Vangu, Wawali Bonane Bungu, Huit Kilos,  Djeffar Lukombo, Dodo Munoko, and  Ngouma Lokito carry the tradition forward, coming to perform at the 2016 Montana Folk Festival.

 

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