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Congolese Music Collectives: A Mood

Years ago we made a post on Twitter (now X) talking about how Congolese music enhances different moods, and each popular music collective that we've grown up with have their own identity behind them, and a story.

Many Congolese people saw the angle and wanted to explore it more - hence why it was time to revisit this subject. Congolese music is a unique world of it's own; often it's dynamism and allure is only understood by those who originate from that culture.

The title of this post seems ambiguous - you may be wondering "what's meant by 'a mood'? We'll go into that, but first let's establish that this piece is centered and dedicated to 4, legendary Congolese artists (and subsequent music groups) who have defined our entertainment culture over the last 3-4 decades. These are: Papa Wemba, Koffi Olomide, Werrason and JB Mpiana, and their groups were 'Wenge Musica Maison Mere', 'Wenge Musica BCBG', 'Quarter Latin', 'Zaiko Langa Langa (and subsequently Viva La Musica)'. Naturally, over the years the floodgates have opened for fresh new Congolese talent to make their mark, and they have been both back in Congo and in other parts of the world. For example: Ya Levis, Innoss B, Maitre Gims, Dadju, Naza... and the list goes on. Each of these new school artists have taken influence from the aforementioned legends and music groups, and adapted to fit a fresh, cross-border aesthetic and sound, which is heavily prominent in France currently.

This post will focus on the musicians that made my childhood, who put me in an everlasting 'mood' to this very day! I'll bet your bottom dollar that the artists mentioned in this post have had their own impact on the Congolese people reading this! There are intricate reasons why Congolese people have a deep-rooted connection to this form of artistry. We know the quality of the music, so that's not what's being discussed, but rather to pay them homage for the impact that they had outside of the sound.

Congolese music collectives were pioneers for beyond the heavenly sound of their music, it's the personas and lifestyle that each collective represented. Their movement still has an influence in our community and culture, even up this today. They definitely weren't the first to ever do it, but they were the first to do it this BIG.

"Werrason makes me dance like a mad person, but Koffi makes me feel sexy"

Collective Personas

Everyone's take on this may differ, but each collective has their own unique contribution to music, fashion and Congolese lifestyle:

Wenge Musica Maison Mere - Street style, Energetic, youthful hairstyles and appearance, more use of street language and terminology

Wenge Musica BCBG - Raw, Natural Entertainers, Technical Dancers, Themes, Catchy One Liners

Quarter Latin - Themes, Mysterious, Flirtatious

Papa Wemba ft. Zaiko Langa Langa / Viva La Musica  - Sapologie, Traditional Rockstars, Class, Simplicity

Upon looking into each of their backgrounds, it builds more of an understanding as to why they present the way they do. The biggest contributing factor would be their tribal, native differences. For example, JB Mpiana is from the Muluba tribe, and Werrason is from Kwilu District and is Bandundu. Using these two individuals as an example is a great juxtaposition to reflect the differences in how they come across. However, one thing they all shared in common, is spearheading nicknaming culture among the Congolese community.

Nickname Culture

Each one would have one or several nicknames, almost like alter-egos that they felt represented their image. This has encouraged many Congolese people over the years, from young to give themselves personal nicknames, other than their name. So for example you have popular known Congolese artists and their respective nicknames, such as:

Werrason - 'Le Roi de La Forêt' or 'King of the forest' in English, some also referred to him as 'Igwe of the jungle', 'Ya Ngiama', 'Ambassadeur de la paix', 'Afula tala te'

JB Mpiana - 'Papa Cherie', 'Binadama', 'Souloutani'

Koffi Olomide - 'Grand Mopao Mokonzi', 'Quadra Kora Man', 'Patraõ', 'Le Rambo', 'Nkolo Lupemba' -

the list goes on, trust me.

Over time, the essence of nicknaming has become ingrained in our culture, down to my generation. It creates a feeling of freedom, that you can be whoever you want to be. Congolese people coming from a country that is so poverty stricken, often causes people to adopt an alias, that they can live out even in the deepest darkest trenches of Congo. Popular artists of today, like Fally Ipupa, is a great example of this: widely referred to as 'Dicap la merveille', or more recently in the last decade revisits various stages of alias, referring to himself as 'El pibe de oro', 'El Mara', '3x Hustler', 'El Rey Mago', 'The King', 'Aigle' - list goes on lol. This has extended to media personalities; e.g. Grace Mbizi who is a Congolese presenter, had added 'La Sexi' to her name. Now known widely as 'Grace Mbizi La Sexi', this has become her alter ego and how she presents herself to the masses. Grace Mbizi could be a normal, hardworking, loving mother during the day, but once she gets in front of that camera, don't you dare forget to add the 'La Sexi', because she's going to give it to you!

It's stretched to modern day Sapeurs, who also nickname themselves heavily to capture the essence of their individual style. For example, Didier Nzongo aka 'Mokonzi ya Ngaba', or 'Akim Prince de Lausanne'... I'm pretty sure his parents named him just, 'Akim'. But you get the drift lol. Congolese people embrace it as light humour and a form of self expression.

It all goes back to the influence of those artists, and the work they put in to represent themselves as individuals and establishing their unique sounds. This perusal of authenticity and pushing boundaries when it comes to self expression, has transcended their music and is being recycled over 30 years on - long may it continue.

Wenge 4x4 (Werrason - red hoodie, JB Mpiana - second to end)

Wenge Musica Maison Mere (Mother's House)

As per the image above, Werrason founded the music collective 'Wenge Musica 4X4 Tout Terrain Bon Chic Bon Genre' - gosh what a name. Alongside him were Adolphe Dominguez, JB Mpiana (who joined later), and many others. Eventually the group split and formed two sectors of 'Wenge' - with Werrason leading one part and JB Mpiana leading the other. In the next section we'll look at Wenge BCGG and a bit more detail about this split.

What attracted most people to Maison Mere was that Werrason, was a bit "rough around the edges". He represented his culture and upbringing heavily through alias, calling himself 'The King of the Forest' (Le Roi de La Foret). Being someone born in a village surrounded by green and forest, this representation of being the king of the jungle/forest, was a way of paying homage to his own background. His music is popular street, party music, it always brings a high energy vibe, and many times his group were recognised for their street inspired, crazy dance moves, which brought in a younger crowd. I remember parents often thinking his dancers were quite outrageous... remember the dance 'Sele mama sele' ? Yeah. That's Werrason all over, outrageous, but fabulous.

Note that Werrason had a wide discography of music with Maison Mere - not all of them were high energy and following a 'generique' sound. Although most of his songs that weren't high energy, usually ended up that way. He always found a fresh and youthful way to end the songs. Every time you hear a 10 minute long Werrason generique, you know you are about to dance up a storm and pull some funky looking moves! At one point Maison Mere was referred to as the ‘rebirth of the Congolese music’ - which is most likely down to the youthful and electric vibe of the music. Much of the ambience surrounding Maison Mere’s music, was around their talented and lively music ‘animateurs’ , which are hype men or 'MC's' who talk over the beat. This coupled with the most electrifying solo guitarists who often did 1-2 minute cameos on a generique are certainly what made Werra' a household name.

Wenge BCBG - A New Era

a young Werrason and JB Mpiana

After the split of the Wenge group in December 1997, JB Mpiana created with Alain Prince Makaba, Blaise Bula, Alain Mpela and Aimélia Lias, alongside the guitarists Ficarré Mwamba, Burkina Faso Mboka Liya, Patient Kusangila, Fiston Zamuangana, the drummers Titina Mbwinga, Seguin Mignon and hosts Tutu Caludji and Roberto Ekokota and a wide range of dancers. His animateurs were Roger Ngandu and Blanchard Mosaka. Of the original Wenge 4x4 group, seven members do not appear (Didier Masela, Werrason, Adolphe Dominguez, Christian Mwepu Mabanga, Ali Mbonda, Ferré Gola and Japanese Maladi) - those members joined Werrason.

Throughout the years of the artists being apart, they often threw digs at eachother in their music and through their animateurs. Werrason made digs at JB Mpiana's weight often, while JB Mpiana famously had his animateur sing:

"Binadam alekaki na jardin, amoni makaku eh, elongi ekokana, NA YE!" - LOL. The direct translation being: Binadam (JB Mpiana) was walking through a garden, and he saw a monkey... his face kinda looked like THAT GUY. Referring to Werrason. Promise you it's funnier in Lingala.

A universal fact that can be said about JB Mpiana, is that he is a natural born entertainer. Over the years, he somehow has stayed the best dancer in his group despite his range of female and male dancers, who come in all shapes and sizes. JB's dancing is technical and deliberate in the expressions that go along with it - it's part of what we enjoy watching about him. BCBG often tapped into themes - the song ‘Anti Terror’ as an example. In the video, JB Mpiana and his crew dressed as soldiers who (going by the title of the song) were deployed to combat terrorism. They wore army-print one pieces as costume. The theme alone made both the song and video extremely catchy and memorable. This is why some of these songs are timeless, as soon as you hear them, you remember the music videos. Congolese artists are specialists in not taking themselves too seriously, while also sending an important message. They have a sense of humour throughout everything, you either get it or you dont.

'Anti Terro' music video by JB Mpiana

Simultaneously, JB Mpiana's crew was very pivotal for my own understanding of 'body positivity'. They were all different and individual, especially his dancers. His dance crew always included regular, thin and plus-sized women. Watching JB's videos were always an experience; voluptuous women who weren’t worried about a roll, or a love handle slipping out while performing some of the most exciting and engaging dance moves. He is one of the artists who played his part in pushing body positivity among Congolese culture, especially when it comes to dancing.

Quartier Latin 

Quarter Latin was an international music band formed in 1986 by Koffi Olomide. This group was responsible for founding artists such as Fally Ipupa and developing the likes of Ferre Gola. There are several other artists who were involved with the formation of Quarter Latin. The two artists mentioned (Fally and Ferre) are both heavily influenced by the music created by Quarter Latin. They both excel at extremely flirtatious music, the 'for the grown and sexy type', but both have the potential to bring the vibes and be the life of the party. This is especially true when it pertains to Fally Ipupa.

If there's one thing Koffi did very well in his prime, it was featuring the curvaceous beauty in his music video. He'd almost follow around while looking dapper, and whispering his sweet nothings (his lyrics)...*do you have the image in your head?* The best way to describe it would be, sugar daddy vibes. That's the vibe he is STILL giving at his tender old age.

Not only that, but Koffi was no stranger to a good theme! One of the most iconic ones of course, would be 'Monde Arab' - he payed homage to Arabic culture with this song title and music video. The entire look for the music video was inspired by 'Arabian nights'. This song and music video has transcended time and will always be recognised as a cultural fave among Congolese music.

Koffi mastered the skill of allure in his music and visuals. His outfits were always mysterious, often posing in character or generally just extremely loud outfits. As far as themes go, he made you feel carefree, he was one person today and the next tomorrow. It's safe to say Koffi loved a bit of cosplay.

Papa Wemba (Zaiko Langa Langa and Viva La Musica)

Papa Wemba's rise to prominence began when he joined the music group Zaiko Langa Langa in the late 1960s. Over time, Papa Wemba founded many small music groups and bands, while he was establishing his music style. His style was predominantly made up of traditional Congolese rumba and soukous, infused with traditional African sounds, Caribbean rhythms, rock and soul. But Papa Wemba became undeniably influential when he started his band Viva La Musica, with whom he reached international success. This became more evident when he took his band to Paris, France in the early '80's. There, he was able to achieve more success, as he established his "eclectic sound" influenced by western popular music that reflected a European flavour and style. Papa Wemba pioneered the genre 'Europop'. He spoke about this transition in his music during a 2004 interview:

"When I started singing pop music, I left religious music completely. But there was always the influence of religious music on my voice because, with religious music, the minor key always recurs. When I compose songs, I often use the minor key".

If you're familiar with Papa Wemba's voice, then like me you're probably wondering how Papa Wemba was hitting all those notes? He used to sing in church!

Soon enough, Papa Wemba was dubbed the 'King of Rumba Rock' and many people respect him as a pioneer in African music. It became apparent that Papa Wemba was also a trendsetter, and musical sounds were not the only thing he adopted from his time in Europe. 'Sapologie' was a subculture formed in Congo but derived from Europe. Men that travelled back and forth to France adopted the fashions of European men in Congo to express their want for a 'better life'. They added their own twists of style, and the African flare to it - lo and behold, we have what we call, Sapeurs! Papa Wemba always flaunted this style in his videos and every day style, encouraging younger men to adopt the lifestyle and express themselves through clothing, but in a gentlemanly manner. He was quickly deemed, a classy rockstar, and he embodied this until his last day.

It's been 8 years since Papa Wemba tragically passed away. I am so honoured to be able to share this post and speak about Congolese music, something that he was so proud of and important to. Rest in Peace now and forever King!

What are your thoughts on Congolese music? Leave a comment under this post. Don't forget to drop a like.

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