Dibala, Bouger New York !
Photography by William Farrington and Sal
SOBs Nightclub: December 1996
An enthusiastic crowd at Manhattans SOBs witnessed a rare
winter treat as guitar wizard Diblo Dibala and his acclaimed Soukous
band, Matchatcha, hit the stage for an evening of modern Congolese Rumba
music. On every fans mind that night was the stark reality that this
was to be the one and only Soukous event of the winter season. The
evenings loyal turnout revealed that although Soukous music is
disappointingly absent from New York as of late, the fans are numerous
and supportive of this fiery Central African dance music.
Diblo Dibala appeared truly satisfied with the crowd that night,
his posture was at cool ease as he pushed his Matchatcha band on and on
with a barrage of intense and delirious guitar licks. Often a song would
begin as a romantic ballad, only to be slowly transformed and reworked by
Diblos guitar playing into a hot dance track.
|Within each song, Diblos
solo work would lead the music to higher and higher heights of listening
pleasure. He has mastered the electric guitar, to such an extent that he
can add intriguing new elements to a song without sounding cliché. Yet
Diblo was able to do this while maintaining an important hold on Soukous
tradition. At the root of each super-charged song was an essence of the
Congolese Rumba music as was popularized in the heyday of the 1950s.
Diblo Dibala is no newcomer to Soukous.
|As he explained, "I began playing the guitar around the age of
14," during the heyday of Luambo Makiadi "Francos" musical reign in Kinshasa. Within a couple of
years, Diblos rumba guitar skills caught the attention of "le maitre"
Franco himself, who offered Diblo opportunities in his band, LOrchestre
O.K. Jazz, as well as in the studio. It was in the Kinshasas studios
that Diblo really excelled; he quickly became one of Zaires top session
musicians, reportedly playing and composing music for some sixty albums
by other artists. This coincided with a continent-wide boom in Congolese
music throughout Central, West, and East Africa. Rumba had caught the
hearts of many African listeners, and was particularly popular throughout
the bars and radio stations of Africa.
|In the early
eighties, Diblo decided to move on, as did many of his compatriots, to the more lucrative and fashionable cities of Europe.
It was in the French capital of Paris that Diblo joined forces with Kanda
Banda Man, the leader of an impressive new Soukous band. Together, Diblo
and Kanda pioneered a new and red-hot Soukous style that was virtually a
stripped down version of the tradition Congolese rumba. Gone were the
elaborate choral arrangements and the strategic three part structure of
the rumba song. The new Soukous started with a bang and continued in a
constant escalation of guitar licks, accelerating until the final notes
of the song. It was a progressive sound that could captivate an
increasingly large urban audience.
|Despite the overwhelming success of their collaboration, Diblo
decided to break away from Kandas band and front his own group of
musicians in 1986, in a group which he called Loketo. The band
highlighted veteran vocalist Aurlus Mabele, and created a sound that
appealed to a sophisticated, urban and youthful audience. Diblos guitar
came to the forefront, and Loketo allowed him to showcase his superior
dexterity on the guitar to an ever-increasing audience.
|Three resulting albums were produced on the Shanachie label, the standouts
being 1990s "Soukous Trouble" and 1991s "Extra Ball." Their accompanying
U.S. tours also introduced Soukous to a new American audience, paving the way for
countless other Soukous artists in the future. Shortly after the third
album was released, Diblo regrouped to form his present band, Matchatcha.
|The band Matchatcha is thus the result of a complex evolution
that Soukous has undergone over the past twenty years. In our interview
after the SOBs concert, Diblo explained in French that he draws musical
inspiration "first from Franco, second from the Cuban rumba style that
was popularized throughout Africa in the 50s, and finally [from the Jazz
guitar great,] George Benson." The combination of these elements is
evident on the groups most recent album, entitled "My Love" on the
French Atoll label. Diblo chose to showcase many of the new songs that
With the hit "Maman," Diblo experiments with an element of
distortion on his electric guitar. The result is a pseudo hard-rock
Soukous, grittier and meaner than the clean and soaring songs that many
are accustomed to. For the purists, Diblo offers a host of ballads and
romantic offerings, the new song "My Love" being a prime example. Next,
the single "Fiancée" is a very intriguing and modern sounding
collaboration with Ray Lema, who is notable for his experimental
ventures. Finally, with the instrumental "Radi," Diblo explores blues
and jazz dimensions while skipping in and out of a Soukous melody. It is
in this song where his guitar techniques are best appreciated.
|During our post-concert discussion, Diblo commented on the
differences between the Paris scene and the reception he has found here
in America over the years. Diblo believes that "Soukous is as strong as
ever in France, but the initial excitement once associated with its
discovery is now gone." Indeed, mention Soukous to anyone in Paris and
chances are they can cite some song or at least identify the musical
|Thus in Paris, "Soukous and the notion of African music go hand
in hand." When comparing Paris to the United States, Diblo cites that
"much progress has been made in America over the past 10 years, when
groups such as Loketo introduced the music to a new audience."
|Today soukous is becoming known in America, and "Matchatcha is
touring much of the United States... Dallas, New York, California, and especially
Chicago, where we had a very big audience." Diblo believes that Soukous
has far to go, and that it has the strength to continue to conquer
America. "Soukous involves an element of spectacle... there is a melangé
of everything in our concerts; we have the rumba beat, the guitar element
and the singing.
|We also have the female dancers, [who constantly change
costumes,] and this our audiences always love." With a little of
everything to offer the music lover, Diblo believes that the Soukous
concert is the primary force behind its continued popularity abroad. It
is a music that continues to capitvate, despite linguistic boundaries.
Judging from his warm reception in New York, Diblo and his entourage will
be back to play many times in the future.