Kékélé - Rumba Congo


Live report on Kékélé's UK Tour

November & December 2001

By Martin Sinnock


Flyer from the UK Kekele Tour

Reverse of Flyer for UK Tour listing concert dates

Kékélé – Rumba Congo

Now available on Stern’s Africa STCD1093

Outside of the African community it would seem that the most popular Congolese release of 2001 is the splendid Rumba Congo by the group Kékélé. I say "outside of the African community" because amongst the Congolese music lovers and those other Africans who follow the Congo music phenomenon the main interest lies in the contemporary style releases of Koffi Olomide, Werrason’s Wenge Maison Mčre, JB M’piana’s Wenge BCBG and Papa Wemba, all of whom have released dynamite discs during 2001.

Kékélé’s music comes from a different direction and a different generation. They are a group of Congolese veterans who have managed to recreate the sound of Congolese rumba of the sixties, seventies and eighties with modern studio technology.



 Bumba Massa

Rigo Star on Acoustic Guitar

Saxophonist Jean-Marie Makutukala

Leader of the group, main musical director, and guitarist on the cd is Papa Noel Nono Nedule, a veteran of major bands from the fifties to the nineties including Rock-a-Mambo, African Jazz, Bantous de la Capitale and TPOK Jazz. Five vocalists front the recording: Nyboma and Wuta Mayi are best known internationally from Les Quatre Etoiles. Nyboma has an equally important history in other groups though. His early career in Bella-Bella, Lipua-Lipua and fronting his own group Orchestre Kamalé, as well as impressive sessions with Koffi Olomide, Tabu Ley, Sam Mangwana and Pepe Kalle, make him one of the Congo’s greatest ever vocal talents. Wuta Mayi has sung in several major groups but should perhaps be recognised mostly for his time with Franco’s OK Jazz from the mid-seventies and into the eighties. Jean-Papy Ramazani was a seventies and eighties rumba singer from Vox Africa, Conga Succes and Orchestre Vévé and was with soukous group Kass-Kass during the nineties. Two other veteran stars Bumba Massa, briefly a member of OK Jazz was better known as a star of Johnny Bokelo’s Conga Succes; and Loko "Djeskain" Massengo, was a legend of the Trio Madjesi who performed with Verckys Orchestre Vévé before breaking free to lead their own Orchestre Sosoliso. Joining Papa Noel on acoustic guitar is Syran Mbenza (the third quarter of Quatre Etoiles); and an impressive group of backing musicians that include conga player Sungu Debat and French accordionist Viviane Arnoux who has recently excelled on tour with Sam Mangwana’s retro-rumba revue.

[Left to Right]: Nyboma, Loko "Djeskain" Massengo and Bumba Massa



Nyboma along with drummer Komba Bellow,

There are some glorious moments on Kékélé’s Rumba Congo cd, particularly some acoustic guitar inter-play, delightful accordion embellishment and some great vocals from Nyboma, one of the Congo’s finest ever voices.
[L to R]: Bass player Vincent Hamamdjan, Wuta Mayi, Nyboma, Loko "Djeskain" Massengo, Bumba Massa__  
  It is far from being a perfect album though, and I have some personal reservations due to some technical irregularities in the sound quality, a certain mechanised feel to the percussion beds, and a few "one-take" lacklustre vocal performances which detract from some really fine songs. This is a personal and possibly over-critical reaction and in general I acknowledge that it is a cd of great charm which is thoroughly deserving of your attention.  

Syran Mbenza on Acoustic Guitar

Rigo Star on Acoustic Guitar

  Despite my slight disappointment with the disc I was thrilled when a short UK tour that included a live BBC radio session was announced. Due to a severe and ongoing case of tuberculosis Papa Noel Nedule was hospitalised for some time and was unable to take part in any of the performances. Singer Jean-Papy was unavailable for the tour but otherwise all the important elements of Kékélé were available to play the eleven dates in November/December 2001. Replacing Papa Noel and joining Syran on acoustic guitar was another guitar legend Rigobert "Rigo Star" Bamundele. Rigo is well known as one of the original guitarists in Papa Wemba’s Viva la Musica, Bozi Boziana’s Anti-Choc and a host of studio sessions with some of the greats of modern Congolese music, perhaps the most celebrated of which was his long association with Mbilia Bel after her departure from Tabu Ley Rochereau.  

 [Left to Right]: Wuta Mayi, Nyboma, Loko Massengo, Bumba Massa


Komba Bellow and Sungu Debat

Saxophonist Jean-Marie Makutukala


  It was near the end of the ten date tour that Kékélé came to my home town of Brighton on the South Coast of England. By this time the group had become a smooth and tight musical ensemble. The four vocalists, under the direction of Nyboma, took turns in leading the group with Rigo and Syran remaining seated as their acoustic guitars interwove delightful rumba patterns. The rhythm section of drummer Komba Bellow, conga player Sungu Debat and French bass player Vincent Hamamdjan kept the music punchy and veteran saxophonist Jean-Marie Makutukala injected a bit of OK Jazz style swing to the proceedings. On this occasion accordionist Viviane Arnoux was missing but the band were able to rearrange their music to adequately cover for her absence.  

Loko "Djeskain" Massengo

 [Left to Right]: Nyboma, Loko "Djeskain"  Massengo, Bumba Massa

Wuta Mayi

Rigo Star

  The first Kékélé tour was a comparatively low-key affair with minimal publicity and small but enthusiastic audiences. If this group can tap into the "World Music" international festival circuit then I believe that they could become a relatively successful live attraction. The combination of musicians is already strong but the joy of a project of this nature is that there are numerous possibilities for an inter-change of participants. There have been obvious comparisons between the vintage Congolese rumba revival and the phenomenal success of vintage Cuban ensembles like the Buena Vista Social Club. Whilst Kékélé will never quite succeed in the way the Buena Vista project has there is no doubting that Congolese "retro-rumba" is every bit as charming and enjoyable as its Cuban counterpart.  

[Left to Right]:  Wuta Mayi, Nyboma, Loko "Djeskain" Massengo, Bumba Massa