King Kester Emeneya

Congo Kinshasa Roundup

 

Written by Martin Sinnock

Photography by Martin Sinnock

 

   
People still keep asking me who is the best Congolese performer and who is my favourite singer or group. It is difficult for me to answer either question because I have so many personal favourites and I have had the great fortune to have seen most of the top Congolese groups perform either whilst at their best or at least near to it during the last quarter century. Based on my regular column in The Beat, other articles that I have written and radio broadcasts, many people assume that Zaïko Langa Langa is my all-time favourite. It is true that I am a "Zaïko fanatic" and I will always have an allegiance to this group and its offshoots. Likewise Papa Wemba and his Paris Viva la Musica group and Kinshasa Nouvelle Ecrita lineup. In fact the new team of Nouvelle Ecrita singers, musicians and Fioti-Fioti dancers are the most exciting thing I have seen in recent years. Grand-Père Bozi Boziana: I love his music and his character, even though he is sometimes professionally so laid-back that he is almost horizontal. Defao: incredible voice, best dancer in the Congo, lovely guy – but career-wise – a disaster waiting to happen. Then there is Koffi Olomide, various Wenge outfits and also the female singers like Mbilia Bel, Mpongo Love and the stunning Deesse Mukangi for whom I have a particular passion. Of course I could talk about my favourites from previous generations: Vieux Tabu Ley Rochereau, the late Franco etc. etc. All of these musicians have produced my favourite music of all time and most of them have deserved, at some time, to be called "the best/greatest Congolese performer".  
   

 

King Kester Emeneya

   

 

 

 

King Kester Emeneya live a L'Olympia

   
I can now disclose that my personal favourite male singer is The King, Kester Emeneya. Everything about the musical career, personal history and character of Jean Mubiala "King" Kester Emeneya indicates that he is an under-dog who has succeeded against great adversity. His first flush of success in Papa Wemba’s Viva la Musica at the end of the seventies escalated when Wemba departed for Europe leaving Emeneya to virtually take over the band in his absence. Eventually he broke away with most of the key Viva musicians to form Victoria Eleison. Emeneya and Victoria became the darlings of the youth movement in Congolese music, but eventually he suffered various desertions himself. He soon found himself alternating between the "cutting edge" of experimentation and just on the periphery of a dangerous area of bland commercial mediocrity. One of his high points "Nzinzi" caught him succeeding with a diversion from a straight Congolese rhythm when he created a high-tech keyboard funk that was closer to an Abidjan pop/disco/zouk feel but with the added bonus of the gutsy stomp of South African mbaqanga.  
   

Fila, Sedar & Guejo

Patty Heritier

   

 

Guejo Star

 Guitarists

   

 

Dance Repetition

Dancers in dressing room

   

Dancers in dressing room

Nadine

   

 

Emeneya relaxing at the rehearsal

Tshaku Libondas

   

Vocals at repetitions

Nadine and Judith at repetitions

   

Dancers

Nene in dressing room

   

Vocals

Nadine at repetitions

   
Emeneya continued to release albums with mixed success. His virtual exile in Europe throughout the nineties saw his career balanced between high and low points with releases of conventionally styled good albums and some less successful experiments. To the hard core of believers he remained "The King" and it was always hoped that he would eventually return to the forefront of modern Congolese music. His career took an amazing upturn in 1997 with the release of the album Succes Fou, an album that saw him back in top form. Capitalising on this success, and on the changing political situation in The Congo, he made a triumphant return to Kinshasa and rebuilt his group with a youthful lineup that could match any of his musical rivals. The double cd Mboka Mboka saw the new-look Victoria Eleison Dream Team Dream Band playing in an extended style of hard Congolese rumba-sebene. It was glorious and Emeneya had suddenly become hot property once again. A short low-key recording without his group, Never Again-Plus Jamais, addressed the Congo’s political change and partially satiated the fans while they awaited the difficult follow up to the sensational Mboka Mboka. When Longue Histoire arrived, two cds again, it showed that Emeneya could sustain his momentum for directing a young orchestre to ever increasing heights of excellence and creativity. Again the songs are long, musically stripped down and oozing passion and excitement.  
   

   
The King’s popularity was still high as he prepared to bring his new young "Dream Team Dream Band" to Europe for the first time in order to show the Congolese ex-pat audience that the Victoria Eleison live performance could match the glory of the discs. The wait had been seemingly interminable with both Mboka Mboka and Longue Histoire lacking the benefit of a live tour to reinforce their sales outside of The Congo. Eventually the resources were put into place for the band to come to Europe and the performance for October 2001 at the Paris Zenith was scheduled. It was then that the bad luck hit Emeneya again. A close friend, confidante and long-term associate persuaded most of the Victoria vocal team that the European tour was not going to happen and that they should defect under his guidance in order to keep on working as an independent unit. Left with a severely depleted band and only one month before the show Emeneya frantically set about re-structuring his orchestre. Some key musicians had remained but vocally he more or less had to start from scratch. The news in Europe hit hard and for a while it was thought that he had blown it. With great determination Emeneya managed to present a show at The Zenith that should stand in history as one of the best Congolese live performances ever presented. It is rare that I urge people to buy specific videos of live shows because the haphazard nature of filming and editing live events is frequently unsatisfactory. In this particular case the sound quality, camera work and editing match the stunning performance that the Victoria Eleison Dream Team Dream Band presented. The group had somehow managed to put together a spectacle that made it look like they had been performing together for years. With six female dancers, several young male dancers and a well choreographed set of vocalists the visual performance surpassed virtually every dance presentation I have ever seen. Although Papa Wemba’s original ten Fioti-Fioti girls remain the cutest, most talented and inventively choreographed team it is the Victoria Zenith show, King Kester Emeneya Victoria Eleison au Zenith de Paris Vol. 1 (FPP no number), which stands out in my mind as the best all round performance available on a video cassette.  
   

   
Emeneya’s latest cd is an audio version of part of the Zenith concert. King Kester Emeneya "Le Nkukuta" Victoria Eleison Dream Dream Band – Rendre a Cesar (AFM Productions – no number, distribution Ngoyarto) is another double cd, his third two cd set, and faithfully recreates the wonderful performance of the live show. I say "recreates" because it has actually been recorded live in the studio. Emeneya has a crafty ability to reproduce a live atmosphere in the studio by eliminating unnecessary re-mixing and studio doctoring. Mboka Mboka, Longue Histoire and Rendre à Cesar all have this natural and vibrant live energy that many clinical studio productions lack. The sound quality of Rendre à Cesar may not be the most sophisticated but what it lacks in engineering budget is more than adequately compensated for in musical quality and atmosphere. For some listeners the slightly tacky keyboard embellishment may be a little intrusive but I urge you to set aside your pre-conceptions on the use of keyboard, accept it’s inclusion, and actually grow to enjoy it in the way that I have managed to do.  
   

 

 

Arc en Ciel

Chef d'Orchestre

Fikidi

   

Mulos Kanto

Guejo

Miyake at Repetitions

   

Dancers on stage

   

 

Bibiche Nene Judith
   

Dancers on stage

   
So just why is Rendre à Cesar so good, and why is the Victoria Eleison live performance so special, and why do I have the temerity to say that Emeneya is the best contemporary male Congolese singer? Musically the group twist and turn through rumba section into mid-rumba and then animated sebene in much the same way as other Congolese groups, but they seem to do it with more interesting melodies and sharper elements that hit nerve centres in both the mind and body. Emeneya’s music sends tingles down the spine and inspires the spirit. His voice, which is so pure, controlled and emotional, is as fine as it has ever been and it has matured and developed a unique tone since his early days with Viva la Musica. His choice of material is always beyond reproach, be it re-treading his own classics like "Sango ya Mabala Commission", newer gems like "Cigarette", or paying hommage to the veteran living monument of Congolese music Tabu Ley Rochereau on "Moussa" and "Assamba", all included on Rendre à Cesar.  
   

 
   
There is excellent vocal support from Victoria’s singers, many of whom were brought in as replacements for those who who had defected prior to the Zenith show. Guejo Star is now the featured vocalist beside Emeneya, and his decision to remain loyal to The King has clearly paid dividends. His lead on "Sango ya Mabala Commission" equals the original from Petit Prince Bengali and throughout the live show Guejo demonstrates that he is a great future talent. There are other good singers who replaced the defectors, notably ex Nouvelle Ecriture star Pompon Miyake, a personal favourite of mine, whose sympathetic lispy voice fits in well in this ensemble. Two new animateurs, Mulos Kanto "Mavi Gaye" (really!!) and Arc-en-Ciel, very quickly took on and adapted the Victoria animations. Their presence, particularly during the dances "Kiwanzenza" and "Tshaku Libondas" and the new dance "Tshalufu" launched specifically for the Zenith concert, adds much to the dance ambiance. Fortunately for Emeneya the larger part of the instrumental section of the band remained loyal. Soloist Willy "But na Filet" Ebondaki is a solid and unpretentious player. Augmenting the solos is the sole surviving guitarist from the pre-Succes Fou lineup of the group. Auguy Lutula is a guitarist who can play many different styles, but his work behind Emeneya is particularly worthy of praise, as is that of accompanists Zozo Malaba, rhythm player Adé Lokela and bassist Yves Tshum.  
   

 
   

Group on stage

   

Vocals

 Willy
   

Willy

Emeneya on stage with dancers

   
Whilst it is the music of Victoria Eleison which is the most important factor there is also an element of spectacle that helps elevate this group in my estimation. For several years Emeneya has been taking young kids off the street and helping them to develop some kind of professional career in dance. Most modern Congolese dance is initially created in the street and subsequently developed in front of an orchestre. Dollar Mavinga is one of those talents who has now become an integral part of the band. It is he who taught Emeneya the current dance moves and his direction of the entire dance spectacle is impressive. From the Matete quarter of Kinshasa Emeneya found two boys, Pathy Libondas and Heritier Mfwamba, who created the Tshaku Libondas dance. Evala and Francis Fikidi, both only 18 years of age have been in the group for five years now and it is they who lead the Kiwanzenza spectacle. The female dancers, led by Nadine "Zinadine Zidane" are also well rehearsed and creatively choreographed. All of this spectacle is magnificently captured on the aforementioned video.  
   
Following the Zenith spectacle Emeneya and his group played several more European concerts, including a date at the prestigious Paris Olympia in which he duetted with his special guest and mentor Tabu Ley Rochereau. Whilst the show was impressive there were some irregularities of sound quality in the concert hall. Following the Olympia performance the band then commenced recording their next project, a studio album, which continues the momentum of what has now become one of the most exciting and creative of the Congolese ensembles.  
   

 

Emeneya presents a bouquet of flowers to Tabu Ley Rochereau

Tabu Ley and Emeneya

   

 

 

Emeneya and Tabu Ley

 Emeneya and Tabu Ley

   

Tabu Ley and Emeneya

Tabu Ley Rochereau

   

Contact Martin Sinnock at mhs@weatherallsnorth.co.uk or write to PO Box 406, Croydon CR9 1XR, England.

Some of his photographs can be seen on the official Emeneya website www.kingkester.com, the official Papa Wemba website www.papawemba.net, and the official Zaïko Langa Langa website www.zaikolangalanga.com.