REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: Bakolo Mboka - Les Bantous De La Capitale
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
Almost half a century after their first concert, Les Bantous De La Capitale spread the joy of Congolese rumba, earning Congo-Brazzaville some well-deserved appreciation
When reviewing legends Super Mama Djombo’s album Ar Puro I was rather impressed how the Bissau-Guinean maestros came back together to record the album in the noughties, decades after they formed in the 1960s. Having spent much of the past year learning about music in Africa it became apparent that bands that have any longevity are often a rarity, with big artists often playing in a variety of different incarnations. Founded in 1959, Les Bantous De La Capitale rekindled their magic of days gone by on Bakolo mboka in 2007 with just as much energy and gusto.
“The album’s recording in some respects tells the power of long-lasting friendship, and although the foursome spent time apart throughout the half a century in between, the love for each other and the music can really be felt.”
The Republic of the Congo have much in common with their ancestral twin, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The fact that both nations’ stretches of the Atlantic coastline were used as central hubs for the slave–trade, albeit at the hands of different colonisers, is an obvious reason why the rumba genre was popularised in both nations with a strong centuries-old connection to Cuba - the land upon which vast numbers of Congolese slaves ended. Nevertheless, there are some key differences in their post-colonial journey. Their different paths, after gaining independence in 1960, go some way to explaining why most notable Congolese rumba artists hail from Congo-Kinshasa rather than Congo-Brazzaville. The list of iconic names within the rumba/soukous genre, including the likes of legends TPOK Jazz, Franco Luambo, or even Papa Wemba, all come from the north-eastern side of the Congo River.
Whilst DR Congo went down a rather different, and economically less prosperous, road post-independence, the Republic of the Congo were quickly coerced into communism by the Soviets. One could argue that three decades of political repression, isolationism amongst the Soviet bloc and a lack of investment in culture were some of the major reasons why Congolese music from Brazzaville failed to gain international recognition than those from Kinshasa. Others, however, might simply put it down to luck. When one listens to Les Bantous De La Capitale, one cannot help but feel that infectious party spirit. To those unfamiliar with the genre, such a ‘Latin’ sound might be confusing when one is occasionally reminded of the fact that the band are from Central Africa. My favourite track on the record Bantous Pachanga is even sung in Spanish, alongside others such as Comité bantous. One might believe this is partially due to the fact that the album features special guest musicians from Cuban band Orquesta Aragon. However, the aforementioned Bantous Pachanga, was written in 1960.
Part of the joy of this album is how some of these songs have stood the test of time. Rosalie Diop for example was written in 1963 but it still sounds fresh. The album is full of great tunes from the more salsa-esque tunes, like Merci Mama, to the instrumental masterpiece Pot-pourri sur le passé. Tracks like Butsiélé and Even are packed full of energy and showmanship, something rather remarkable when one considers that the veterans Jean-Serge Essous, Célio Célestin Kouka, Edouard Ganga and Nino Malapet combined age was nearly 300 at the time of record. The album’s recording in some respects tells the power of long-lasting friendship, and although the foursome spent time apart throughout the half a century in between, the love for each other and the music can really be felt. This rather life-affirming message in the story of the band is served up in an album, which even without knowledge of the context it was made, is still massively enjoyable. The genre itself often serves to keep spirits up, even in the most difficult times of mourning and I challenge anyone to listen to this and not feel momentarily distracted from life’s difficulties.