Kanda Bongo Man: African music as precious as diamond - The Africa News


Exclusive interview with veteran African musician and King of Kwassa Kwassa

Africa is rich of natural resources which are constantly exploited and exported. But there is one which the continent is yet to appreciate and benefit from - African music. Kanda Bongo Man, a veteran African musician based in the UK, holds that African music is one of the most valuable resources the continent can export. African music, he says, is “just as valuable as natural resources such as diamonds and minerals.”  

Kanda Bongo Man revolutionised soukous music in the late 1980s. His style of dance “Kwassa Kwassa” made him a darling of soukous music fans across Africa and beyond. In this dance which earned Kanda Bongo Man the accolade “King of Kwassa Kwassa”, the hips move back and forth vigorously while the hands move to follow the hips.

Kanda Bongo Man is an exciting stage performer, capable of attracting huge crowds and breaking down the barriers between him and fans, making them sing and dance with him.

Kanda Bongo Man’s performances are fast moving and a captivating combination of music and dance. This in fact, made a famous Kenyan Rumba musician, the late Ochieng’ Kabaselleh, introduce a common phrase in his songs: “Hapana Kwassa Kwassa wazee, peleka pole pole” (It’s not Kwassa Kwassa, dance slowly), to remind his fans to take it easy and dance majestically to his music.

Kanda Bongo Man’s famous hits such as “Sai”, “Isambe”, “Liza”, “Zing Zong”, “Ekipe” and “Iyole” became infectious, and dominated airwaves in most African countries in the 1990s. The songs could be heard in pubs, discos, public transport vehicles, public gatherings, etc.  In this exclusive interview with The AfroNews, Kanda Bongo Man, for the first time, denies rumours that he was deported from Kenya in the 1990s because he had an affair with Ms. Catherine Kasavuli, a news anchor, who was alleged to have an affair with the then President of Kenya, Daniel arap Moi. Here’s an excerpt of the interview.

Kanda Bongo Man, your artistic name is quite unique. What exactly does Kanda Bongo Man mean? What’s your real name?

My real name is Bongo Kanda!

Are you working on a new album? If yes, when should we expect it out?

I am currently working on a new album, which I hope will be released this year.  

What are the challenges you face as a musician?

As a musician, it’s necessary to constantly look for new sounds and new beats. The main challenge is to remain in the music industry and you can only do this by constantly reinventing your music. If you don’t have any form of career strategy, you won’t stay in the market for very long.

What kind of messages do you try to convey through your music?

To be honest the lyrics of my music are secondary to my main aim, which is to make good music which makes people happy. Music can lift people’s mood, especially during difficult periods of their lives. For example, I was listening to a Lucky Dube album the other day – this music makes me soft! I’m also a big fan of the music of Jimmy Cliff and Maxi Priest for the same reason – they bring African spice to reggae music. Similarly when Africans fuse their music with Salsa – these cultural exchanges really enrich music. However, I do also convey messages through my lyrics – most of the time I’m complaining about what’s going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, reminding the politicians that their people want honesty from them!

Many African musicians I’ve interviewed say that piracy is killing them. Does this affect you as well and how can African authorities fight piracy?

Piracy affects all of us. African politicians should recognise that music is one of the most valuable resources which the continent has to export, just as valuable as natural resources such as diamonds and minerals. If the music industry was better organised, we could bring a lot of money into DR Congo for example. We need a good Minister of Culture to work on these things.

In the early 90s your popularity in Kenya made some government officials fear letting you stage concerts in the country. Do you feel like talking about the incident?

Actually, I do want to talk about this.  There was a lot of misinformation being circulated at the time and I’d like to put the record straight. The Chief of Security in Kenya at the time, while President Daniel arap Moi was in power, was called Mr. Hezekiah Oyugi. Mr. Oyugi’s daughter, Rose, was getting married and, as I was on tour in Kenya at the time, he asked me to stay on to play at her wedding.
However, my visa was due to expire two days before the wedding, so I told him it wouldn’t be possible unless he could extend my visa. Mr. Oyugi said that as he was the Chief of Security, there would be no problem. However the Principal Immigration Officer Francis Kwinga, found out that I had overstayed those two days illegally to attend Mr. Oyugi’s daughter’s wedding and a fully fledged argument ensued between the two politicians.  So Mr. Kwinga kicked me out of the country just to annoy Mr. Oyugi.  The worst of it was that nobody explained the problem and all sorts of rumours started, including one that I was deported because I had stolen the President’s girlfriend Catherine. I didn’t even meet her until 12 years later!

Who are your musical influences or heroes?

My main influences are our traditional Congolese musicians, but my musical heroes include Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and Jimmy Cliff.

What’s your advice to young people aspiring to become musicians?

The most important thing is if you want to be taken seriously in the music industry, you must be professional at all times.  Always be on time, be polite and respect your audiences.

You are a vigorous dancer. Does your dance style have a particular meaning?

No! I just enjoy dancing!

In the recent years we have lost very popular Congolese musicians who popularised Congolese Rumba. Many young Congolese musicians seem to be getting into rap, hip-hop, etc. How do you foresee the future of Congolese music?

Fortunately not all young musicians are turning to rap, etc. The majority are still keeping our roots music alive. Those who are turning away are not so popular in the DR Congo, although it is good to pursue other forms of music as well.

How would you describe your style of music?

Congolese Rumba.

Many look at musicians as commentators on social affairs and often follow appeals by musicians. As a Congolese, what’s your message to Congolese politicians?

There is no love lost between Congolese politicians and myself. They don’t like me and I don’t like them! I am always telling them to tell the truth and to stop stealing votes!

A message to the Congolese in general?

Right now the Government wants to steal our election. We need to stand up to them and fight back in order to stop their dishonesty or we have a great deal to lose.

What are your future plans?

My future plans are to record a new CD and tour even more internationally. I really enjoy travelling the world to perform  because God gave me the gift of music to promote my culture overseas.

Living abroad you must have heard of the challenges immigrants face in Europe. What do you think of UK’s immigration policies?

I was 18 years old when I arrived in Europe, so I probably view things differently from someone who has just arrived. I have been here so long that I feel things as a European would. We are no different. Everybody, Africans, Europeans and other nationalities are all having to deal with the current difficult economic circumstances in their own way.

Now, when you are not preparing for a concert or recording, how do you spend a typical day? How do you spend your free time?

Taking care of my family. I also love cooking!

What’s your favourite food?

Fish and seafood.

Ms. Geli Berg,
Artist Manager,
Tel: 07816 648 288
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By Stephen Ogongo Ongong’a