Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

SOUKOUS

Genre of dance music emerging in Congo/Zaire but soon widely played throughout Africa, known as Lingala music in East Africa, Congo music in Anglophone West Africa. 'Soukous' probably came from the French secouer, 'to shake'. Its roots were in work camps of European companies 1900-30, where a mix of cultures led to new forms; originally performed on likembe (sanza), guitar and bottle, early innovators such as Wendo and Djhimmy gave it a more modern feel; early influences included highlife and Cuban rumba (Papa Wemba's music in the early '70s was at first called Congolese rumba), but the abiding strength of the style lay in adaptation of indigenous traditions.

The development of a radio network '40s and the opening of studios helped in its diffusion; foreign instruments, especially electric guitars, began to give it its modern sound in the '50s. Early exponents included Joseph Kabaselle, OK Jazz, Dr Nico, Les Bantous de la Capitale. The first 'orchestres' appeared '50s with guitars, double bass, congas, clips and male vocals; later the 'mi-solo', a third guitar line between lead and rhythm, was introduced, along with brass and woodwinds. It flourished '60s with heavy rumba overtones evident in recordings of orchestres Kamale, Kiam, Lipua-Lipua, Bella Bella and Veve; toward the decade's end a new, rougher version appeared, associated with Stukas, Zaiko Langa Langa and Empire Bukuba; Kazadi indentified eight stages in the evolution of soukous '73, but by then two distinct styles were identifiable, differentiated by the vocal presentation of melodic material and its reproduction on lead guitar. By this time it had spread to East Africa while also playing a formative role in the development of Francophone West African music, in the '80s a basic lineup included three or four guitars, bass, drums, brass, vocals, with top orchestres having over 20 musicians, lyrics usually in Lingala. The new generation of soukous stars incl. Souzy Kasseya, Kanda Bongo Man, Fidele Zizi, Victoria, Theo Blaise, Orchestre Virunga. The Parisian infl. of electronic drum machine and digital samples threatened to take over, but there was a move '90s back to elements of the former rumba style, with a stronger emphasis on vocal harmonies.