Congolese Culture - Music and Fashion

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One of Congo’s greatest contributions to contemporary African culture has been its music, particularly the orchestra music that developed in the 1960s. The first authentic Congolese musicians were troubadors of the 1940s and 1950s, travelling to perform primarily in the more remote provinces. Among the early troubadors were Antoine Wendo Kolosoyi, Tête Rossignol, Paul Kamba, Polidor, Jean-Bosco and Colon gentil. They travelled as soloists but as the music developed, the solo acts became groups, adding African drums and acoustic guitars. Antoine Kasongo, Tekele (believed to be the first female music star), and Odéon Kinois were among the first leaders of groups. Traditional music was given up by younger generations as they were shifting towards new forms and adding more instruments.


The first recordings of Congolese music were made by colonial museums in 1947. At about 1953, Joseph Kabasele, one of the founding fathers, formed the African Jazz Orchestra and made a few records. Luambo Makiadi Franco, the first to begin playing cha-chas, formed the O.K. Jazz Orchestra. The influence of Cuban and Latin music began to be felt in the late 1950s. A number of Latin American records were adapted and recorded by Congolese groups. These included “Kay-Kay”, “Son”, “Tremendo”, “L’Amor” , and “Lolita”. Most composition of songs in this period have Latin rhythms and Congolese lyrics with such classics as “Indépendance Cha-cha” by Tabu Ley Rochéreau to commemorate independence, and “Cha-cha-cha de Amor” by Luambo Franco. “Congo Jazz” is used generally to describe Congolese orchestral music, with Franco, Rochéreau, and Docteur Nico among the most popular musicians. The term “Soukouma” (Lingala for “shake”) had been introduced and gradually became the dominant form of music by the late 1960s. Congolese music has become one of the most popular in Africa by this time. By the late 1970s, as the number of bands had multiplied and the music considerably pluralized, some leaders incorporated disco, jazz, and blues harmonies into their compositions. Others preferred ballads and traditional musical forms. Although many languages were used in the lyrics, Lingala remained the most common. Several were created deriving from the African Jazz and OK Jazz, we can name Grand Zaiko of Manuaku, Viva la Musica of Papa Wemba, Choc Stars of Ben Nyamabo, Victoria Eleison of Emeneya JoKester, Quartier Latin of Koffi Olomide, Empire Bakuba of Pepe Kale, and the group Wenge Musica. This third generation of bands introduced new dances like Cavacha, Griffe Dindon, Caneton, Silauka, Kwassa Kwassa, Ndombolo etc.


Congolese music is most of all dance music, usually favored in large, open-air dance clubs. Kinshasa used to be one of the earliest recording centers in Africa, but economic hardships and shortages of foreign exchange led the industry to decline in the late 1970s, leaving space and opportunities for other African cities like Abidjan and Lagos. Congolese orchestras frequently perform and record in Paris and Brussels. A few better known artists and orchestras manage to tour or record in the Americas, including Werrason, Koffi Olomide, JB Mpiana, Fally Ipupa, Lokua Kanza, Mbilia Bel, just to name a few.

Abeti Masikini, Mbilia Bel, Tshala Muana, M’pongo Love, Yondo Sister, Faya Tess, Barbara Kanam are among the most popular female musicians who are celebrated throughout Africa and internationally.


The absence of a recording industry and a limited market for art has led a few artists to leave the country and settle abroad. Within this groupwe find popular artists like Papa Wemba, Emeneya JoKester, Awilo Longomba, Kanda Bongoman, Lokua Kanza, Makoma,Chico Mawatu, Alain Makaba,Reddy Amisi and many more.


Undoubtedly, Congolese have music in their blood; and it is one of the arts through which they’ve come to best express their outstanding creativity. The most striking fact is that most Congolese musicians are exclusively self-taught and exceptionally gifted.

Lokua Kanza

Tabu Ley Rochéreau & Emeneya JoKester

M’pongo Love

Abeti Masikini

Luambo Franco


Everything about Congolese fashion revolves around the colorful print fabrics called “pagne”. The cloth, made in bolts two yards wide, is usually cut for resale into strips two to six yards in length. A staple of Congolese culture and dress, many prints are given a name. Some are designed and marketed for special purposes, like praising a leader, marking a special event such a summit meeting, soccer tournament, visit by a foreign head-of-state. Traditional aspects of theCongolese fashion have come to blend with influences from European or American fashion culture. This is most visible in urban areas where younger generations try to keep up with the trends.

Culture is everything; it is our way of life, and the most powerful strategy for the survival of any human society. In this era where global cultures are taking currency over the dying or decaying ones, it becomes imperative, not only to adapt to the macrocultures, but also to try to understand and inquire ways in which local cultures could be prevented from being suppressed or extinguished.