(Democratic Republic of Congo)
To hear Mbongwana Star is to touch a little piece of the city of Kinshasa, a city whose sense of cultural ferment and cosmopolitanism has been compared to New York in the ‘80s. It was once one of Africa's great musical epicentres, and its influential rumba and soukous scenes created a galaxy of dance-music demigods. Unfortunately, hard times of war and unrest brought that golden age to an end. Citizens of the immense shanty-village metropolis had to fall back on “Système D”: slang for using your wits and courage to hack out a living at the coalface of poverty.
Still, the absurdities of 21st century Congolese life cry out for commentary, and Kinshasa's artists and musicians have never stopped the search for stylish and inventive ways to supply it. Yakala ‘Coco’ Ngambali and Nsituvuidi ‘Theo’ Nzonza have lived through “Système D” to become a crucial part of the rising-from-the-ashes of “Système K,” anchored in the garbage-to-art creativity of Kinshasa's rue Kato. After splitting from their first project, a rumba band, they set out to reinvent the expectations of a “typical” African sound. The eventual result was drenched in style and raw urban energy. It was trans-global barrier-busting sound machine called Mbongwana Star, whose stripped-down combination of beats, samples, guitar and vocals arrest a listener's attention from the first bar. Theirs is the sound of a burgeoning creative revolution that may not be televised, but will certainly be heard.