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African Legends

Zaiko Lanka Langa

By Christina Roden
Published November 21, 2006

In 1969, a Kinshasa-based percussionist, D.V. Muanda (a minority tenders this honor to drummer Bakunde Ilo Pablo), started a band called Zaïko Langa Langa, part of the early wave of ‘60s Independence-era guitar bands.

Most sources say that the word Zaïko devolved from Zaïre ya bakoko “Zaïre of our ancestors” in Lingala—while others report that it was simply a contraction of Zaïre and Congo, while Langa Langa referred to a medicinal root packing an intense psychedelic wallop.

But everyone agrees that the act began when a group of restless middle-class high schoolers who were steeped in ancestral sounds, wild for western rock ’n’ roll, impatient with their parents’ music and eager to party, began jamming over the Christmas holidays. The initial lineup consisted of vocalists,  guitars, bass and drums—a lean, mean soukous machine. They combined an unpolished, propulsive, snare-led rhythmic formula with deceptively sweet vocals, topical lyrics, over-the-top animation (or atalaku, shouted in-band exhortations) and rowdy, seemingly endless sebenes (instrumental hurry-ups), a signature sound later dubbed beau desordre (beautiful disorder). They quickly became standard-bearers of the country’s “youth” movement. And despite encroaching middle age and far too many premature deaths, they have remained enshrined as such ever since.

The band’s membership was always, to put it mildly, somewhat mutable. After a major schism in 1988, there were two official Zaïko Langa Langas, Nkolo Mboka (variously translated as “village headman” or “ruler of the realm” and still considered the original organization), and Familia Dei (Family Of God). But additional break-away cells had appeared both before and after the big split (the biblical “begats” pale in comparison) Clan Langa Langa, Grand Zaïko Wa Wa, Langa Langa Stars, Choc Stars, Anti-Choc, Victoria Eleison, and Historia, plus former lead singer Papa Wemba’s Isife Likole and Viva la Musica.

Among the parade of stars passing through the ranks were vocalists Dindo Yogo, Evoloko, Defao, Carlito and Bozi-Boziana, and guitarists Matima, Zamanguana, Petit Poisson, Popolipo and Pepe Manuaku. Most albums released by splinter factions or under the names of various headliners make engaging listening. But it’s always especially fascinating to check out what the wild-and-wooly parent (or grandparent!) combo has been up to in the meantime.

Note: All of the titles below are very hard to find but well worth the hunt.

Recommended Recordings

Zaïre-Ghana 1976 (RetroAfric)
Grands Success de Zaïko Langa Langa (Flametree)
Nippon Banzai (Sonodisc)