From soukous to Kanindo and then sungura
When Congolese musicians migrated into east Africa, soukous took on a new form and new name – Kanindo – after a producer who helped spread it across the region. But further again from Kenya and Tanzania, Kanindo took on another form – sungura – once it landed on Zimbabwean soil. Today, rumba has, writes WONDER GUCHU, taken several other forms.
The assassination of Patrice Lumumba and the ascension of Mobutu Sese Seko, as the Congolese strongman, did not only drive fear into the hearts of many of his countrymen but drove out musicians.
Most of them emigrated to east Africa namely Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and some even strayed as far as Zimbabwe where they took up permanent residence.
In some cases, the musicians left with their bands while in other cases, they strayed alone and went to form new groups in their adopted countries.
In all cases, they brought along the raw form of Congolese rumba but once they stayed in a country, they had no choice but to incorporate local musical elements.
These fusions further created more rumba versions with Kanindo becoming the east African version while later in the years; sungura became the Zimbabwean rumba version.
Although there were some Congolese rumba groups who migrated directly to the then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), they failed to maintain their local beats.
Most of these groups were on the run from Mobutu, and chose Tanzania, Uganda or Kenya where there was a huge rumba following largely because some of the musicians sang in Kiswahili.
They were also in search of cheaper and better recording studios. Above all, they had heard about the success of one of the earliest rumba groups, OS Africa Band that had settled in Nairobi in the early 50s.
So musicians such as Baba Gaston travelled to Dar es Salam in 1971 while some members of the famous Super Mazembe settled in Nairobi in 1974. They were followed by Boma Liwanza’s Orchestra Basanga in 1975; Zaiko Langa Langa as well as Orchestra Shama Shama.
In addition, the groups brought along a new dance routine called cavacha – a raunchy dance style characterised by rigorous waist wriggling and wild body movement.
While soukous was also accompanied by a dance routine, cavacha goes further in its wildness and sexual provocation.
With Nairobi as the first port of call for most Congolese musicians, the popularity and growth of rumba music there inspired the formation of local rumba groups in both Dar es Salaam and Nairobi.
One good example is how the Tanzanian group Simba Wanyika inspired the Kenyan groups Les Wanyika and Super Wanyika Stars.
Some groups took the opposite route to the then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where there was also a growing following of rumba music.
One such group was the OK Success that was led by Andrew Ngoyi and Joseph Kishala.
Despite the vast influence soukous had on east Africa, most often, the Congolese groups split when they enjoyed success. The splinter groups would then absorb local musicians and as such, soukous was slowly diluted to create new genres.
For example, there were fusions of soukous and taarab in Tanzania and Makossa in Kenya.
But with time, the east African rumba version slowly shed its soukous tag and became known as Kanindo music after a Kenyan politician-cum-music producer ‑ Phares Oluoch Kanindo – who also owned POK Music Stores and had a joint venture with the Electrical and Musical Industries (EMI) International.
His recording studios attracted a number of Congolese musicians – Tabu Ley, Franco, as well as Mbilia Bel ‑ who came to record music which they sold across Africa and abroad, as far as New York and London.
Kanido was a member of parliament in the late Jomo Kenyatta’s government from 1979 until 1988 and was also assistant education minister.
It was this music which filtered through from east Africa to the then Rhodesia via combatants who underwent training in either Kenya or Tanzania. They brought the music in vinyl or in some cases popularised it by dances adopted from east Africa.
In other cases, refugees from camps in either Tanzania or Kenya brought the music. Some of the groups were trained combatants who were given the role of entertaining others.
One such group was Kasongo Band that was led by a Zanla ex-combatant called Ketai Muchawaya.
Once in Zimbabwe, the east African Kanindo was diluted with local beat to create a faster and lighter version known as sungura music, which is one of the country’s most popular genres.
It’s not clear who owned the sungura label used by AIT Records but some music researchers believe that it was one of POK Kanindo’s outlet that catered for Luo benga bands or a joint AIT/Teal Records export venture.
Teal Records operated from Zimbabwe and South Africa with distribution outlets in Mozambique as well as many other countries on the continent. After Zimbabwe’s independence, Teal Records morphed into Gramma Records.
Because most such vinyls found their way into Zimbabwe, local groups took up the name, which means hare in Kiswahili, as the name of their type of rumba.
Alongside the Kanindo type of music, the group also imported a moderated version of cavacha dance, which was known locally as kabhasikoro or chibhasikoro (bicycle dance).
This version was so called such because the dancer imitates a person riding a bicycle. The dance was taken up from Kasongo Band by another local group, The Ngwenya Brothers, who popularised it.
Today, a modern version of kabhasikoro or chibhasikoro is known as Borrowdale Dance, which has given one of Zimbabwe’s most celebrated sungura musicians, Alick Macheso great mileage.
Although Macheso’s dance is about horse riding, in the early days when he was just starting, it was all about cycling.