Soukous: “Shake What Your Momma Gave Ya”

Eunice Poku May 14, 2011 at 12:00am

May 14, 2011 at 12:00 am | Lifestyle

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Eunice Poku

May 14, 2011 at 12:00 am | Lifestyle

Yes, I know this sounds reminiscent of a hip hop song you’ve heard before, but Soukous means just that — to shake — it came from the French derivative word, secousse.

Soukous, a popular dance, began in the early1950s, encompassing sounds of band music from Cuba. It is known as rumba in Zambia and Zimbabwe, Congo music in West Africa and Kenya, and Lingala in Uganda and Tanzania.

So how did Soukous get so much influence from Cuban music while deep down in the Congo? Alternatively, some may also ask about the influence African music had on Cuba.

Congo was colonized by the Belgians and the French, and colonization had a huge impact on music, especially with the use of instruments such as the drum. However, the slave trade proved just as instrumental in transferring musical influence from Cuba.

During the slave trade, Africans were taken from parts of the Congo to the Americas and the Caribbean islands. Africans brought their musical influences to those lands, and more specifically, to Cuba. Over time, the Afro- Cubans developed music with a combination of Afro-beats, jazz, and Latin beats using instruments such as drums, acoustic guitars, clarinets, saxophone and flutes.

Just after WWII, Cuban music became popular in the Congo with the help of the phonographer. Congolese musicians could listen to recordings of Cuba big band music and use those musical influences to create Soukous. Most of the music was sung using local dialects such as Lingala, Swahili, Tshiluba and a Kikongo.  Some musicians used Spanish dialects in their music. 

Some of the great lengendary Soukous musicians included Franco Luambo Luanzo Makiadi, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Abeti Maskini, Zaiko Langa Langa, and Kalle Kabasele, known for the popular piece, “Independence Cha- Cha.”

While researching this article, I watched several videos, including artists performing soukous ndombolo, which has a faster pace and more — if I may use the term — “booty shaking action.” It was hard not to get up and dance while watching them. Many of them had combinations of female and male dancers gyrating to the music. This fast-paced dance consists of synchronized arm movements with hips and bottoms.

Soukous ndombolo became popular with performers such as Awilo Longomba, Aurlus Mabele and  Koffi Olomide.

As enjoyable as it was to watch, soukous ndombolo has been criticized as being obscene and provocative. Nevertheless, it has grown in popularity, and not just in Africa, but also in Europe and North America.

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