Kanda Bongoman’s life, music and first love


Caroline Nyanga gives us interesting insights into Kanda Bongoman’s life in a face-to-face interview

There is a general feeling you are stuck in a rut and have refused to change with the times. Kwasa Kwasa is outdated.

Well everyone is entitled to their opinion. After all you cannot please everyone no matter how hard you try.

And this is why your recent concerts in Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa, Busia and Bungoma were poorly attended. Don’t you think you need to re-invent yourself?

 All I can say is that I have been in the game long enough to understand what good music entails, including what the people want. I always have lots of surprises for my fans during my shows, including some golden oldies and new hits. 

Your infamous deportation from Kenya in 1992, what happened?

No, it all had to do with a power struggle between Hezekiah Oyugi (now deceased), who was a powerful minister, and a senior official at the Immigration Department. Oyugi wanted me to perform at his daughter’s wedding yet my schedule was tight and my visa had expired. When he insisted, and even attempted to renew the visa, the Immigration boss felt slighted and ordered his officers to kick me out.

Your take on what is happening in Congo?

What is happening in my country is a shame and is caused by poor leadership. The fact is Congo is like a beautiful woman who every man wants to have a piece of. What we require is good leadership of strong authority.


What is it with the godfather hat that has for a long time become part of your identity? Is it hiding something?

(Smiles for the first time revealing the prominent gap in his upper teeth) For a long time I was confused with musicians like Aurlus Mabele and Pepe Kalle without my hat on. With time I decided to do something about the confusion — and I finally found the solution — my godfather hat.

Where did you get your first hat?

One day I was walking in the streets of Spain where I had been invited for a music festival in Barcelona. I came across a beautiful hat in a shop. Yondo Sister, who was one of my dancers, convinced me to buy it and that was the beginning of a love affair with the hats.

For a man of 55, your fresh, boyish looks belie your age. Your secret?

I neither drink nor smoke. I also don’t eat red meat, but prefer fish and seafood. To maintain the quality of my voice, I only drink water and fresh juice. You should try it.

My voice is not that bad. You once served as a minister in DR Congo.

Yes I was once a deputy minister for Culture in the Government of Laurent Kabila, following the ouster of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. I quit after serving four months when I realised the people I was working with did not have the interests of the country at heart. I have never been to DRC since then.

Did you ever struggle as a musician or you just strode into stardom?

Like everyone I have struggled. In 1981 I performed my first album Iyole at Club Opera I was only given a glass of soda and a piece of cake, nothing more. But today I’m living a comfortable life.

As Kenya prepares for elections what is your one plea?

Kenya has always been known to be a peaceful country. One thing politicians must understand is that politics is like a lottery game where you either win or lose, hence there is no need to mobilise the youth to fight against each on losing elections.

It is time we aimed at building democracy in Africa as a whole.