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Top rhythm guitarists behind Benga tunes

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When top global Benga artistes compose their songs, they desire to tap and keep faith in their ardent fans and support bases to grow their popularity. By growing their popularity, they increase sales of their products.

With all that, the wealthy Benga artistes ensure those hired are well remunerated.

And it is the reason they (renowned global Benga artistes) could not afford to do without the services of two experienced and respected rhythm guitarists who originate from Africa.

They are Lokassa Ya Mbongo and the late Bopol Mansiamina, all natives of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

None of them could or can be matched by any of the present-day rhythm guitarists in Africa.

All professional Benga artistes in Africa and abroad had the pleasure to hire the services of the two rhythm guitarists.

“The duo was equally respected and no guitarist has ever matched them as their qualities as rhythm guitarists cannot be matched by anyone in the continent and beyond,” said Alloice Odhiambo, an ardent fan of TP. OK Jazz Band of the late Franco Luambo Luanzo Makiadi.

He said no Kenyan musician could hire the services of the two guitarists.

“It is not because they did not want it but the reason is that they could not afford to pay them,” added Odhiambo.

Elly Ogutu, a Benga music lover in the continent also acknowledges the experience of Lokassa and Mansiamina saying “they were very expensive artistes”.

“And that is why only the wealthy Zairean musicians and those who reside in Europe are the only ones who could afford to hire their services and at times they also played alongside Lokassa and Mansiamina,” added Ogutu.

And their presence while performing for these or with these wealthy orchestras excited and assured their fans that they were in for serious business.

After several performances in Africa in their traditional bases of Kinshasa in DRC, Abidjan in Ivory Coast and Lome in Togo, they migrated to Europe settling in Paris, France where they spent their lifetime in their musical careers.

It is in Paris where the two artistes composed and released many top-selling albums that resulted in their popularity growth whether they were hired or performing for their respective bands. As Lokassa played for Four Stars and later Orchestra Soukous Stars while Mansiamina was always with Mode Success Orchestra, as the band leader.

Lokassa is reputed for having teamed up with the likes of Sam Mangwana of African All Stars to produce top albums like Issa, Dodo and Bonne Annee in 1983 before he later joined Franco Luambo Luanzo Makiadi at TP.OK. Jazz band for the track Tres Impoli.

Nairobi-based Congolese promoter Jans Nsana had full praise for the two musicians and termed them as some of the world’s best Benga rhythm guitarists who served the top artistes in the Francophone countries in the continent.

“They were serious in their businesses and sharp in playing rhythm guitar and that is why they were hired by the most successful artistes in the continent,” said Nsana who has met the two musicians. Although he is uncertain of Lokassa’s exact location, he said he should probably be in the US.

“For now I am unsure where he (Lokassa) is but he could be in the US,” he said.

Mansiamina had played with Orchestre Bamboula of Papa Noel and Madilu System before he (Madilu) joined TP OK Jazz Band, Pepe Kalle of Empire Bakuba, Bozi Boziana and Wuta Mayi (then known as Blaise Pasco), with whom Bopol would work for decades.

Others were Dr Nico Kasanda’s African Feista Sukisa Band, and Mansiamina who is remembered for his popular compositions in Manuelä, Helena, Samedi Soir, Belinda and Because No Money.

As a backup guitarist, Mansiamina played rhythm guitar for compatriot, Mpongo Love’s Partager album in 1987 and three of its six songs (including the title track) and continued to work with her until she died in 1990.

Mpongo Love is fondly remembered for her vocals on the evergreen Ndaya song.

His East African fans will recall his bass guitar backing on Samba Mapangala’s Vunja Mifupa song having earlier in 1973-1976 performed for Afrisa International of Taabu Ley.

Mansiamina’s Kenyan fans remember in late 1988 when the Four Stars Group toured Kenya for a series of shows, he was in the entourage that included Passi Jo of the sister Kass Kass Band.

Mansiamina is an accomplished guitarist and composer who performed with several groups in DRC before relocating to France in the 1980s to further his solo career where he performed with Nyboma Mwandido at Four Stars Band, which also featured mercurial singer Wuta Mayi and guitarist Syran Mbenza.

He moved to the US in 1996 where they say business is business and later joined Samba Mapangala’s Virunga Band between 2000 and 2010.

By their rights, the two artistes at some point competed against each other in the race for top honours in the lucrative multi-billion music industry.

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