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Samba Mapangala speaks on his fortunes abroad

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 Samba Mapangala [Courtesy]

At the epitome of his musical career with Orchestra Virunga in the 1990s, band leader Samba Mapangala never dreamt of relocating from Kenya to any part of the world in pursuit of greener pastures.

It was a time when his popularity had thrived and rivalling those of rhumba and Lingala maestros Franco Luambo Luanzo Makiadi of TP OK Jazz Band or Tabu Ley Rochearue of Afrisa International Orchestra in the fight for top honours.

On his part, Mapangala had the advantage of being lucky to sing in three dialects of French, Lingala, and Kiswahili in the rhumba world of music.

The musician first wowed his audiences in Nairobi before extending it to other parts of Kenya’s two cities of Kisumu and Mombasa in the nineties with many of his popular songs coming from the two albums of Vunja Mifupa kama bado Meno Iko and Nyama Choma, productions that recorded higher sales at the time (1990s).

By then, the competition among African musicians on the continent was stiff as music production was superb. Most of them preferred Kenya as their high-end premier entertainment destination as multinational recording companies with superior adequate facilities with well stocked regional offices were located here in Nairobi.

The two leading conglomerate recording companies that also marketed their products locally and abroad were PolyGram and CBS Kenya Limited. Their work (the two companies) assured artists of good sales and high profits, a development that made Congolese musicians flock and get based in Nairobi from the seventies to the late nineties.

They include Les Mangelepa, Super Mazembe Orchestra, Orchestra Virunga, and Orchestra Lekinua, among others. Those were the days when piracy was the biggest hindrance to the welfare of musicians in the region at a time when music was recorded in cassettes and on vinyl discs before the emergence of CDs and thereafter YouTube.

“We used to make high profits under the auspices of the two companies but when they (recording companies) closed down due to piracy, we had no business being here (Nairobi). Therefore, I had to seek alternative ways of survival and that’s how I disbanded Orchestra Virunga and moved to the US,” Mapangala told the Standard from Maryland, USA where he’s based. He left Kenya for the US in the late 1990s.

“By the time I left Kenya for the USA, even the night clubs where we used to perform closed down, a development that made me end my active career in Kenya,” he added.

The artiste said the standards in the US are far above the rest of the world and therefore it has spurred his career.

“You cannot compare music standards in the USA and those in Africa. There’s a big difference and I cannot even explain. Just difficult to compare,” said Mapangala, a solo musician who hires experienced artistes from all over the world whenever he has a big show.

Among them was the world’s renowned rhythm guitarist Lokassa Ya Mabongo who died six months ago and is yet to be buried in Kinshasa, DRC.

Without mincing words, he said quite a large pool of experienced musicians migrated to the US in the 1990s and have since successfully set their bases there.

“US has proved to be a good working ground for us (African musicians) in prospering our careers and we do not regret the decision,” he noted.

Currently, he’s working with DRC’s duo of solo guitarist John Bashengezi and bass guitarist Ngouma Lokito, rhythm guitarist Mulumbu from Kenya, drummists Oscar from Nigeria and Joseph Asukoyi of Nigeria while the lead singers are Mapangala himself and Congolese Freddy Nyembwe.

Mapangala confirmed that in all his sessions, he has always employed the services of Lokito (Ngouma).

 “We have been together with him (Lokito) for the longest period and determined to go places. Yes, he normally plays with me whenever I have a gig,” said Mapangala who also speaks fluent English and Kiswahili.

Before shifting to the US, Lokito was a member of Soukous Stars led by composers-cum-guitarists in the late Lokassa Ya Mbongo, Ballou Canta, and Shimita, among others.

Homecoming show

 “As I plan to have a gig in New York soon, Lokito will still be on the programme on bass guitar,” he observed.

Mapangala has been invited by Afro-Pop to perform in New York on November 10.

Hosted by one of Africa’s best-loved broadcast personalities, Georges Collinet, and produced by Sean Barlow, the radio show is distributed by PRX to over 100 stations in the US, as well as stations in Europe and Africa.

 After playing with different musicians in his musical career, he said he was inspired by Tabu Ley Rochereau in Kinshasa when he led the African Fiesta Group before it was renamed Afrisa International Orchestra.

“However, it’s my efforts that have made me to be what I am today,” said the artiste.

He said he has plans to visit Kenya next year but the sky is not the limit for the 68-year-old artiste.

“Although I’m planning to have a show in Kenya next year, I’m happy to have relocated in the US to inspire my career as a musician,” he said.

He is married and has five children – three boys and two daughters.

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