SAM MANGWANA: BIOGRAPHY
Sam Mangwana is one of the prime singers and innovators of Congolese rumba, a musical form which has animated dancers and listeners alike throughout the African continent. Commonly known as soukous, Congolese rumba combines hip-swinging rhythms with lyrical guitars and vocals to create a music whose impact continues to reverberate in the West.
Born in Kinshasa (Congo) of Angolan parents, Sam Mangwana’s story is a rich tapestry of international influences. As a child his parents took him to hear the music of artists coming from Cuba, France, Spain, Italy, and the US., whose tours brought them to Kinshasa. In particular, the Cuban musicians who passed through Kinshasa had a tremendous impact on the local music scene. The Congolese recognized their own African rhythms in the Latin beats of the tres (guitar) and keyboard players who performed son, a musical style originating in the Cuban province of Oriente the century or two before via the slave trade. Extremely popular in Kinshasa, the Cuban music was re-Africanized through the artistry of musicians such as Joseph Kabasele (“Le Grand Kalle”), guitar wizard Dr. Nico, Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango, singer Tabu Ley Rochereau, and the revered guitarist Franco with his OK Jazz big band. In the Congo, this re-Africanization of son came to be known as rumba. In much of the rest of Africa, where it enjoyed tremendous popularity, people called it Congo music.
Sam grew up in this prolific and creative musical environment. While still a 17 year old student at the Salvation Army School in Kinshasa he approached Tabu Ley Rochereau, showing the bandleader songs he had written. Tabu Ley was very impressed, and invited Sam to join his band, then known as African Fiesta. When African Fiesta broke up soon afterward, Sam joined Tabu Ley’s offshoot called African Fiesta National. He stayed at Tabu Ley’s side until 1968 when he left to form a new band called Festival des Maquisards with guitarist Dizzy Mandjeku and singer Ntesa Dalienst. In 1972, Sam joined Franco and his band OK Jazz. This was a controversial move because of the difference in musical philosophy between the two groups. Sam continued to perform with Franco until 1975, at which point he returned briefly to perform with Tabu Ley before leaving for West Africa in 1976.
He settled briefly in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where he met with other former members of Tabu Ley’s band including guitarists Dizzy Mandjeku , Lokassa ya Mbongo and drummer Ringo Moya. Together they formed the seminal group African All Stars. The African All Stars tinkered with the Congolese rumba, speeding it up a bit, adding touches of Afrobeat and highlife, and singing more of their songs in French. The changes produced a more “international” rumba which led directly to the Paris “soukous” sound that developed soon afterward. After a year with the African All Stars Mangwana went solo, touring throughout the African continent, playing to audiences of 50,000 in stadiums and arenas. He toured the US in 1991 with Les Quatre Etoiles (which included two members of the old African All Stars), and recorded another very popular release called Rumba Music with several New York salseros at the end of that tour.
Since that time Sam
in France, near Paris. He is busy composing songs that carry
of love, loss, political exile, and the environment, to the far-flung
diaspora. Pieces like Canto Mozambique, a salute to the
Mozambiquan revolution which became a huge hit when it was released in
Manjani , calling for a halt to the destruction of Africa’s forests
grasslands, are two excellent examples of Sam’s concerns for what he
going on around him. The music of diverse African cultures
to serve as the basis of inspiration for Mangwana’s creativity,
Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and the Congo. Sam is proficient in
languages, and can sing passionately in Lingala, Kikongo, Swahili,
French, and English.
For further information about Congolese music, consider the following resources:
The Rough Guide to World Music, London 1995 (Distributed by Penguin Books)
Congo Colossus: The
Life & Legacy of Franco & OK Jazz, by Graham Ewens,
Rumba on the River, by
Gary Stewart Verso Press London & NY, 2000
Biography and Bibliography provided by Alison Loerke