About Kekele

It's not for nothing that the members of Kékélé named themselves after a fibrous vine from their native Congo River basin. The vine is used to make long ropes, and the band's musicians have all had long, strong careers in music before returning to the sound that gave them all their start: Congolese rhumba, played in the old style that recalls the heyday of outfits like OK Jazz and Ry-Co Jazz. In Congolese terms, this is a supergroup, comprised of true luminaries. Both singers, Bumba Massa and Loko Massengo, have careers dating back to the '60s, while the rest of the vocal contingent were founders of the soukous group les Quatre Étoiles in the '80s, and lead guitarist Papa Noel has a pedigree going back to his days as instrumental foil for the late great Franco. Qualifications simply don't come any higher. While many of the performers had worked together in different combinations before, and obviously knew each other through the burgeoning Paris world music scene (since the vast majority of these artists had been based in France for many years), in most cases they'd never recorded together, although Mayi and Noel had released a duet album in the mid-'90s. To be fair, it had been a long time since the musical climate had been open to the throwback style of Congolese rhumba where they'd cut their teeth. Gentle and laid back, it had been superseded by the more frantic and danceable soukous, which had given everyone a living. The late '90s saw a small rise in popularity of the old style. Members of les Quatre Étoiles recorded Hello Hello in 1995, which offered a touch of rhumba, but it was very much a toe in the water. More rhumba albums by guitarist Mose Fan Fan and Congolese veteran Wendo Kolosoy (the man who released the first rhumba record in 1948) followed. The time was definitely ripe for a revival. Kékélé had never thought of it that way; it wasn't a calculated commercial enterprise, by any means. The idea for a band -- or at least a record -- came together slowly, over casual jam sessions at apartments and houses in 1999. The material which would form their debut disc, Rumba Congo, came from those times, established slowly, out of love and a return to roots. When they were finally ready to commit their sound to tape, they teamed up with another veteran, Ivory Coast-based producer, Ibrahim Sylla. In 2001, released their first album, after which guitarist Papa Noel was admitted to hospital. ~ Chris Nickson

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