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About So Kalmery

Think of So Kalmery as a Pan-African soul. Born in 1955, in Bukavu, in what's now the Democratic Republic of Congo, his mother was a Mubema and his father a Haku, so from the start he was crossing boundaries. But he was also, it seemed, destined to be a musician, since his father played guitar, accordion, and trumpet in a local band, in addition to organ in the local church on Sundays. Kalmery grew up singing in that choir, and learning to play guitar, growing rapidly as an artist -- so quickly that at the age of 13 he was recruited by a band to join them on the road. From there, he seemed to be constantly on the move, working and acquiring many styles not only from Central Africa, but also beyond when he backed Dorothy Masuka, a South African jazz singer. For a while he lived in Kenya, forming the King Melody Band, who released a record in 1971; then returning to the fertile musical ground of Zaire, where he settled in the capital Kinshasa, performing as part of Papa Wemba's band and playing soukous. After several years there, he returned the road, this time traveling to Europe and finding work with several different African bands, before landing in Paris. There, he struck out on his own and developed the musical style called brakka, a youthful music begun in Zaire to unite young people of different ethnic backgrounds. Since making his home in Europe (and another home in Guadeloupe), he appeared with artists like Paco de Lucia, Los Van Van, and Ben Harper on international stages, before releasing his debut, Bendera, which saw the light of day in the U.S. in 2002. ~ Chris Nickson