Mbongwana Star

In association with Batuki Music, Wavelength and Music Africa.

The futuristic sound of Kinshasa comes to town with the not-to-be-missed Toronto debut of one of Africa's most exhilarating bands, Mbongwana Star! And our resident ethnomixologist DJ medicineman​ drops in for a raregroove set of vintage global beats.

Creators of one of the freshest sounds to hit the African music scene in years, their first CD 'From Kinshasa' was named one of the albums of the year in 2015 by the Guardian, Globe and Mail and Toronto Star.

The band was formed by Coco Ngambali and Theo Nzonza whose legendary group Staff Benda Bilili , inspired by their love of Congolese rumba. An unlikely proposition on its own - a band fronted by homeless musicians who used wheelchairs because of childhood polio and had spent years constructing instruments out of rubbish, then using them to perform their own frenzied versions of Congolese rumba, they nonetheless hit the big time. Two major albums, a world tour and starring roles in the acclaimed film ‘Benda Bilili’ followed, but inevitably, the big time hit right back. The band collapsed under the weight of its own success.

But in the shanty-villages of Kinshasa - Africa’s third largest city - bands are recycled along with everything else. Music and musical instruments, just like fashion, art, jewellery, pedal-power contraptions and motor vehicles, all rise from the inexhaustible scrap heap. Coco and Theo gathered up the necessary parts of a band from the younger generation, crammed them together and started belting out a shambles under the name Mbongwana Star – ‘mbongwana’ meaning ‘change’. They were indeed looking for change, for something new.

That’s when they met Liam Farrell, aka Doctor L, a maverick musician and producer on the Parisian hip-hop and electro scenes who produced Tony Allen’s ‘Black Voices’ and who was looking to find the punk ethic alive in Kinshasa’s raucous scene. The music that Coco and Theo played to Doctor L was vigorous - a heedless mass assault of percussion, guitars and voices on the edge of tearing itself apart with its own momentum. Some form of collaboration seemed inevitable.

And the result? A rousing collision of traditional Congolese rhythms with a big fistful of European post-punk bass and busted electronics. ‘Afrobeat with a solid steel casing’, says Fact Magazine. So this isn’t what you would expect from a Congolese band or even an African sound. Like the weird Congo Astronaut that haunts their first video, ‘Malukayi (feat. Konono No.1)’, Mbongwana Star is a naturally occurring, smashed-together combination of things that’s both unexpected and somehow inevitable, too. It’s made from bits of the past and points toward a strange but exciting kind of future, but more importantly you can tell that it’s just loving the present.