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Dizzy Mandjeku and the Odemba OK Allstars Pay Tribute to the Timeless Traditions of Congolese Rumba With “Odemba Nostalgie” EP

Dizzy Mandjeku and the Odemba OK Allstars Pay Tribute to the Timeless Traditions of Congolese Rumba With “Odemba Nostalgie” EP

Dizzy Mandjeku and the Odemba OK Allstars Pay Tribute to the Timeless Traditions of Congolese Rumba With “Odemba Nostalgie” EP| Afrocritik

Odemba Nostalgie is a project ingeniously woven in a manner that mirrors that of Latin Potpourri music; the songs are sequential and juxtaposed with one another, serving as a confirmation that the vinyl version of the EP is a must-have for Rumba fans. 

By Frank Njugi 

Congolese Rumba music is at the forefront of music genres that make up an integral part of African music heritage. Rumba, with its lively rhythms, intricate fast-paced guitar melodies, and polyrhythmic percussions, has long been the perfect soundtrack for revellers in Central and East Africa, and the rest of the world. Inundated in the annals of Rumba’s history are its music bands, fronted by the late François Luambo Luanzo Makiadi (popularly known as the King of Rumba music) who between the 1950s and the 1980s established it as one of the most significant African music genres of its time.

One of these popular bands is the Odemba OK Allstars, a Rumba orchestra formed in Brussels, Belgium, by the legendary Congolese guitarist, Dizzy Mandjeku, with an attempt to keep the typical Congolese Rumba sound as original as it has been developed by its founding bands — such as Luambo’s Orchestra and the T.P.O.K Jazz. Interestingly, Dizzy Mandjeku had previously been a key member of the T.P.O.K Jazz Orchestra. 

Odemba OK Allstars comprises guitarists, Dizzy Mandjeku and Toms Ntale, vocalists Malage de Lugendo, Lokombe N’Kalulu, and Mukulu Muki, tenor saxophonist Dibwidi Didan, bass guitarist Jomali Bolonge, and drummer, Alonzo Nzau, who all live in Brussels. For over four decades, under the leadership of Dizzy Mandjeku, the band has released and performed Rumba music categorised under the sub-genre, Odemba. This genre is concerned with preserving the unique sound of the traditional Congolese Rumba as conceptualised by the late Franco Luambo — a soundscape characterised by distinct rhythmic patterns whose aim is always to create a sensuous and relaxed feel.

Odemba OK Allstars’ most recent release is the EP, Odemba Nostalgie. Dizzy Mandjeku and the Orchestra present the EP as a tribute to Luambo, paying homage to him by taking six of the songs Mandjeku used to play with Luambo before he died in 1989, interweaving them into two medleys: “Odemba #1” and “Odemba #2”.

Dizzy Mandjeku and the Odemba OK Allstars Pay Tribute to the Timeless Traditions of Congolese Rumba With “Odemba Nostalgie” EP| Afrocritik
Dizzy Mandjeku

“Odemba #1”, the first part of the EP, comprises performances of three songs. The performed songs display the Cuban Rumba aesthetics of enticing vocal improvisation and elaborate dance-infusing polyrhythmic rhythms from guitar riffs, combined with traditional Congolese sounds. This soundscape of the performed tracks is a clear indication of the stylings Mandjeku conformed to when he used to sing with Luambo. This original and authentic African Rumba sound is more of a Jazz and Afro-Caribbean soundscape adaptation. The whole of Odemba #1 is a declaration of the percussive density and rhythmic complexity that Rumba as a genre is always meant to have.

Dizzy Mandjeku and the Odemba OK Allstars Pay Tribute to the Timeless Traditions of Congolese Rumba With “Odemba Nostalgie” EP| Afrocritik
Odemba Nostalgie vinyl cover

“Odemba #2” is rather different, as it comprises performances of some Rumba classics. There are performances of Luambo’s greatest hit song “Mario” (1985), the T.P.O.K  Jazz hit track “Massu” (1986), and “Pesa Position” (1986), in which Luambo had featured Madilu System. The legendary track “Mario”, is a song that explores the noticeable slippage of Kinshasa society in modern times through narrations of a gigolo who lives with an older woman, and although he is educated, he prefers to spend his partner’s money instead. Mandjeku and Odemba OK Allstars, in their performance, strive and successfully maintain the melodicism, intricate Latin–like rhythms and sparkling guitar work witnessed in the original performance.

In “Massu”, which is a song about the great love and friendship between a girl and someone called Massu, the orchestra appreciate the fact that this song’s delicacy lies in its vocals. They maintain the enthralling flow of a female vocalist, incorporating some tropical rhythms which adds some pizazz to the song.  For “Pesa Position”,  which is a narrative song curated as a message to and about a woman named Angela, the band employs slow-flowing bouncy rhythms.

Mixed by Belgian musician and record producer, Vincent Kenis, under the Belgium-based recording company, Zephyrus Records, and produced by Odemba OK Allstars band member Toms Ntale, Odemba Nostalgie is a project ingeniously woven in a manner that mirrors that of Latin Potpourri music; the songs are sequential and juxtaposed with one another, serving as a confirmation that the vinyl version of the EP is a must-have for Rumba fans. 

Lyricism –   1. 5

Tracklisting – 1.0

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Sound Engineering – 1.9

Vocalisation –  1.6

Listening Experience – 1.7

Rating – 7. 7 / 10

Frank Njugi is a Kenyan Writer, Culture journalist and Critic who has written on the East African and African culture scene for platforms such as Debunk Media, Republic Journal, Culture Africa, Sinema Focus, Wakilisha Africa, The Moveee, Africa in Dialogue, Afrocritik and many others. He tweets as @franknjugi.

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