Tribute to Lokassa Ya M’Bongo

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By Fidelis Manyange

BACK in the late 1990s when I was at ZBC’s Radio 2, now Radio Zimbabwe, we used to jointly have a musical programme called Africa Yotinhira with the late Deans Patrick Mutume. Mutume was based at Montrose Studios, Bulawayo, while I was at Harare’s Mbare Studios. 

The one hour programme featured musicians from the motherland only. 

Our favourite whose music we both played religiously every week was from the legendary Denis Lokassa Ya M’Bongo Kasiya and the Soukous Stars. 

The late Denis Lokassa Ya M’Bongo

My favourite song was ‘Tu Connais Pas’ off the album Pas D’ Panique (Please Don’t Panic). 

I was corrected by one listener on the pronunciation of the name of the song and the album as he told me that in French, I had to ignore those ‘s’ and ‘que’ so that it sounds ‘Tukoneipa’ and ‘Padhipanii’ respectively. 

‘Marijose’ and ‘Monica’ were some of Lokassa’s songs which were mostly requested by listeners during the Sunday programme. 

It is on the 15-minute track ‘Nairobi Night’ that his rhythm guitar playing skills are fully displayed. 

The track was popular with listeners and it changes more than seven times to different tunes featuring reworkings of some of the popular tracks by East African musicians like ‘Dada Rosa’ by the legendary Tabora Jazz and ‘Vigelele Ndifuraha’ by Western Jazz and many others. 

His death was a great loss not only to Africa but worldwide because this was a man whose guitar once set Hollywood on fire.

Lokassa died aged 77 on March 15 2023 in New Hampshire, US, where he was staying since 1996, after battling diabitis for a long time and recuperating from a mild stroke he suffered a few years ago. 

He was the leader and founder of the group Soukous Stars where he played the rhythm guitar. 

He was considered Africa’s best rhythm guitarist and his group Soukous Stars was star-studded with big names in the music industry. 

It had Dally Kimoko on lead guitar, who is also considered one of the best lead guitarist in Africa, prolific bassist Ngouma Lokito, Awilo Longomba on drums, Kusala Yondo, aka Yondo Sister, who was a backing vocalist as well as a dancer, and Shimita El Diego on lead vocals. 

Like others, Lokassa who was born in Kinshasa, Congo, was based in Paris, France. 

His music career started in the 1960s when he became part of the African Fiesta National Band playing with them and touring for more than 10 years. 

He later moved to Paris where he was a session guitar player. 

He was mostly frustrated for being considered just an ordinary guitar player in the groups he played for as he knew he was worth more than that. 

In 1989, Ngouma Lokito rang him and suggested his ‘big brother’ put together a group to help them emerge from the status of ‘session’ into performers. 

Soukous Stars was born and other big names like Ballou Canta, Dally Kimoko, Shimita and Zitany Nell joined in. 

Kimoko’s lead hit the lead to set the project in motion.

Their debut album, which raised them to top of the charts was Megamix Vol 1. 

The project became one of the biggest Soukous records of the early 1990s featuring songs like ‘Lagos Night’ and ‘Nairobi Night’. 

With his music touch, Lokassa played a major role in revolutionising the sound into a fast-paced, electric combination of Congolese melodies and Afro-Cuban influences. 

He transformed Soukous, a dance music genre that originated from Congo-Brazzaville in the 1960s. 

He had over 40 years in the music industry. 

Lokassa died a humble family man and is survived by his wife Bibi Dens Tshi Bayi who is also a talented musician. 

They both collaborated on many projects. 

Their marriage which spanned 30 years made them a model for a successful and long-lasting marriage, especially for artistes. 

He had several siblings, among them, Diblo Dibala who is a musician and an excellent guitar player. 

His music will live forever and no doubt, his magical fingers put him on the world’s musical map.           

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