Kanda Bongo Man And M’bilia Bel’s Soukous and Rhumba Voices Of A Generation Put Up An Upbeat Fare At Koroga Festival!

By Vincent Libosso


When we make our way to Koroga Festival at The Bomas Of Kenya in Nairobi on Sunday just a few minutes to 5pm, not even the heavy clouds ( add a change of venue from an outside dome into the auditorium due to downpour on day one ) seem to have deterred the festival lovers from showing up in their large numbers on day two of the World Groove edition. The festival seems to continue inspiring a wider audience of music and style lovers. What’s also impressive is the spirit in which both ends of the street intersect. There is a fluid, multi-generational flow between the two.

Stretching from the parking where the ticket scanner tents tower, food and fashion stalls in between as you make your way to the auditorium. Emma Jalamo backed by his live band and dancers provides high-energy richly melodic Ohangla groove on stage. 

Sports Culture Cabinet Secretary Amb. (Dr.) Amina Mohamed mixed crowd reaction humbly is forgotten, DJ Schwaz picks up on the breather as we anxiously await for M’bilia Bel. Tonight, Bel retains every authority to smash that stage. 37 years ago,  one of the key figures in the development of Congolese Rhumba music, Tabu Ley’s band toured Kenya in 1982, just a few months after M’bilia Bel, who was initially a dancer, joined the band. Five years later, she would later carve a niche and, make a return to Nairobi in 2017 and pack up a venue.
Her performance tonight proves that she can still host a good party. Even when the true test of an entertainer hits her right from the onset of her performance with some technical sound hitches, a calm M’bilia Bel gesticulates at her amazing dancers and back up vocalists who synchronisingly break into a dance routine and we forget there was even a sound glitch.

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Her vocals soar even when she breaks to allow the crowd to sing along to Nadina and Nakei Nairobi. As a fan, you appreciate why your dad would play her albums for you while you were kids. The legend and the performer align magnificently. She looks amazing: her face radiates when sings, a shiny necklace on her hair and neck, and a chic kitenge dress. From time to time she breaks into French and Swahili. 

The king of Soukous, Kanda Bongo Man has always been a stylish figure, and tonight, with his trademark hat and matching suit, the same stage he rocked on his first concert in Nairobi in 1991 needed his flare once more. Even those honored with the rare opportunity to introduce him, veteran media personalities, Leonard Mambo Mbotela and Fred Obachi Machka couldn’t agree less.

He looked and sounded just as distinctive as ever from the music videos we had seen of him growing up and what our dad would tell us of him. His rhythmic songs demanded the seats to be moved back and our dancing shoes polished. Backed by dancers, back-up vocalists, and his band, his voice was relaxed. 

He smiled at the crowd with every song he sang. He was engaged from the onset. His sing-along tracks like Monie and Muchana demonstrated how he had transformed Congolese music. The mesmerizing guitars and hip-swinging rhythms of Congolese Soukous kept us on our feet all night long.

Being the last Koroga for the calendar year 2019, our aching limbs blaming all that irresistible Rhumba, it’s a pleasure to discover the world groove that is Koroga Festival.