Deriving from the French term, ‘secousse’ literally meaning ‘to shake’, Soukous music has a simple aim, to make the people dance.
Originating in Congo, Soukous spread its rhythms throughout Africa, eventually capturing the hearts and dancefloors of London and Paris in the 80’s, with Paris based musicians such as the late Papa Wemba and Kanda Bongo man bringing the distinct ‘Kwassa Kwassa’ sound to Paris. It’s the intricacy in the guitar playing that gives Soukous that distinct uplifting sound, separating it from traditional Highlife and Makossa music. The Soukous style in fact derives from Congolese Rumba, a heavily Cuban influenced sound, with many of its elements having been imported from Cuba during the slave trade.
With Soukous, has also come the various dance crazes it has spawned, from ‘Kwassa Kwassa’, a style involving very fast tempo Soukous rhythms paired with swinging hips, a movement headed by Pepe Kalle, through to the more controversial ‘Ndombolo’ style currently sweeping through Congo’s nightlife.
In short, Soukous is a genre like no other. A style that can only be felt through hearing its infectious melodies and letting the body move without limits to its mesmerising sound, a style that truly can’t help but make one smile. In the words of Frank Bures, ‘The best English word I can think of for it is “joy”. Soukous is that feeling rendered into sound.
Ph. © Malick Sidibé