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Kenya Congo

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Samba Mapangala & Orchestra Virunga


Samba Mapangala was born in 1955 in Matadi, in what was then known as the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of Congo). His vocal talents were recognized early and he worked in various Kinshasa bands like Bariza, Super Tukina, Super Bella Bella, and Saka Saka. Traveling east with other musicians to Kampala, Uganda in 1976, they made their mark as Les Kinois (The Kinshasans) with Samba as lead singer. Les Kinois relocated to Nairobi, Kenya in 1977 and took the music scene by storm. Samba formed his own band, the legendary Orchestra Virunga, in 1981. Named after a volcanic mountain range in central Africa, Virunga proved to be one of East Africa's most popular groups. Their music is an innovative mix of the best rumba and soukous from Congo, infused with the earthier Kenyan style. Samba composes and sings in both Lingala and Kiswahili. His astounding voice has been described as "melting in the ears." Virunga as a whole have also gotten high praise: "The telepathy that runs between the bass, drums and rhythmic guitar players of this outfit is jaw-dropping..." (Ian Anderson, Folk Roots magazine). Virunga's first recording was the LP It's Disco Time with Samba Mapangala (1982).

Samba Mapangala and Virunga went to U.K. in April 1991 and played 23 concerts, not surprisingly causing a terrific buzz. After celebrated journeys through Africa, Europe and North America, the Nairobi-based Virunga formation last toured in 1997. Samba then settled with his family in Washington D.C. Samba Mapangala made a triumphant return in 2001 with his CD Ujumbe (The Message). Samba's recording history includes Virunga Volcano (1990), Evasion (1983), Feet on Fire (1991), Karibu Kenya (1995) recorded in Paris with Les Quatre Etoiles and other veteran musicians, Vunja Mifupa (1997) released on cassette in East Africa as Confusion and Ujumbe. Virunga Roots Vol. One, featuring songs from the Orchestra Virunga archive, was released in 2005.

Samba's music is timeless, sounding as fresh after the 100th hearing it as it did the first. The lyrics, often containing advice or social commentary, are charming and interesting, the melodies delightful, energetic and exuberant. In May 2004 Samba went on a 2-week concert tour in Tanzania after a 7-year absence, performing with an all-star lineup of musicians from in Kenya and Tanzania. The Song and Dance album was released in 2006 on Virunga Records featuring Bopol Mansiamina among other great members of Orchestra Virunga. They promoted the album and reprised many other favorites from his repertoire during a U.K. tour in March 2006. Virunga toured the U.S. and Canada in the summer of 2007, and then traveled to England to perform at the prestigious WOMAD festival.

2008 brought the release of African Classics on the Sheer Sound label out of South Africa. The internationally distributed album features selections from Samba's many past hits, plus three tracks never before available outside of East Africa. He recorded a song in praise of Barack Obama, "Obama Ubarikiwe," during the 2008 presidential election campaign, a digital-only free download that became an international hit and attracted much media coverage.

2009 was a very busy year for Samba: he performed at the Inaugural ball for the Kenyan Embassy in Washington DC, headlined the Sauti za Busara festival in Zanzibar and two concerts in Nairobi, and appeared at Kennedy Center, Washington DC, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia and Lincoln Center, New York City, as well as the Richmond (Virginia) Folk Festival. In cooperation with the World Wildlife Fund, he recorded a song, "Les Gorilles des Montagnes" to raise awareness of the endangered mountain gorillas of the Virunga National Park in Congo. Samba Mapangala & Virunga Live on Tour, a digital-only album, was also released in 2009. Interviews and features on him were broadcast by Radio France Inter, BBC and National Public Radio in the U.S., and the Afropop Worldwide website.
Long-time fans of Samba's music with his revered Orchestra Virunga will be celebrating the release of a new album, Maisha Ni Matamu (Life Is Sweet) in 2011. Look for a European and African tour in summer 2011, and U.S. dates as well.


U.S. BOOKING: Mel Puljic, Mondo Mundo Agency (909) 522-9494
EUROPEAN BOOKING: Dirk Feyes, Tsahara Productions