Love during wartime

J.B. Mpiana brings his Congolese party machine to…Lynn?
By BANNING EYRE  |  November 11, 2008


J.B. Mpiana, one of the reigning stars of contemporary Congolese music, brings a 25-strong stage show to Memorial Auditorium in Lynn (at Lynn City Hall) this Friday, November 7, at 9 pm. Today's big Congolese acts rarely make it to the US, so this is a rare chance to bypass the "world music" filter and experience one of the most popular music genres among actual Africans. Through incarnations as rumba, soukous, kwassa kwassa, ndombolo, and beyond, Congo music has always been about dancing. Mpiana is known as much for his trademark stage moves as for his gorgeous tenor voice, and his outfit Wenge Musica BCBG includes a contingent of butt-swiveling guys and gals. Expect finely orchestrated chaos, surreal spectacle, and a shot of the most giddily transcendent joy ever to emerge from a war-torn nation.

J.B. Mpiana, "Kipe Ya Yo"
To get the superb title track of Mpiana's best recent release, you might have to buy the whole album — or make do with iTunes' stash of 30-second previews. (MySpace ain't so huge in the Congo.) Trust me, the purchase is worth it for all the musical shifts and turns and the complex layerings of singing, shouting, harmonizing, and bantering voices.

J.B. Mpiana, "Kipe Ya Yo" (video)
The clip for "Kipe Ya Yo" offers a lengthy, if lo-fi, rendition of Mpiana's biggest recent hit. The visuals feature ample-bodied guys and gals — and a few lither ones — dancing in front of colorful backdrops and images of pulsating speaker cones. The dancing is the focus here. (Note the notoriously corrupting Congolese posterior technique.)

J.B. Mpiana, "Showin' the Real Ndombolo" (Live at the Olympia, Paris)
This older clip of J.B. Mpiana at the Olympia in Paris gives a feel for the band's live flow and the fanatical loyalty of their audience. Featured dancers include two 10-or-so-year-old boys and men dressed in colonial-era French military regalia. The clip focuses on ndombolo, which like soukous and kwassa kwassa before it is the name of a dance, not a music genre. Mpiana's latest step is called lopele.

J.B. Mpiana, "Anti Terro"
This eye-popping Congolese video for "Anti Terro" gives new meaning to the term military music. Dancers alternate between guerrilla camouflage and various Congolese police and army uniforms. The War on Terror merges with reminders of Congo's long, bloody, and ongoing years of civil conflict. The possible layers of meaning boggle the mind, but when the tempo lifts and the ebullient mood kicks in, what comes through mostly is the surreal paradox of the modern Congolese æsthetic: partying during wartime.

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