Kekele | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Kekele 

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The members of Kekele are bona fide aristocrats of Congolese rumba music, having been star players in some of the greatest groups in the genre--including Franco's TPOK Jazz, Sam Mangwana's African All-Stars, Papa Noel's Orchestra, and Les Quatres Etoiles. Based in France and formed for what was intended to be a one-off studio project, 2001's Rumba Congo (Stern's Africa), they take a gentle, old-fashioned, predominantly acoustic approach to the music. Also known as soukous, rumba was created in the multicultural city of Kinshasa after World War II, by musicians inspired by dance records imported from Cuba (which in turn were rooted in African polyrhythms). Early practitioners adapted Latin piano parts for guitar, giving birth to an irresistibly bubbly dance music. Over time the music became commercialized, electrified, and, as the center of its production moved to France, globalized. In a sense Kekele are like the Buena Vista Social Club, reviving an antiquated and romantic tradition. As heard on the group's recent second album, Congo Life (Stern's Africa), core members Bumba Massa, Loko Massengo, Nyboma Muan'dido, and Wuta Mayi are all stunning vocalists, soulful and sweet, and guitarist Syran Mbenza augments the cyclical son montuno figures with flowing, beautiful extended solos. These shows are the group's first in Chicago. Wednesday, July 28, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707 ($15). Thursday, July 29, 7:30 PM, Spirit of Music Garden, Grant Park, Michigan between Harrison and Balbo; 312-742-4007 (free).

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