My meet with the grandmasters; Kanda Bongo man and Mbilia Bel

The Legendary Kanda Bongo Man and Mbilia Bel were in Kenya for the World Groove Edition which marked the 28thEdition of The Koroga Festival. The Koroga Festival is a celebration of African music, food, art and fashion brought to you in the form of a concert and open boutique market. Aptly named after the Swahili word meaning “mix, The Koroga Festival is a great reflection of Kenya’s brilliant and diverse local talent, whilst also attracting leading artists from all over the world through music, fashion, food and arts. I had a chance to interview both legends about their careers and legacy.

Mbilia Bel

She is the Cleopatra of Congolese music and her stunning beauty, tremendous agility on stage as well as mellow voice, stole the hearts of music fans not just in the continent but all around the world with her Paka wewe, Nadina, Eswi Yo Wapi, Beyanga, Ibeba and Boya Ye together with Tabu Ley and his Afrisa band in the 1980s.

Photo courtesy

The 60-year-old Mbilia Bel doesn’t look her age and when was asked the secret to this, this is what she said in French:

“Its peace of heart and mind, exercise, I don’t take alcohol too but eat healthy. lots of fish and fruits. In addition, am not married and I live a straight life,” said Mama Afrika

She later on requested, jokingly of course that we find an 80-year-old man for her and she will fill his life with songs just like a bird.

The Congolese singer also spoke about the relationship they had with Miriam Makeba, the late South African singer. She narrated how she invited her months before passing and requested her to take the mantle. The Nadina hitmaker came armed with a new song and dance dubbed kanyaga which speaks a lot about the power of forgiveness.

“When you do something wrong to somebody close to you just say sorry, that’s all. Apologize,” she said

One of Mbilia’s well-known songs is Nakei Nairobi, which she says was inspired by Lord Tabu Ley. The song was sung to woe president Moi in the 80s when he banned foreign musicians from visiting the nation.

“I got the inspiration from Lord Tabu Ley and it’s because he told me that he loves Nairobi, Kenya, because there [were] warm, nice and kind people. He thought the song was gonna be strong. So I made a song about the people in Kenya,” she said.

When it comes to legacy, the queen has already began building a school for young girls who desire to one day be like her.

Kanda Bongo man

What makes you want to perform in Kenya over and over again?

People in Kenya give me their heart and love which is something amazing. When they do that, I also in exchange show them that I care too.  It’s a gift from God and you have to give them back.

You are rated as Africa’s greatest musicians of all time. What’s the secret?

I haven’t discovered the secret to this yet but maybe its because we are diligent and passionate in what we do. We keep rehearsing, we are always searching for something new to be unique in the continent. We always desire to make our fans happy. We also don’t give up in our talent. When you love your job, try and to pursue it and also look for something fresh for the fans.

What’s your take about the new Afro congo beat that is disrupting the traditional rhumba sound?

Each generation has its own kind of music. Even in my time, I revolutionized and introduced structural changes in the soukous music. I encouraged guitar solos after every verse and sometimes went as far as even doing it at the beginning of the song. This introduced the kwassa kwassa dance rhythm which am famous for. So young people inspire me with their creativity. I meet them in the streets of Kinshasa doing their dance and sooner than later, it becomes a hit and it makes me proud. We are curious too and as a parent we urge them to follow us too. Rhumba is the mother of all Congolese music and when they stray, they will still come back and sing to it.

There are many artists who look up to you. What’s your message to the upcoming artists?

They should watch us for many things because old age comes with wisdom. You need to learn a lot of things to be great.  Music is not just about singing but it entails discipline. Great performance requires discipline even when you are tired. When they say that a show is starting at 8, o’clock at night, it’s not the time to arrive at midnight. You will kill your career and yourself.  You also have to know how to perform on stage, respect the audience and all people. This is what the new generation needs to learn.

You’ve been around music for long. Do you have any regrets in life, career?

I don’t have any. I believe that I have done what I could in life and that everything happens for a reason.

What do you want to be remembered for?

You can’t continue to work over and over the years. You have to stop and leave it to the younger generation. The time will come when I’ll retire.

Your music careers has been illustrious. What keeps you strong and young even despite your age?

My work. Performing, writing songs, being with young artists all these keeps be young.

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