Tanzania Times
The Eastern Africa News Network

Lokassa ya Mbongo Dies in the United States

Africa’s leading rhythm guitarist, Dennis Lokassa, popularly known as ‘Lokassa ya Mbongo,’ is dead.

Sources close to the Musician are revealing that, the seasoned artiste behind the famed ‘Soukous Stars’ passed away in the United States, where he had been sick for a while.

Lokassa Ya Mbongo played a crucial role in transforming the Soukous Music style, which is essentially a fast-paced fusion of traditional Congolese melodies and Afro-Cuban rhythms, with standout acoustic drums and synths.

Previously Lokassa ya Mbongo played rhythm guitar for Kanda Bongo Man’s many albums.

Soukous proved to be an international dance craze, with Lokassa displaying energetic strumming on tracks included on such multi-artist anthologies as Megamix, Volume 1, and Soukous Stars and Gozando.

Other than working with Kanda Bongoman, Lokassa also played with Mbilia Bel, after the later left Tabuley.

Mbongo, at one time cooperated with the “Queen” of Mutuashi, Tshala Muana who also died recently as well as Pepe Kalle.

Lokassa ya Mbongo left his homeland, the Democratic Republic of Congo, then known as Zaire in 1983.

The Good Old Lokassa days

He flew to France and settled in Paris, where he continued to pursue his music career.

Before leaving Congo, Mbongo used to perform with the Afrisa International of Tabuley (Rochereau), Abeti Masikini and African All Stars of Sam Mangwana.

In East Africa, Lokassa was known for his Non-Stop Megamix entitled ‘Nairobi Night,’ which came out in the early nineties, combining studio reworked medley of old tunes from Tanzanian bands. There was also ‘Lagos Night.’

Other popular songs here include Monica, Marceline, Asitou and Santa Isabella released in the mid-eighties

Lokassa ya Mbongo and his band toured Tanzania in the nineties and got acquainted with the then famous local band the ‘Ngorongoro Heroes,’ in Dar-es-salaam, which used to play at Bahama Mama hall, among other venues.

He took time to introduce Tanzanian musicians to his style of music.

Sultan Skassy Kasambula, a seasoned Tanzanian Musician currently based and working in Nairobi, Kenya, recalls that during his visit to Dar, Lokassa taught them new styles in rhythm guitar playing and modern studio mixing.

The Biography of Lokassa ya Mbongo (As Written by Rudent Obare)

Congolese guitarist; born Kinshasa, 1946.

In the world of Congolese music where lead guitarists almost always get the glory, Lokassa is the rare bird who played rhythm guitar to stardom.

It didn’t hurt that he began his professional career in one of Africa’s great bands, Afrisa led by Tabuley.

Starting in 1968, when the band was still called African Fiesta National, he did his time in obscurity accompanying a succession of prominent lead players that included Attel Mbumba, Mavatiku Visi, and Dino Vangu.

Like Mwamba Dechaud, the formidable rhythm accompanist of African Jazz, Lokassa strung his guitar with two E strings—the second in place of the normal D string—a style called the mi-composé.

For ten years he played on all Fiesta National and Afrisa’s hits and took the stage in Paris in 1970 for the band’s breakthrough performances at the famed Olympia.

In 1978, during one of Afrisa’s numerous tours, Lokassa and several band mates dropped out in Abidjan to try something new. Lokassa, guitarist Dizzy Mandjeku, and drummer Ringo Moya joined with singer Sam  Mangwana, who was already in Abidjan, to form the African All Stars.

This seminal group, together for only a year, recorded a number of excellent songs including Lokassa’s “Makengo” and “Zamba y’Africa.” When the All Stars broke up in Togo in 1979, Lokassa settled in the capital, Lomé, and began to call himself Lokassa ya Mbongo, essentially Lokassa the money man.

He performed with the growing numbers of Congolese musicians in exile including future members of Quatre  EtoilesNyboma Mwan Dido, Syran M’Benza, and Bopol Mansiamina. His 1982 reunion with Mandjeku, Mangwana, and Moya produced a second round of African All Stars recordings including his ownBonne Année.

Lokassa moved to Paris in 1984 where he quickly found his niche as a session player, recording with the likes of Abeti, Kanda Bongoman, and Pepe Kalle. One such gig for producer Ibrahima Sylla and Congo-Brazzaville singer Ballou Canta led to a new formation. Lokassa, Ballou, guitarist Dally Kimoko, and singers Lukombo Shimita, Yondo “Sister” Kusala, and Neil Zitany joined together in 1989 as the Soukous Stars.

Lokassa created the Soukous Stars’ biggest seller only a few months later.Megamix

Vol. 1, two medleys of old hits from West and East Africa set to the up-tempo rumba called soukous, earned instant fame for Lokassa and the band. In the ensuing years Lokassa presided over a changing cast of characters, but his Soukous Stars survived. Another pair of medleys of African hits,Soukous Attackfrom 1994, began to rivalMegamixin popularity.

Over his more than thirty years as a musician, Lokassa has become one of the best-known Congolese rhythm guitarists, rivalled only by Bopol and Dechaud.

His nimble fingers have paced a number of Kinshasa rumba classics and a variety of Paris soukous hits. He has also made his mark as a leader and arranger, contributing heavily to the evolution and outpouring of the Congolo-Paris sound.

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