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  • Rumba Rules: The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu's Zaire
  • Matthew J. Forss (bio)
White, Bob W. Rumba Rules: The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu's Zaire. Durham: Duke UP, 2008.

Bob W. White's examination of the musico-political environment of Zaire under the leadership of Mobutu Sese Seko in the 1960s through 1997 showcases the close association between musicians and political leaders on musical creativity and development. The links between popular music and politics are more than cursory; they are frequently found in the social organization or "fabric" of society. Political influence is found in musical performances, lyrical content, and album notes and covers. White's survey of dance music elicits a multifactoral but relatively complete picture of the musical scene through performance analysis, personal interviews, and historiographic methods to reconstruct and posit notions of political involvement in music.

In one way, White describes the phenomenon of libanga in Kinshasa, "where wealthy patrons and public figures offer money to musicians in exchange for being cited or sung by name" (10). This process allowed musicians to gain an economic edge, while creating a patron-client relationship to quell the fear of abandonment and financial crises for the musician. While not directly political, libanga secured the careers of musicians in the 1980s- 1990s by achieving a greater fan base and community exposure. Another component of performance structure for bands includes the addition of an atalaku. The atalaku is "the musician in every dance band who brings live performance to life by singing and shouting the short percussive phrases that have come to stand for the sound of modern Congolese dance music" (11). Perhaps the most interesting piece of information regarding the atalaku is the instrument he uses. It is simply a "hollowed-out metal insecticide spray can that is modified to be used as a maraca" (11). White adds yet another issue of importance for understanding the study of popular dance music. This is the act of splintering. Splintering occurs when a "disgruntled member of a group decides to strike out on his own and establish his own authority [i.e. new identity] as a musical and artistic leader" (7).

The first three chapters introduce a brief overview of musical styles in Kinshasa. In discussing the three genres of music in Kinshasa—modern, traditional, and religious—White acknowledges that each genre has coexisted for the past fifty years, but none are as popular as the modern genre. White clarifies the use of musique moderne ("modern [End Page 201] music") and rumba to indicate reference to Congolese popular dance music throughout the text. Each genre is discussed in detail with regards to instrumentation, lyrical content, and distribution throughout Kinshasa and Zaire. In addition, four generations or forms of Congolese popular music can be traced back to the 1940s through the 1990s. The earliest form, Tango ya Ba Wendo, named after Wendo Kolosoy, features music with guitar, bass, thumb piano, sax, and accordions; the arrangements became more complex during the 1950s. The 1950s-1970s saw a rise in large, orchestrated bands during the Big Rumba Period. The important shift in musical organization, production, and development with the Big Rumba Period involved a higher level of band independence and exposure compared to previous decades of primarily local exposure. The third period, La Nouvelle Vague, was heavily influenced by the Belgian and European styles of band music, and, thus, was popular in Zaire, especially with urban youth. There is some debate whether or not a fourth generation is present in Zaire. White discusses some leading groups, including Papa Wemba, Wenga Musica, and Koffi Olomide, and their ultimate shift from a shouting atalaku to a singing atalaku.

White discusses the basic structure of Congolese dance music. The first concept is animation. This refers to three different aspects, including: "(1) the fast paced dance sequence of each song; (2) the action of encouraging people to dance and have a good time; and (3) the emotional state that results from this action . . . liveliness . . . or excitement described as joy or ecstasy" (54). Additionally, White explains the role of the atalaku, various dance rhythms, song structure, and the work of seben, or soloists. Throughout the...


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