Legendary Orchestre Les Mangelepa honored in Nairobi

I politely accepted an invite to Rhumba Today by African music and culture aficionado Greg Tendwa, though at first I was skeptical of who the main act, the Red Acapella group were, the performers list read of who is who in the Kenyan African music and art scene.

I decided to go and get the fun out of Rhumba at the popular joint the Alchemist Bar, with some poetry to boot.

Oblivious of where Google map was leading me I trudged on into a yard with a misplaced yellow double decker bus and bellowing music that would easily tell you that you are in the right place. According to the flier, the Red Acappella were the main act, however, with their return from their European tour, the legendary group Les Mangelepa-a band that I was rather familiar with-stole the show. 

As I got into the yard, the crowd of mixed cultures was dancing to the music of the Octo Band. It was quite a mixture of fun as some tried to mix the old rhumba dance with the latest street dance moves. Others, don’t blame the alcohol, could not sync with the rhythm but they danced anyway. 

Who knew the Red Acapella could pull crowds? When the bespectacled dreadlocked guys got on stage the crowd went wild and the dancing climaxed throwing the stars with envy. The place full of mixed cultures and races looked like some small ‘Tomorrowland’ on African soil. Young and old spun in the night moon occasionally jumping on stage to have a glimpse of glory. 

Others with glasses in hand fenced around the dance floor exchanging pleasantries and laughter. Some with their smartphones were recording the events for posterity while others, were lost in the gay of a chilly Nairobi evening outdoors. 

As the midnight bared down, the long awaited trio of Les Mangelepa trooped on the stage. Silent and observant, they came in unobserved, with a prelude of rhumba instrumentals renting the air. They calmly waited for the fiery beats to subside before they took their mics. The first number “Embakasi” a rather familiar song, among their popular hits from the 70s and 80s awoke the devils of the night. The grounds reverberated and ached in despair as the audience showcased profound talent in dance. The classic salsa, merged with waltz and culminated in the African stampede. 

Known for their incredible voices and choreographed dance moves, Les Mangelepa have been entertaining East Africa for four decades. The trio made of Kabila Kabanze (Evany), Lutulu Kanicky (Macky) and Kalenga Nzaazi (Vivi) have produced a catalogue of music and entertained at least three generations. Ocherchestre Les Mangelepa which has roots in Congo was formed in 1976, their music mostly blends Rhumba, salsa and chakacha.

The event marked the 40th birthday of Les Mangelepa’s performance in the music industry. It was graced by renowned Kenyan artists like Tabu Osusa and Makadem- who was given a chance to award the Mangelepa’s certificates of appreciation but declined giving the honors to a more senior artist; Maddo – A Kenyan cartoonist. 

The event not only awarded the rhumba giants but also a way of paying homage to the pioneer rhumba musicians who shaped the world of music where bands like Red Acapella enjoy. The event was organized by WiBO Culture.

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