Diblo Dibala brings his hallmark sound to Toronto
Diblo Dibala and MatchatchBy Anya Wassenberg
Performed at Lula Lounge
Toronto, July 22, 2012
Presented by Batuki Music and Afrique Nouvelle Musique as part of the Bana y’Afrique Festival
“Ça se danse tout seul,” assured Diblo Dibala as he began his show at Lula Lounge. “You don’t have to know the moves.” In English, the dance happens all by itself — and it articulates the irresistible dance-appeal of Soukous, the musical genre that he’s become famous for. Sure enough, the crowd was on its feet from the very first song without any further prodding.
The word Soukous itself comes from the French verb secouer or ‘to shake’ and its combination of syncopated polyrhythms overlaid with melodic voice and guitar lines create the multi-layered web of music that originated in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1930s and 1940s. Congolese musicians were adapting the popular Cuban rumba and son to their own musical traditions, adding the melodic electric guitar that has become Soukous’ hallmark sound.
Diblo’s nickname is “Machine Gun” for his rapid fire playing, but it’s really a liquid and golden flow of notes that fly from his fingers rather than a staccato burst. The crowd at Lula is sprinkled liberally with local guitarists who’ve come to hear and see his virtuoso playing, and his vocal lines are as nimble as his guitar licks. The tunes are always danceable but the melodies range from upbeat to plaintive and hauntingly beautiful.
He’s been at the game a long time. At age 15, Diblo won a talent competition that led to his playing guitar for Franco in his TPOK Band. Franco was a major figure in and considered one of the musicians who defined the sound of Soukous and modern Congolese music. After a stint playing and touring with TPOK other bands locally, Diblo ended up in Belgium where he worked as a dishwasher and played a rented guitar when he could.
From there he made his way to Paris 1981, which was then home to an exciting and burgeoning Soukous scene. He reunited with Kanda Bongo Man, who he’d played with at home in Africa in a band called Bella Bella, and the two released a well-received album later that year. The Soukous scene in Paris in the 1980s was legendary and Diblo was one of the major artists who helped make it so. He enjoyed a busy career playing in his own bands and projects as well as working as a session musician for many of the genre’s other luminaries.
His career mirrors the progress of the music itself. From its roots in the Congo, Soukous quickly spread throughout West Africa and then conquered most of the continent, including Kenya and other eastern African nations before making its way to London and Paris in the late 20th century along with immigration. Kwassa Kwassa is the dance that developed alongside modern Soukous, a dance style where the hips and hands swing together – although it’s only the hips that are sometimes controversial. In Africa, the dance has often come under fire from critics on grounds of public immorality, and videos have even been censored on occasion.
Back in Toronto, two generous sets of music proved the truth of Diblo’s opening statement, although you wouldn’t say it came without breaking a sweat. Diblo’s band Matchatcha are clearly made up of seasoned vets who know the music inside out and feel it in their bones – the rhythms were tight and the playing loose, bolstered by the indefatigable gyrating hips of two dancers who showed the enthusiastic audience how it’s done.