Boomkat Product Review:
Legendary Congolese guitarist Kahanga Dekula (aka Vumbi) makes an infectious noise on his debut solo recording, playing tangled soukous phrases alongside field recordings and tinny beatbox rattles instead of his usual full band. Revelatory material.
For the last four decades, Vumbi has been playing lead guitar in various bands throughout East Africa and Sweden, where he's based now. He learned how to play guitar by listening to Congolese icons like Dr Nico and Franco on the radio, eventually moving from the DRC's Kivu region to Tanzania, where he joined Orchestra Maquis and became a fixture of their shows. When he relocated to Stockholm, he joined forces with Ugandan Sammy Kasule to form the Makonde Band and Ahmadu Jarr's Highlife Orchestra, before forming his own outfit The Dekula Band in 2008. But until now he's never recorded a solo record. That took the intervention of Swedish producer Karl-Jonas Winqvist, who'd heard Vumbi perform many times, even releasing The Dekula Band's debut album in 2019.
'Congo Guitar' is a refreshingly open set of recordings, made quickly in two days and fleshed out with just a few extra instruments and backing vocals, and Winqvist's aging drum machine. Opener 'Afro Blues' is particularly inviting, setting Vumbi's impassioned playing against a humming environmental recording, with car horns standing in for percussion. 'Maamajacy' meanwhile is closer and more intimate, a playful whirl of inviting melodies set to a spartan rhythm from Winqvist's beatbox. Vumbi elaborates further on the generous 'Zanzibar, Kinshasa & Vällingby', overlaying his guitar parts into an orchestral thrum, and he goes a step further on 'Weekend', introducing hypnotic bass melodica sounds from Winqvist. Ending on the self-explanatory 'UN Forces (Get Out of the Democratic Republic of Congo)', he plays banjo, highlighting the link between the popular American instrument and its African roots.