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Strut Records dusts off Congolese Balka Sound

A time capsule of 1980’s Congo, the Balka Sound compilation, available November 11th, gathers the best from the eponymous genre and group, led by grand ngomfi master Nbiki “Lusialala” Albert.

Legend says that Nbiki Albert first brushed the five cords of a ngomfi at the age of six, and that same day, he composed the successful “Kidilu” – the seventh track on the Balka Sound record. Armed with his instrument, the child prodigy from Myamba Mouyoundzi exhilarated the crowds throughout the country. Every performance made his audience dance so much that clouds of sand and dust would fill the place. Nicknamed “De La Poussière” (understood as “who creates dust”), Nbiki Albert then formed Balka Sound. The group’s universe was unique: traditional Congolese Balka music blended with Ngoula Pierre Dana’s bass, Poussou Rene’s guitar, and Vieux Paul’s saxophone. 

Together, the musicians produced three albums. Le 1er son du Balka, Lusialala et ses amis, recorded in a unique session in 1979. Then Tu Kine Balka, composed in Kinshasa in 1982. Lastly, the groovy Afro Musik Creation in 1983. Congo (and the world) moved to the sound of Balka all through the 1980s. But in 1993, the civil war between Lissouba, Sassou-Nguesso, and Kolélas partisans slowly ended the Balka Sound adventure. Eventually, Denis Sassou-Nguesso returned to Congo in June 1997, new fighting erupted, and their recording studio was looted, provoking the band’s separation. 

Balka Sound – Ah Lusialala

Twenty-five years later, Strut Records and The Carvery Studios compile and remaster Balka Sound’s work, giving the audience a chance to rediscover this joyous orchestra. This album gathers 15 tunes, including the classic “Ah Lusialala”. Using a vibrant tempo, and storytelling like the Ivorian anthem “1er Gaou”, it humorously tells the story of a distressed man, who fell for a greedy woman. This song earned Nbiki Albert his moniker “Lusialala”. Other titles showcase Balka’s richness like “Wa Yiwou”, a spiritual chant in the Teke language. “Nia Nia”, sang in Beembe, is an homage to mothers and grandmothers infused with rumba influences.

The Balka Sound compilation participates in the preservation of Congo’s musical heritage. Founding member Henri Nsika Nkaya envisions it as “an update, a unification, and an internationalization of Congolese cultures.” And to pass this almost forgotten legacy on to future generations, the artist’s daughter Makila Nsika Nkaya curated the project. With this album, Balka music is finally immortalized.

Balka Sound will be available November 11th.