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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo


While still under the tutelage of the legendry rhythmist Dechaud Mwamba with the great African Jazz of Grand Kalle, Nico and Tabu ley, Lokassa ya Mbongo tells a story of when he advertently stumbled on a minor chord and attempted to integrate it into his composition. “One day I touched an A minor by accident. Dechaud looked at me and said, ‘Who told you to touch an A minor? Who said you had the right to touch that chord?’ From then on I only played minor chords when I was alone”.

The rhythm guitar is a lonely world and that is why it is very rare to see a rhythm guitarist participate in singing just like other musicians. Great rhythm guitar players look dull and boring. For example, one could mistake Simarro of OK Jazz for a professor who had lost his way to a lecture hall and stumbled on to the stage. It’s the same with Vata Mombasa of Lipua Lipua, Professor Omar of Simba Wanyika etc. That Lokassa was a sleek dresser did not change a thing. It is the same with Luo customs and tradition. Sometimes it is boring. Sometimes dull. Sometimes the traditions to the naked eye appear just a waste of time like the order of twins or the mandatory first wails of a widow when mourning a husband. But customs and traditions instil and install order and are laid back like a rhythm guitar player.

Watching the great Simarro on stage, you could see how with one dagger look he would be warning a timeless drummer without breaking a pace. And if he dared break the pace and wag a finger at an instrumentalist then things are really bad. It’s the same with Luo customs and traditions. A reminder is fine. But when a tribunal is called to read the riot act of say incest then things are getting bad and one is veering towards being way ward. And as calm as the guitarist, mothers are always the custodians of customs.

Early Years

Denis Lokassa Kasia, was born in Leopoldville, Congo in in 1946 Kinshasa. It is from his time in the Great African Jazz that Lokassa sensed Soukous style of playing as invented by the two brothers’ Dr Nico and Dechaud Mwamba by the introduction of the third guitar arrangement-apart from the bass, the solo alternating with the rhythm guitar. This prototype persists to date. This was the genesis of soukous.

After his tutelage Lokassa began his serious professional career in one of Africa's great bands, by then African Fiesta Nationale led by Tabu Ley in 1968. He did his time learning the trade in the company of a succession of prominent lead players that included Attel Mbumba, and Mavatiku Visi who was also a stand in rhythm guitarist by then. Infact Ochestre Afrisa as the band was now known played the most glorious music while globetrotting all over the world at the invitation of heads of state. They were in Chad in Nigeria, Paris, Addis Ababa and even in Nairobi Kenya twice at the 1st All Africa Trade Fair (1972) with Lokassa as the chief rhythmist. Here they even gave a martinee (not a Luo word) show at kenya Polytechnic Hall.

Around 1973, lead guitarist Pierre Attel Mbumba, vocalist Paul Pépé Ndombe Opetum, squad guitarist Michelino Mavatiku and Deyesse Empompo broke company from Tabu Ley to form another band Afrizam orchestra (African Zaire Music). A statement by Attel is that the shady shadowy “business man” who always stalked Tabu Ley had targeted and bribed him with a cheque for $10,000 to leave Tabu Ley Rochereau's rumba band. The same way many of Tabu ley’s band members were tapped to leave. Attel then roped in his closest friends especially Paul Ndombe Opetum who they walked together like a shadow. Then something happened and Mavatiku reversed this decision and bolted to come back and take the vacant place vacated by Attel alongside Tabu Ley. And true to the rewards stability, Lokassa was left unscathed because of his predictability. The whole instability caused by lack of consistency made Attel lose his friend Opetum who went back to Tabu Ley, his celebrity wife who went rogue and scorned him while all along she was the intermediary to the deal. Attel even lost his his daughter and his life skill when he attempted suicide and lost all guitar playing motor skill/ability when he was saved-aftermath of acid poison attempted suicide.

Like Dechaud Mwamba, the formidable rhythm accompanist of African Jazz, Lokassa strung his guitar with two E strings—the second in place of the normal D string—a style called the mi-composé. Actually OK Jazz played with two solos and not m solo as recklessly confused by non-guitarists. For ten years Lokassa played on all Fiesta National/Afrisa's hits and took the stage in Paris in 1970 for the band's breakthrough performances at the famed Olympia Hall.

In Jan 1977, during one of Tabu ley’s Afrisa's numerous globetrotting tours, Lokassa and several band mates dropped out in Abidjan after Lagos FESTAC festivals to try something new.

Life After Tabu ley.

With the new disposable income from the stable Ivory Coast under President Houphet Boigny, Congolese run aways found the spirit of the old Congo Elizabethville in Abidjan. At first Denis Lokassa thought he could be the new nest for Sam Mangwana in African All Stars featuring stalwarts like Mandjeku, Theo Blaise Koinkou etc. But Sam Mangwana is Sam Mangwana. In no time the band was no more after creating strong turbulence in the popular music scene. Indeed, the turbulence was felt up to Mombasa with hits such as Kabibi mtoto wa East Africa.

Then from the ashes of African All stars, Lokassa ya Mbongo spawned Lokassa Ya Mbongo in his own image and lending the name and presence. The music still had a strong rhythm guitar lone play where the rhythmists was allowed to shine unlike the trend of allowing other instruments to shine. It was an East African delicacy very well received by the west African coast. Unbeknown to many but like explained by Shimita later on the flag bearer was a song Monica about a real Nairobi groupie girl. And it entrenched itself and made a leap for Lokassa edging out the disco hall craze cheer led by break dance.

But like any show bizz an artist must keep on reinventing himself. After several studio sessions in the European Diaspora, Lokassa created a new ensemble to carry his studious attention to his rhythm guitar and the soukous style of playing. And Soukous Stars was born. Still with the soukous trade mark of the long East African long rhythm guitar play. But even a traditionalist does pick other customs here and there along the way to enrich culture. And Lokassa Ya Mbongo reached out to the weekend they spent in Nairobi in October 1973, performing at the then Nairobi City Hall. On that weekend he had picked the top ten records of the East African charts carried by a popular Daily and recited by a radio and battery manufacturing company. The way any serious artist collects interesting works of others to revamp their skills and imagination. The Collection included several records from Tanzania Artists including TZ born Daniel Owino Misiani. The title of the medley? Nairobi Nights even if the artists were Tanzanians from Western Stars, Afro Sabini, Shirati (T) Jazz (Kiseru Pek Chalo Kidi). And the flip side of the album was Lagos Nights labelling several west African chart busters like Sweet Mother. And Lokassa with his ensemble never looked back.


What is the purpose of customs and traditions? Like Law and rhythm guitar, the main purpose of Luo customs and traditions is to provide certainty where there is none. A Luo custom and Law serve the same purpose namely to provide certainty where there was none just like the rhythm guitar. In the world of rapid change there is still a lot of relevance in culture and tradition. To the very end Lokassa stuck to the playing style and the rules of order he learnt from Dechaud Mwamba, the man who made Lucifer and his 500,000 devils dance. He stuck to his immaculate dressing at all times. And even in the midst of temptations he kept faith in the tradition and customs of rhythm guitar whether entertaining the diasporas of USA or the pan African community of Latin America where his music is madly loved.

I learnt of his poor health mid last year but it is still the same that we madly love the consistency and stability of culture and tradition of Lokassa, ya Mbongo, Ya dollar, Ya Euros, Ya petro dollar and even Ya Sterling pounds.

Rest in Peace Lokassa Ya Mpesa.


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