Soukous is the popular music of Congo, Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo. In other parts of Africa, it can be referred to as Lingala or Congo music. It is popular all over Africa, French Caribbean, France, and Colombia. Soukous comes from the French word secouer, which means to shake.


Soukous began in the 1950s, when Congolese musicians began to listen and play Cuban music, especially the rumba. With innovators like Joseph Kabasele of African Jazz, Nicolas "Dr Nico" Kasanda of African Fiesta, a new distinct sound and genre was born.

The 1960s saw the rise of a more streamlined soukous band. We saw the rise of the sapeurs attitude, flashy, flamboyant, and wearing of the most expensive threads. Zaiko Langa Langa lead by Papa Wemba, M'Pongo Love and Tshala Muana, Choc Stars, Anti Choc Stars, Bella Bella, Victoria Eleison, and Peppe Kalle of Empire Bakuba were representive of this era.

During the 1970s, the Mobutu regime totally bankrupt the country. Soukous musicians fled to Paris for their bread and butter. This exodus was sealed with the exodus of Tabu Ley Rochereau and Afrisa International.

The 1980s represented a new phase in soukous. It reached a broader audience and artist did not just have the Congo market in mind, when producing music. Soukous became more polished and more studio oriented. Stylistic changes were brought with the dropping and diminished status of the rumba section, with more emphasis on the sabene as represented by Kanda Bonga Man.

By mid 1990s, a dichotomy in soukous had occured between the Parisian artist and that of the Congo market. Soukous produce in Paris did not necessarily appeal to the Congo market. Soukous produced in Congo had retained the old Kinshasa form. This lead to the development of the Ndombolo style, which did not have the studio, polish feel, but had massive appeal among Congolese, unlike the Parisian polished style which had great appeal outside the Congo market.


Soukous took the 3 2 clave rhythm from Cuban music. There is typically one bass which is played with a pick. The bass style is aggressive and interplays with high and low tones.

The Cuban piano section of the rumba was adopted to guitar. Traditional Congo music change the texture and tone of the guitar, influenced from the sanza/likembe hand piano. Soukous typically has 2 to 3 guitars, but can have up to 5. One guitar plays lead. The third guitar plays between the solo guitar and bass, a concept call mi solo. Lead guitarists must display speed and precision. 

Traditional soukous can be broken down into two section, the rumba and sabene. The rumba is slow and utilizes complex harmonizing, then in mid-song converts to the sabene, which is uptempo and utilizes simple harmony played by three chords.


Soukous was originally a term used for a dance in Congo. Numerous dance styles have prop up and gone. Dance styles also surrounded musical fads. The boucher was one of the early dance styles. Doctor Nico's Orchestra Sinza produced the Kiri Kiri dance. Tabu Ley was known for the Jobs dance. Kwassa Kwassa was both a dance and musical style popularized by Kanda Bongo Man. Kwassa Kwassa is rumored to have been created by an auto-mechanic. Other lesser known dances are Soudama(butt twisting dance) and Mandiba(a side to side dance). Loketo created the Pev. Currently, the Ndombolo style of soukous and dance is dominant with the more current dance style Kisanola. 

Works Cited

Eyre, Banning(2002). Guitar Atlas Africa: Your Passport to a New World of Music, Book & CD. Alfred Music Publishing. ISBN 0739024744, 9780739024744
Gear, Richard. World Beat. Spin. September 1990.
Groening, Matt(2003). Da Capo best music writing 2003: the year's finest writing on rock, pop, jazz, country & more. Da Capo Press: pp. 233-236 ISBN 0306812363, 9780306812361.
Joseph Otieno Adamson. Congolese Guitar Style. On Youtube

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