When it comes to Congolese popular music, Nkumu Katalay can do it all: He’s a dancer, singer, drummer, percussionist, guitarist, bassist and bandleader. Born in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nkumu is a veteran of Lokassa Ya Mbongo’s Soukous Stars, but he has become a fixture in New York City, especially in Harlem, his neighborhood of choice. He leads The Life-Long Project Band, is a co-director of the Yam Session, a monthly collective Afro jam session, and teaches weekly high-energy Afro-Congolese dance classes.
We are particularly excited to present Nkumu Katalay live with special guest Rafiya at the launch of our weekly residency, this Tues., March 7 at Threes Brewing. More info here. In advance of the show, we are premiering an exclusive stream of Nkumu’s new single “Congo4U,” officially out on Fri., March 10 on all major platforms, with a video dropping soon.
“Congo4U” mixes a gospel beat with Congolese rumba guitars and funk transitions. Nkumu sings mostly in Lingala, trading off with Emmanuel Etoumou from Congo-Brazzaville, singing in English and Lingala. Nkumu describes the themes: “The letter ‘U’ for Unity, United, Union, Unique, Universal, Ubiquitous: ‘Universal’ because I see Congo in every part of the African diaspora, so therefore the Congolese influence, too. My vision is to highlight the contribution of Congolese culture in world history, and Congo is ubiquitous since she is spread by the story of her children. ‘Unique’ because she does not die. Her presence can be felt everywhere she touches. I refer to Congo as female, since she is also mother to humanity. March is Women’s History Month and my mother Congo is here.”
While Nkumu paints the picture of Congo’s relevance for all humanity, he also points out the paradox of Congo’s consistent under-development and democratic crises: The country has been pillaged by “known enemies” and “unknown enemies.” Nkumu sings, Lelo bateki Congo namaboko ya ba nguna, which translates as “today they sold Congo in the hands of enemies,” and he challenges all humanity not to be silent in the face of Congo’s suffering. Yet, he also admonishes his Congolese people “not to focus only on external enemies while jealousy, envy, pride, gossip and hunger are our constant internal enemies.” He reminds Congolese people of their ancestral history, their great leaders including Lumumba, Kasavubu and reaching back to Nzinga Nkuvu, A.K.A. João I of Kongo. However, Nkumu delivers the most paradoxical and forceful lines in the first verse: Alleh yibilani muana/Mayele ezalaka nango/Eloko oyo ya kosomba/Kasi bozoba ezalaka/Nango eloko ya ofele Nzambe, which translates as, “Know that intelligence is something one can buy/However stupidity is always free to grab.”
So don’t be stupid, buy “Congo4U” today, and come out to Threes Brewing to see Nkumu Katalay and The Life-Long Project Band live at the debut Afropop Worldwide Residency!