As the Democratic Republic of Congo celebrated 60 years of independence just over a week ago, the country’s music that has been so much a part of that post-independence history is undergoing radical shifts while embracing contemporary global influences.
The legacy of rumba, developed from the fusion of Cuban rumba and traditional African rhythms, has evolved through the generations into variations like Soukous, Kwassa Kwassa, and Ndombolo.
The foundation was established by the first generation of Congolese musicians led by Joseph 'Le Grande Kalle' Kabaselleh and later the two most influential rumba giants, the colossus Franco and T.P O. K Jazz and Tabu Ley Rochereau in the 1960s and 70s.
The music evolved in the late 1970s and 80s with the era of the youthful big bands like Zaiko Langa Langa that developed the future stars like Papa Wemba and Bozi Boziana.
The Soukous era emerged in the late 1980s and 90s as the recording of most Congolese music shifted to France, fronted by flamboyant stars notably Kanda Bongoman, Koffi Olomide, J.B. Mpiana and Werrason, the latter two ex-members of Wenge Musica.
Since the turn of the millennium, Congolese music has been dominated by the rivalry between Ferre Gola, a protégé of Werrason, and Fally Ipupa, a product of Koffi’s Quartier Latin. While the two artists still hold sway in Congolese music, there is a whole new wave of cutting edge music from a new generation of musicians who are transforming the image and sound of the country’s music. As the DRC turns 60, the music has also shifted with the emergence of the millennials and the most successful of the lot is all is an artiste who was nominated for Best International Act at the BET Awards in the US last week.
A 23-year-old singer, rapper, percussionist, and dancer Innoss'B has risen from the poverty-stricken area of Birere in Goma, North Kivu province in the DRC to become one of the most sought-after stars in Africa.
He has adopted a fusion of Congolese soukous with Afrobeats and Electronic Dance Music and is comfortable singing not just in Lingala, but also in Kiswahili and English.
His new album contains a song called ‘Cha Cha’ that samples the 'Independence Cha Cha' the liberation anthem recorded by Le Grand Kalle during Congo's freedom from colonial rule in 1960.
Innoss'B has received wide acclaim from around the world and becomes the most prominent Congolese artiste of his generation to cross over into mainstream success joining the league of Afrobeats performers especially from Nigeria and Ghana. The BBC has tipped him as one of the African stars destined for global success in 2020 for bringing ‘a modern and youthful sound to Congolese music’ with a unique style that has him ‘dancing to the beat of his drum.’
The youngest of six children, Innocent Didace Balume was born May 5, 1997, and spent much of his childhood learning the dance moves of his idol Michael Jackson, inspired by his father a former dancer and three older siblings who are all musicians.
He joined the family group, Maisha Soul, and won the Revelation 2007 Award at the Goma Tourism Fair when he was just seven. In 2010, his parents enrolled him in the first-ever national music competition, the Vodacom Superstars, the brainchild of Senegalese-American superstar Akon, to discover the next star out of the DRC. Innoss’B emerged winner of the competition with a stunning performance of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel’’winning prize money of $25,000 (Sh2.6 million) and a recording opportunity with Akon for the song 'Up and Away.'
He also earned him an opportunity to perform at a concert along with Jamaican star Sean Paul in Zimbabwe. Since gaining fame, Innoss'B has toured around the world and met some of the world's biggest stars from legendary producer Quincy Jones to Hollywood star Ben Affleck.
The Covid-19 pandemic found him in the middle of a European tour and he cancelled the remaining six dates of his tour and returned home to Kinshasa.
His latest album ‘Achour’ features big-name collaborators including Koffi Olomide on ‘Elengi,’ ‘Eloko’ with Werrason, and the remix of the YouTube sensation 'Yope' featuring Diamond Platnumz from Tanzania.
Innoss’B has also used his star status to champion peace in his home region of North Kivu which has been beset with conflict, and his new album contains an appeal for unity in the Kiswahili song ‘Machozi ya Africa.’