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Kasai Masai: African beats by the sea

When Congolese band Kasai Masai performed on the Stade as part of the AfriKàBa festival, Jennifer Kennedy was there watching and listening.

In the sharp chill of an October evening, a spirited crowd dances to the lively beat of an African drum. If I close my eyes, Hastings seafront with its herring gulls, fish and chips and penny arcades seems very far away. Tonight, Congolese band Kasai Masai are performing at The Stade. The show is part of the AfriKàBa Festival, a celebration of African and Caribbean culture, and Stade Saturdays, a series of free events sponsored by Hastings Borough Council.

Band leader Nickens Nkoso is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He moved to London in 1992 where he met his fellow band-mates and formed Kasai Masai in 2003.  In addition to Nkoso, the band’s lead singer and djembe player (djembe is a traditional African drum), tonight’s line-up includes Jeannot Musumbu on guitar, Claude Bula on bass and Jose Kampamby on drums.

They all hail from countries in Equatorial and East Africa, and each brings his own musical influences. Their music is an infusion of the traditional and the modern; the sweet, lilting sound of an electric guitar with the steady cadence of the djembe.

Nickens Nkoso on djembe.

Speaking to HOT after the gig, Nkoso says that the music is based on old Congolese village songs. The lyrics are also inspired by stories which have been passed down from one generation to the next. “Oral story-telling is something the whole village would come to listen to in the evening, it is part of our culture, and we grew up with it,” he explains.

The modern influence is Soukous, a popular genre of African dance music which began in the 1960s in West Africa, originating from rumba. Soukous comes from the French verb secouer, which means ‘to shake.’

Dancing is central to Congolese culture, and Nkoso tells HOT: “In the Congo we dance to everything, funerals, births, everything.” Exposed to dancing from an early age, he moves with incredible ease. He sharply thrusts his hips forward then effortlessly pulls them back again, laughing; it’s a move few in the audience dare to emulate.

However, it’s the two female dancers, Mimitah and Stoni, who really enthrall the crowd. They dance with a theatrical grace, alternating between quick, jouncing movements and the smooth, slow swaying of the hips.

Dancing is not something that comes easy to us English, but with Kasai Masai and the warm, easy voice of Nkoso singing “shake your body,” it’s impossible not to.

 

Posted 18:28 Sunday, Oct 13, 2013 In: Music & Sound

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