Three deaths of leading stars in the past six months have robbed the Democratic Republic of Congo of strong pillars of its music industry.
The death on Tuesday night in the United States of guitar maestro Denis Lokassa Kasiya, popularly known as Lokassa ya Mbongo, follows those of saxophone wizard and Veve band leader Verckys Kiamwangana Mateta last October, and talented singer Tshala Muana last December.
Lokassa, who died after a long illness, only recently turned 80. He was the long-serving band leader of the immensely popular and formerly Paris-based Soukous Stars band. He was known to hordes of his fans as “Lokassa ya Dollar” (derived from his stage name, Mbongo, which is the Lingala word for money).
Little had been heard of him in recent years ever since he was taken ill. His vibrant band also excelled in dance. Early in his music career, he performed with Tabu Ley Rochereau’s Afrisa International and later the All African Stars band. The flamboyant musician has been battling diabetes and recuperating from a mild stroke he suffered a few years ago.
His fellow US-based Congolese musician, Mekanisi Modero, said he had been informed about Lokassa’s death by a nurse who has been taking care of him.
She said he had breathing difficulties before he collapsed and died in Nashua, New Hamsphire. Also living in the same state is singer Wawali Bonane, also formerly with the Afrisa International. He had visited Lokassa and was reportedly devastated by the sad news.
Another fellow Congolese musician, Ngouma Lokito, who lives in New York, broke the sad news to his fans through a post on his Facebook page.
Lokassa, a talented guitarist and composer, will be remembered for some of his popular compositions such as “Bonne Annee”, “Monica”, “Marie-Josse” and “Assitou”. He was arguably one of the best rhythm guitarists from the DRC, having performed with Afrisa International band from 1970 to 1978.
In the early 1960s, he also plied his trade with the Blue Diamond before joining Tabu Ley’s African Fiesta National (which later became Afrisa International in 1970). During his time with Afrisa, he teamed up with singers Pepe Ndombe, Sam Mangwana and Michelino Mavatiku Visi.
One of Lokassa’s most notable rhythm guitar works was on the popular Afrisa song, “Kaful Mayay”. However, from the 1980s, Lokassa spent a greater part of his time in his music career, based outside the DRC.
While with the Soukous Stars besides Ngouma, Lokassa also performed with Shimita El Diego, Zittany Neil, Balou Canta, Dally Kimoko, and Yondo Sister.
They were the proponents of the up-tempo Soukous beat, which was a big departure from the regular rhumba beat, and much faster, with excellent guitar lines. In Kenya, fans of the Soukous Stars will remember the occasions in the early and mid-1990s, when Lokassa was on the frontline of concert tours.
Nairobi-based Lingala music fan and fashion icon Sammy Wamuri Ya Kembo recalled having interacted with Lokassa during Soukous Stars shows in Kenya in the early 1990s. Some of the shows were organised by then-famous Congolese promoter Tamukati Ndongala of Tamukati Productions. Other fans who eulogised Lokassa include Geoff Ba Mkubwa Luyuku and Nancie Mama Afrika Elombe.
In an effort to win the hearts of Lingala music fans in East Africa, Lokassa and his group released their debut “Nairobi Night” song that became an instant hit. It featured re-workings of some of the popular tracks by East African musicians such as Dada Rosa by the legendary Tabora Jazz and Vigelegele Ndio Furaha by Western Jazz band.
Details of Lokassa’s funeral arrangements will be announced later. It is expected that his fellow music stars based in the US and Europe will play a key role to give him a befitting send-off.