Antoine Moundanda is one of the prominent figures of African music and in particular of the Congolese scene. Singer and composer, he plays the Likembe, or Kisansi, better known as the Sanza (traditional instrument composed of metal slats fixed on a hollow wooden chamber). The literature about Congo music contains intriguing speculation about the influence of likembés or sanza traditions on the development of modern Congo music, especially the guitar parts.
As early as 1955 an international career opened up for Antoine Moundanda. He travelled to the four corners of the Earth, with his Sanza in his hand, now solo then with other artists. A perfectionist, resolutely modern, he has given a new dimension to this traditional instrument by taking it from 9 to 22 blades. An exceptional singer, an inspired composer, Antoine Moundanda is one of the creators of Rumba, one of the founding fathers of all modern Zairo-Congolese music.
Moundanda: “I learnt music playing the Kisani, accompanying my father in his work as a healer. As he looked after the sick I played music to keep out the bad spirits and to calm the patients. After his death I went to Brazzaville where I worked for the first time, in a Senegalese engineer’s family. At this time, under French and Belgian colonisation the industrialisation of Brazzaville and Leopoldville was in full swing.
Numerous factories were flowering on either side of the river as were nightclubs, like the “Congo Bar”, where Paul Kamba performed with his “Victoria Brazza Orchestra”. Kamba encouraged me to become professional and to create Likembé Géant at the beginning of the 50s. We recorded with this group thirty or so albums for the label Ngoma, several of which won the Osborn Prize, notably because we had introduced the likembé into modern Congolese music.
We played polka, djebola, rumba and traditional themes… resolutely inspired by our regional folklore. We had a lot of success. For example, for the opening night of a bar-restaurant in Bangui on the 31st December 1954 the audience preferred us to Kabelese’s African Jazz! We got the privilege of making people dance all evening. Quite dismayed, Kabalese and his band left before the end of the night!
But at the end of the 50s everything started to change. The public was no longer interested in us. They preferred to listen to pop music and the electric guitar: O.K. Jazz, the Bantous, Tabu Ley, things like that…. Ngoma’s studio was shut down. After that there was Independence and Papa Kourant and I found ourselves isolated. We had to go back to the jungle! Years of suffering followed up until 1967 when we got first prize at Dakar’s Festival des Arts Noirs (Festival of Black Art). After that, with a bit of good luck, we were able to work with the Congolese National Ballet and to collaborate with the Sony Labou Tansi’s Rocado Zulu theatre. Today if the general public want to re-discover their love of acoustic music, then they can count on us.”