M’bilia Bel to grace end of year Kigali Jazz Junction

Queen of Congolese and African Rumba M’bilia Bel to perform in Kigali for the first time. Net

Celebrated Congolese Rumba and world music icon M’bilia Bel will perform in Kigali in December, at the Kigali Jazz Junction’s year-ender edition.

The December edition of the Jazz Junction is slated for December 7 at the Kigali Serena Hotel. The show promises to be one of the highest billed events in the cluttered December festive season. Local R&B and Soul singer Mike Kayihura will pair with M’bilia Bel on stage.

The Kigali Jazz Junction took a break in November, following a sold-out October edition that featured another of the continent’s living musical legends – the Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi.

A gifted stage performer whose soprano voice has been described variously as “heavenly” and “angelic”, Mbilia Bel remains one of the best female musicians to have ever emerged from the music-rich Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Coupled with her stunning beauty and dancing skills, she easily earned the title of “Queen of Congolese and African Rumba”, amassing a huge fan base that transcended not just her DRC homeland, but even the African continent.  Indeed, she has been described as Africa’s first female transcontinental diva.

In East Africa, she is best known for the monster hit, Nakei Nairobi (I’m going to Nairobi). Other hit songs to her name include; Mobali na ngai wana, Nadina, Eswi yo wapi, Yamba ngai, Faux pas, and Cadence, among others.

She sang Nakei Nairobi in the mid-1980s with her musical mentor Tabu Ley, whose band, Afrisa International, she had joined earlier in 1981.

Upon its release, Nakei Nairobi quickly garnered Mbilia Bel a legion of fans in East Africa. Most thought the song was a tribute to the then Kenyan President, Daniel Arap Moi, but it was not. The fact that the song was in the Lingala dialect of the DR Congo further sustained the misconception.

In the song, the singer narrates the story of a childhood friend who had left the DR Congo to start a new life in Nairobi, and who she missed dearly. She learns about the hardships her friend is facing in his new home, and decides to travel to Nairobi to bring him back home.

Several years later, and capitalising on the song’s popularity in East Africa, she decided to redo the song in Swahili, but about a totally different subject.

In early 1982, she released Mpeve ya Longo, her first song with the band, and the following year, she released her first album, the wildly popular Eswi yo wapi (Where did it hurt you?)

According to Remmy Lubega of RG Consult, the organisers, the December edition of the Jazz Junction is scheduled at the beginning of the month to avoid the clutter of events that usually characterise this month.

Mbilia Bel’s Kigali concert comes at a time when the singer is said to be contemplating retirement from the musical stage.

In June last year, while in Nairobi, Kenya for her Kenya Peace Tour concerts, the singer revealed that she was looking at “slowing down and retiring from staging live concerts”.

“After 35 years in music, I’m gradually beginning to feel the need to now concentrate on studio work and less on live shows”, she said at the time.

Presently, she performs mainly at VIP concerts and charity events, and also devotes much of her time to mentoring upcoming musicians in Africa and Europe.

In 1987, she embarked on a tour of East Africa alongside Afrisa International Band. The tour took the band to Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda, culminating in the Nadina album.