Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca: La Rumba SoYo

Veteran Congolose singer and band's seventh album, a gloriously international affair.
Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca
La Rumba SoYo

Congolese singer Ricardo Lemvo and his band Makina Loca present their seventh album, La Rumba SoYo. Lemvo, although having lived in the US since the 1980s, hails from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), and has roots through his family to Angola. These differing national interests have a bearing on La Rumba SoYo, touching as it does on Angolan music as much as the more expected Congolese soukous stylings.

Since their inception in 1990, Makina Loca have visited Europe, Australia, Latin America, and Africa and his music has found markets from Barcelona to Cartagena, Paris to Dakar, and beyond. The new album was recorded in four different countries (US, Canada, France, Angola), and took four years to put together. In an exploration of his roots, three songs have been penned for the project with Angolan artists (“Simone CM” with Calo Pascoal, “Padre George” Kyaku Kyadaff, and “Dikulusu” with Adao Filipe), and he addresses topics on the record in indigenous Angolan languages Kikongo and Kimbundu as well as Portuguese, Spanish and Lingala. As well as his trademark Afro-Cuban rumba and soukous, La Rumba SoYo also explores the Angolan traditions of kizomba and semba alongside straightaway Cuban son and salsa.

“Santo Antonio Do Zaire” is as summery and shimmering a son montuno/rumba blend as you could hope for, and the arrangement and accompaniment both have shades of jazz, but are also unmistakably Afro/Cuban and African. Lemvo’s masterful voice rides the rhythm, and Makina Loca start the album in brilliant form, sympathetic to their lead singer, but never faltering in their delivery. “El Nino” Jesus A Perez’s sprinkling piano, Huit Kilos Nseka’s guitar and John Roberts on trombone and Arturo Solar’s trumpet especially stand out on this appeal to Saint Anthony for deliverance.

The majority of the pieces on La Rumba SoYo, as with many of Lemvo’s songs, employ a short spoken section, where the singer, in a variety of the languages at his disposal, explains more about the song, the situation it describes or its story. The album possesses the rich vein of Africanness which Lemvo and his band use to its fullness. Upon its playing, listeners are tapping into another set of realities, another set of truths.

The styles on the album all have a different feel and a different appeal. The semba of the Kimbundu/Portugese/Kikongo “Dikulusu” is more swinging, relaxed and breezy, whilst the soukous-merengue of the title track is more forceful and dancier. “Kari Kuyeye”, a debut with El Nino is dramatic, rolling, romantic –- updating the classic son muntono sound of unity and pleasure into a celebration of life and music while the horn-led, sexy sway of the traditional “E Moyo” delves deeper into the Congolese mutuashi genre. The light touches of guitar and percussion allow you to really feel the soul and the love of music which pervades the album and stays long in the memory and experience of the record. The song was originally recorded by the legendary Tabu Ley Rochereau in 1967, and the ability to tell and relate stories which both Rochereau and Lemvo share transcends culture and language and makes real music what it is.

A medley of boleros sung in Lingala and Portuguese takes us inside the candlelit dancehalls of Kinshasa and beyond for an intimate and romantic slow dance , before the highlight of an album full of such moments, the salsa of “El Caburnacho”. The song sums up the entire sound and approach of La Rumba SoYo –- celebratory and triumphant. The band shine through again on “Simone CM” (kizomba-zouk, with N’Seka’s guitar and Mario Aguilar’s accordion artfully assisting Lemvo’s voice), and the soukous of “Tudia Tunua”, with its surging, insistent opening, which flows out into a funky, attention-grabbing piano-led rumba. The album then comes full-circle with the pleasing remix of “Samba Luka Samba”, one of the band’s most popular anthems, where Lemvo’s notes are played off against Chantal Yal Kizita’s backing vocals.

This is a record of great joy, a celebration of life and of Africa. Serious stories are mixed with relaxed, jubilant arrangements, all delivered by a singer of veteran years and a lust for life. The images created are of modern, successful, cross-cultural African music. The music on La Rumba SoYo has a classic feel to it, but tempered with a personal and modern interpretation. A range of moods is accomplished by the blending and mixing of styles, which suit the arrangements perfectly. A superior album from a band whose success can only increase.

RATING 8 / 10