Jupiter and Okwess’ new album Na Kozonga sees the band travel the world. with sounds from Kinshasa in tow. With their signature style of bofenia rock still at the center of each track, the group comes into contact with a wide range of artists: Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux, horn players from the famed Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Brazilian artists Marcelo D2 and Rogê, and California-based soul singer Maiya Sykes all collaborate with the high-energy group, all joining together in exciting musical encounters.
As always, Jupiter Bokondji serves as the group’s charismatic frontman, a vital force with a nimble tongue. On the opening track, “Telejayi”, he alternates verses with rapper Marcelo D2, making for a formidable vocal duo in terms of both speed and power. Band Okwess, meanwhile, is in fine form throughout the album, with guitars wailing and percussion constantly on the move. “Mieux que ça” sees the ensemble making rapidly interlocking riffs and rhythms. Although they slow to a cool, rolling pace for the multilingual title track, a catchy tribute to the places Bokondji calls home even amid so much travel.
Blisteringly political “You Sold Me a Dream” features Tijoux, who joins up with the group to decry the inequities often present in the lives of urban migrants and colonial legacies. A particularly electrifying combination, they give way to softer moments on “Marco”, a tribute to Jupiter’s departed manager. The reggae beats underpinning “Jim Kata” uplift howling guitar solos. Meanwhile, the warm New Orleans brass that Preservation Hall Jazz Band bring to “Abalegele Gale” further speaks to the influence of Black Atlantic flows on the album’s overall soundscape.
Bare vocals from Jupiter and Okwess’s singers on “Bakunda Ulu” are quickly joined by a lusciously melismatic Sykes, whose richly emotional voice adds a new dimension to the scene. Midtempo track “Bolenge Seben” has an earthy resonance to its instrumentation. “Izabela” is uptempo folk music. The energy of “Muba” gives way to the soothing samba of closing track “Bolingo”, where Rogê’s airy croon and Jupiter’s velvety low register strike a satisfying balance to close the album.
With Kin Sonic, Jupiter and Okwess took the international consciousness by storm, bursting in at top volume and showing no signs of slowing. With Na Kozonga, they show not just boldness but staying power through a range of tones and moods. No one-note wonder, this is a versatile band that pursues new avenues with aplomb and genuine skill. It’s refreshing to hear a band not only try something new but do it with style and precision, as Jupiter and Okwess do so well. Their slower tracks here are as complex and engaging as their tried-and-true quick attacks, and their collaborations with other artists as seamless as the tight-knit work they do as a group.
Na Kozonga is Jupiter and Okwess at a larger scale than ever before, and they rise to those new heights in front of them, drawing on styles from around the world but ultimately staying true to their rocking musical roots as a band that works together in what sounds like perfect harmony.