Home News Dear Poor Kenyans, LINGALA And RHUMBA Are Not The Same

Dear Poor Kenyans, LINGALA And RHUMBA Are Not The Same


By Jerome Ogola

It’s not every day, that you encounter a footballer, who can’t tell the difference between volleyball and football, but in Kenya’s entertainment circles, writers and even musicians, seem not to understand that Lingala, is a just a language, like Swahili, and not a music genre as most of them have led the pack in identifying the predominant African beat, mostly identified with the Congolese, correctly known as rumba.

Lingala, is a language of the Bangala, a native bantu ethnic community of the North Western part of Congo. The language, which was already being used as the business language of the region, and whose use was already stretching beyond its ethnic speakers, was in the 19th centuries adopted by the colonial Belgian authorities, as the language of instruction.

This led to the language acquiring millions of speakers in the now Democratic Republic of Congo,Republic of Congo,some sections of Angola and in the Central African Republic. Lingala is not spoken in the entire country which is also home to more than 250 other languages, mostly Bantu. The official language is French and the country has four national languages, Kiswahili (also referred to as kingwana, locally),tshiluba, kikongo and lingala.

Rumba, on the other hand is a music genre,that traces its origin to Cuba. These music was imported to DRC in the 1940s, merged with the Congolese traditional beats, done with European instruments and recorded in the European studios in Kinshasa, to come with what is known as today as Congolese rumba,(rumba congolaise)and that which many people, including radio presenters,”musicians”,etc ,including that “Lingala ya Yesu”,artist, have continued to refer to as lingala.

It is correct and easier to write rumba,as this is the correct spelling,given by all dictionaries, and it beats logic why people continue to misspell the term to “rhumba”,a strange word and dance to “lingala”,a nonexistent genre.

I have also exclusively delt with the genre itself. Alongside Brazavilian veteran journalist, who has exclusively written about music/ musicians, Clement Ossenonde, we sought to link the music of DRC ie that of Franco and the Cuban dance “rumba” and we came to a point of concluding that Congolese rumba has very little if anything borrowed from the Cuban rumba, apart from the name


I am not a music expert. What I write is strictly my observation. Again I am not writting in response to anyone’s work. I am simply giving my views

The forelimbs of the tetrapods, the frog, the lizard and the bird all have the basic pentadactyl limb structure, despite the fact that they perform different functions. In studying evolution, this points out to a common ancestor who probably had the same limb type

It would be hard to explain this similarity, if the species originated separately. A typical song of the benga genre, probably from somewhere near the shores of Lake Victoria, a song of the rumba genre from the shores of River Congo, commonly known as Ebale Ya Zaire, and a song from shores of the Indian Ocean in Dar, all feature three guitars, bass, solo, rhythm and some percussion as the major ingredients

Spices can include, but not limited to saxophone, trumpets, keyboard, clarinet, accordion, fanta bottle eternal etc, and may vary from place to place. Basing our approach to the evolution theory above, then this predominant African beat whether of Congo, Tanzania or Kenya, share a common ancestor, though no researcher is drawing the lines to link the music of the three nations

That would be completely different from the drum dominated Kwaito of South Africa, the trumpet driven Jazz of America or the reggae of Jamaica or the Highlife of West Africa etc etc. The variation in the finer details only arise because of the environment. For example, Maquis International, an indigenous Congolese band based in Tanzania, did a slightly different brand of music, compared to what their brothers in Kinshasa did

But this brand would still not be 100% the same as that which Tanzanian bands did. The reason was that the band had a hybrid of the two sub genres or simply put, it had influence from the two countries. The music of Colela Maze and the music of Mbaraka are not exactly the same

The wild trumpets in the later and his style of solo makes the difference. However it remains factual that though the style of doing the instruments differ, both songs stand on identical pillars of the three guitars and some percussions. For this reason, the sub genre maybe different but the genre must be the same. The music must be of the same ancestry

The earliest music to recorded in Kinshasa was in the mid 1940s. “Marie Louise” of Wendo, recorded by Ngoma records in 1948 is one of the oldest known tracks from the country. In the strict sense of what described rumba of the later days in mid 80s, this wasn’t rumba. But considering factors of charge change that can be brought with time, it was rumba at its infancy

Musicologist trace the origin of rumba to Caribbean island of Cuba. In my opinion, the only thing in the Congolese rumba that originated from Cuba, is the word itself “rumba”.. What the early musicians in Congo did was simply a blend of their traditional music done with morden instruments and given the European touch, now that the later brought in the instruments and the recording technology

As such the genre wasn’t invented by a single person, neither was it imported but it evolved. It is impossible for something of the same structure, the same make up, to have evolved in Kenya, in Nyanza and again in Tanzania at the same time. There must be a common origin

I have attempted to with little success to get information, on the earliest recording here in Kenya. I am aware it was probably in the late 1940s but I can’t either get the song or the artist.(Kenyan historians only write how Kenyatta single handedly fought the mkoloni) This would give some light, basing my assumption that before recording technology, everything was traditional and without any foreign influence

The “nyatiti” and “ohangla”, both traditional beats of Nyanza, as I know of, have no relationship whatsoever with benga. They are completely different genres. Rumba may’ve originated from Kenya, or Congo, or Tanzania or elsewhere. That one I can’t tell as of now, but what is emerging is that it has got a common ancestry whether that of Kenya, Tanzania or DRC

Anyone advancing a theory that explains how someone invented the beat sometime in the 1960s, is grossly inaccurate and misleading and any attempt to document it as history will be a deliberate attempt at distorting facts


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