Virunga, Feet on Fire

Banning Eyre

By Banning Eyre

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
Pure joy, delivered with rare style and class.

This 1991 session captures one of central/east Africa's great dance bands at a moment of strength. Leader Samba Mapangala has one of the sweetest voices in African pop; his vocals on these beautifully produced tracks are mostly in Swahili — the language of the East African coast — but the seductive melodies, clean electric guitar interplay, pumping dance rhythms and peripatetic arrangements here all smack of the best Congo music. Virunga defies conventions. While soukous bands were dumping brass in favor of keyboards, Virunga featured lush, sunny brass arrangements worthy of Afropop's '70s golden age. The band also takes on rootsy 12/8 grooves, as on “Vidonge (Medicine),” alongside the more familiar “rumba” variants, with their echoes of Latin music. Songs build on strong hooks and showcase vocal performances, and invariably end in transcendent dance jams interweaving brass, percussion and guitar. Pure joy, delivered with rare style and class.