African Music

Samba Mapangala & Orchestre Virunga

Samba Mapangala & Orchestre Virunga


Samba Mapangala and his group Orchestre Virunga are one of the classic bands from Central and East Africa from the last 25 years. Known and loved throughout East Africa and beyond for his astounding voice, Samba created an innovative mix of the best Congolese rumba and soukous with an earthier Kenyan style.Their song and CD of the same name “Malako Disco” originally released in 1981 is almost always featured in lists of the top all-time African recordings. 

Orchestre Virunga in 1982. From left: Tabu Osusa (manager), Dago Mayombe (singer), Fataki Lokassa (singer), Diana Kodila (trumpet), Marie Gabby (dancer), Bejos Dibuba Mikobi (guitar), Erica (dancer), Coco Zigo Mafwala (singer), Zorro Mapangala (Samba’s brother). In front: Kasongo Wa Kanema (singer), Tabu Ngongo (sax). On top: Samba Mapangala (singer & bandleader) in front of The Starlight Club, Nairobi.

Born in Matadi, Zaire (DR Congo), Samba Mapangala played with various Kinshasa bands including Super Bella Bella in the early 1970s, before forming his first band, Les Kinois in Kampala, Uganda where he had moved. Samba then led his band of musicians east after the stint in Uganda, and as lead singer and songwriter, they relocated to Nairobi, Kenya in 1977 where they took the scene by storm. Samba’s voice and songwriting talents won Les Kinois the recognition which lifted them above the crowd of bands struggling for work in Kenya. Samba was not satisfied by producing generic Congolese rumba (AKA soukous) and he quickly adopted East African influences, incorporating the lilting benga rhythms of Kenya.

♫ Audio: 1978 – L’Orchestre Les Kinois – Les Kinois Part 1 & 2 – 10:11

In 1981 he formed Orchestre Virunga, a band made up of Congolese and Kenyan musicians which became one of the most popular bands in all East Africa. Singing in both Congolese Lingala and Kenyan Swahili languages, Samba and the Orchestre Virunga won a large and dedicated following in Nairobi. This exploded internationally, following the British release of his classic track Malako in 1984 on the Earthwork label.

♫ Audio: 1981 – Samba Mapangala & Orchestre Virunga– Malako Disco – 6:42

In 1989 Samba made his first visit to Europe recording with Quatre Etoiles in Paris. In 1991 he returned with Orchestre Virunga for a European tour after which Samba stayed in London to record “Feet on Fire” for the Stern’s label. These recordings were extremely well received and a punishing tour schedule took them across the world. 

    ♫ Audio: 1989 – Samba Mapangala & Orchestre Virunga– Sungura – 6:38

Finally in 1997, after a successful but exhausting North American tour, Samba decided to settle in Washington DC, USA and take a well earned break. After three years however, he could no longer resist the urge to record and flew to France where he gathered a group of Congolese musicians with whom he made the album “Ujumbe”. Sambas lyric’s offer an insightful social commentary as well as plenty of homespun advice, and this is offset by the dance-friendly music his band creates.

2012: Ballou Canta & Samba Mapangala – Hertme The Netherlands

In May 2004 Samba went on a 2-week concert tour of Tanzania after a 7-year absence. He performed with an all-star line-up of musicians based in Kenya and Tanzania. he repeated this trip back to an equally heart-felt homecoming in Nairobi in 2006.In 2005 a collection from the Orchestre Virunga archives was released as  “Virunga Roots Volume 1”. Pleased by the enthusiasm with which this was received, the band regrouped in 2006 to record “Song and Dance” for Virunga Records. 

In the summer of 2007, Samba Mapangala went on tour in Canada and the U.S. for the first time in 10 years before heading for the WOMAD festival in England. Virunga’s show at Yoshi’s nightclub in Oakland, a jazz-club room with great acoustics and a devoted audience for African music, was one of the tour highlights. The recordings made at the time were available for digital download via the platform for some time. 

♫ Live: 2009 – Dunia Tuna Pita – Sauti za Busara Festival Zanzibar Tanzania – 10:19

♫ Videoclip: 2011 – Samba Mapangala & Orchestre Virunga – Life Is Sweet – 6:14

Samba Mapangala’s most recent album contains eight new, fresh songs and was released in 2011 under the title “Life Is Sweet”. In anticipation of the Kenyan general elections of March 2013, Samba Mapangala has recorded “Chagua Chagua (Vote in Peace),” an important new song that encourages people to choose their leaders wisely. Free audio downloads are available on

♫ Live: 2012 – Vunja Mifupa – live at Afrikafestival Hertme the Netherlands – 12:03

♫ Videoclip: 2012 – Samba Mapangala & Orchestre Virunga – Vote in Peace – 6:38

Fromleft: Jamarach Mulumbu (rhythm guitar), Jojo Monga (lead guitar), Ngouma Lokito (bass), Oscar Debe (drums), Eto’o Tsana La Patrona Mabina Danseuses, Samba Mapangala (singer/bandleader), Joseck Asikoye (congas), Freddy Nyembwe (vocals, animation). At Salisbury, MD NCTA Folk Festival. 9/9/19

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