Jupiter & Okwess International

Jupiter & Okwess: "PONJO-PONJO" by belle kinoise productions

Jupiter & Okwess International’s international debut album “Hotel Univers” takes you right into the heart and streets of modern day Kinshasa, the troubled capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Band leader Jupiter Bokondji is the charismatic face of Kinshasa’s street musicians, a scene which became internationally known through the success of Staff Benda Bilili. His idea is to reactivate the forgotten rhythms and melodies of Congo, by injecting the urban groove of the city.

Hotel Univers, Kinshasa

When Jupiter wants time off from the daily hustle on the streets of Kinshasa, he rents a room at Hotel Univers. There he can hide from the noise of the streets and seek new inspiration. Many of the ideas of his songs were made up between his room and the bar where he drinks whisky and meets the characters that roam the streets of Kinshasa at night. The song “Magerita” is dedicated to the dangerously attractive women in Kinshasa’s nightlife. It became an immediate hit in Lemba, the area on the outskirts of Kinshasa where Jupiter is from.

JupiterJupiter, who refers to himself as the ‘rebel general’ of Congolese music, doesn’t see the richness of the country in its mineral resources of coltan and diamonds but in the undiscovered talents. “The material is but an evolution,” he sings in the song “Bakwapanu”. “But only the spiritual remains eternal”. Jupiter knows that he won’t be at the top of mainstream music in Congo, a place that is quite conservative when it comes to pop music. But he has a brighter vision.

Through his music Jupiter tries to encourage people to take the future into their own hands. Instead of seeking a better future and immediate wealth by emigrating to the west, common expectations shown in many local pop music video clips, he wants people to draw from the talents they already have. “I saw how immigrants struggled in Europe and didn’t want this for my life. I wanted to make something for my country. I realized that it is my mission to bring a new sound into the Congolese music.”

Dreams, glory and sounds

Jupiter has indeed seen this himself. In 1974, as a young boy, he left the Congo for East Germany with his father who was appointed executive assistant for the Congo’s embassy in Germany. There he spent his adolescence and discovered Europe and its vibrant music scene, and artists such as the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple and James Brown. He set up his own rock band called Der Neger (The Negro) with fellow young Berliners. Their sound was a strange cocktail of Mongo percussions and Zeppelin-esque guitar. The song “The world is my land (Deutschland)” he captures the experiences of this period of his life.

At the age of 20 his father’s mandate ended, and Jupiter went back to the bubbling 80s Kinshasa, his head full of dreams, glory and sounds unimaginable to most of his friends. He left the family home, earning a living singing at funerals and playing percussion in several local orchestras. He started developing his own style with musicians from Europe. He named this explosive mix ‘Bofenia Rock’ and in 1983, succeeded in forming his first orchestra, Bongofolk. Then in 1990 he founded Okwess International. The band developed a vision of a new Congolese sound experimenting with the musical heritage of a nation with more than 450 different ethnicities.

In early 2004, Jupiter met two French travellers, Renaud Barret and Florent de la Tullaye who recorded the songs of Okwess International and other groups surrounding Jupiter, such as Staff Benda Bilili. “I knew something like this would happen, I was convinced.” Jupiter’s Dance, a film documenting his musical exploration was released in 2007. On screen, we see his slender silhouette exploring the various districts of Kinshasa, discovering talent artists undiscovered and unknown by the rest of the world. Little Jupiters, he calls them. “Today, there are plenty of young bands who are like me do music research, dipping into our historical resources. My mission is accomplished. Even if I disappear today, I have achieved my goal.” The film became his international introduction and worldwide recognition. Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame worked with him on several projects including the electronic album DRC Music – Kinshasa One Two (Warp). Albarn also invited him to perform at the 2012 Africa Express tour in the UK. Jupiter and his band also toured the world with Amadou & Mariam.

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