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Shiko Mawatu

Kimbanda Nzila, the Oustanding World Music nominee for the 39th NAACP Image Awards is indeed a wonderful CD + DVD in one package. This album has successfully captured a great African ambiance and iShiko Mawatu has brought back the sound of the Congo Rumba also known as Odimba. His song MANU a single from his next album A. D. N. won THE BEST IN THE 2012 JOHN LENNON SONGWRITING CONTEST WORLD MUSIC CATEGORY!

The artist Shiko Mawatu grew up in a family where music came naturally. His father was an accomplished accordion player and his two brothers Jean Waini Mobunda Mawatu and Rocky Lisaso sung for the Simba Band in Kinshasa, Congo. With a musical upbringing, Shiko Mawatu felt the liberty of exploring other musical influences of his environment in his native city of Kinshasa. In his early teens, he exercised his writing ambitions by collaborating with Veve Verckys Kiamuangana, the famous Congolese producer & musician who had discovered him as a young talent.

Still in his teens, he formed a band “Le Paty – Bana Ngenge” with his friends Aziza and Tofolo also gifted musicians. They collaborated as talented musicians and they performed Shiko’s originals at local venues for years. He decided to pursue a solo career to better express his talent as a musician, an arranger, a songwriter, and a singer. Later on, he discovered a talent, the singer Vonga Aye and they both ended up working with the famous saxophonist Empopo Loway to form a band with Vonga Aye as their female lead vocalist. They all worked with the guitar legend Dr. Nico Kasanda Wa Mikalayi who then took them to Europe for the recording of their first album, “Bonbon Kojak.” The success Shiko had achieved as a guitar player, a songwriter and an arranger had put him on the map in the community of Kinshasa professional musicians before his European trip. Upon his return to Congo, Shiko discovered Malage De Lugendo who later became Franco’s protégé and Zaiko Langa Langa’s main vocalist. Mawatu continued his streak of discovering new talents such as Deese Mukangi and many others as his way of searching for a missing link.

He returned to Europe in 1990 in search for new influences and collaborations with other gifted musicians. He performed with Theo Lolango and an American, David Hoffman in Rome, Italy to yet experiment new sounds and techniques. In 2000, Soukous Stars of legendaries like Lokassa Ya Mbongo, Canta Nyboma, Shimita Diego and the Professor Ngouma Lokito retained his services as a lead guitar player and also a music director for the group. However, this famous songwriter did not perform or record his original materials with Soukous Stars but he gave them the best of himself. Mawatu decided to make the year 2007 a year of his original songs on record for the first time ever.

Embracing an effortless eloquence, Shiko Mawatu and his original songs have brought back the true meaning of Congo Rumba. Like his musical spiritual godfather Franco Luambo Makiadi, this Kinshasa native has magic fingers on his guitar and an incredible writing style that capture the vibe of vintage Congo Rumba without being old fashion. On his debut solo album of 11 songs CD + DVD entitled Kimbanda Nzila, which is produced by iMak Entertainment and Tabilulu Productions, his experience, maturity and of course talents can be clearly heard.

“It’s always been my goal to try and bring back real Congo Rumba,” Shiko says. “When I was younger, it was all about the inner feeling. From the first time I ever stepped into a studio, my dream was to pick-up where the Grand Master Franco Luambo Makiadi left off.” While Shiko Mawatu’s aspirations might have seemed like a lofty ambition, the longevity of his career, his experience and patience are testaments to the purity of his vision.

With the release of Kimbanda Nzila, Shiko’s first album, he vies to be the next “quiet storm” king or crooner on Congo Rumba in a country where fame and stardom is a monopoly of a few among thousands of great musicians. It’s logical given the fact that he creates beautiful music several years after the death of Franco Luambo Makiadi. Like Luambo Makiadi and his T.P O.K. before him, Shiko’s rhythmic endurance secret comes down to his ability to create eternal music. “I wasn’t always completely satisfied as an artist with the situation of writing and arranging for others,” Shiko confesses. Having collaborated, written and arranged songs for renowned Congolese artists like Madilu System, Josky Kiambukuta, Tshala Muana, Faya Tess and the late Pepe Kalle before making his own album, Mawatu was more than ready. Check out a documentary in Lingala by Ady Makombo. First, you see Madilu System talking about how great Shiko is, also the Grammy Award winning producer & Engineer Guido Diaz of Skylight Studio talks about Shiko's talent, Josky Kiambukuta, Nyboma Canta, Faya Tess, Ngouma Lokito, Lokassa Ya Mbongo, all legends in Congo are also admiring Mawatu's guitar playing, singing and writing styles. Of course the young blood, Isaac Katalayi Diallo and Jordan Kusa Kusala A.K.A Mabele Ya Nkolo who comes from Koffi Olomide's Quartier Latin is begging Shiko Mawatu to be a mentor to the upcoming generation, otherwise beautiful music would be lost in Congo and in the process lost in Africa.

Without a doubt, the landscape of Congo music is getting younger, but that fact does not hinder Shiko Mawatu’s creative process. “It would be a mistake for me to try and compete with younger singers and musicians,” Shiko laughs. “I’m not going to be dancing without my shirts on TV, but at the same time I believe my songs will appeal to everyone from teenagers to older folks.”

“As a songwriter my biggest challenge has always been finding new ways to say old things,” Shiko Mawatu says. “For me, it was all about telling a story and exploring my environment, where I come from and where I am going. Like everywhere else in the world, my environment is a much different place than what it used to be 15 years ago.”

On the album’s first song “Ntaba Ya Bandundu,” Mawatu brings forth the issue of infidelity in marriages in African communities away from Africa. In this particular song, which is also a great video, he uses Mbwakela, a Congolese art form of singing, which was popularized by the late Franco Luambo Makiadi. Refusing to sugarcoat his feelings of slight jealousy, the song manages to make public many men’s fear and anger. “This isn’t disrespecting the woman, I am just exposing a reality in our society.”

“Kimbanda Nzila,” the song on the album itself, it detours from the usual Congo Rumba. The song gives a fast beat rhythm & a dancing music, which is inspired by Soukous, Ndombolo and Makuandungu, a traditional rhythm from Bandundu region in Congo. As a metaphor, Kimbanda Nzila is an inoffensive snake but very dangerous when it is attacked. Like Shiko Mawatu, inoffensive by nature but dangerous musically when challenged!

“Terminus” & “Moziki,” without a doubt, are pure Congo Rumba with intricate guitar lines to make you dance with a partner. In both songs, Shiko invites a renowned vocalist, young and very experienced, Baby Black Ndombe. But, Moziki is a particular song regarding a powerful woman traditional organization designed to empower them economically in today’s urban context. Moziki finds itself in conflicts with new African life styles and today’s needy African men.

While Shiko along with the beautiful voice of Malage De Lugendo, Djeffard Lukombo of Tabu Ley, and the limpid voice of Lucien Bokilo may come across as over criticizing his fellow man for taking advantage of his friend’s wife in the title “Lavandier,” the complexity of Shiko’s personality reveals itself on the superb “Kupanda” and “Didi.” With Afro-Cuban style, Shiko has crafted two songs that honestly detail his understanding of the ancestral heritage between Cuba and Congo. “Kupanda” and “Didi” are definitely two great music tracks to dance to!

From one infidelity to another, Shiko takes the blame for the failings of most men relationships on “Allo Allo” for being absent, and introducing the telephone as means of communication between a man and a woman in a place of a natural face to face. He teams up with a female vocalist Ornela Mikwasa on a sweet duet using simple words to express complex feelings. Shiko once again proves that not only is he a wonderful guitar player, but his skills as a songwriter is impeccable.

Though Shiko has never been the kind of songwriter that one would call political but that didn’t stop him from drawing an image of Africa that questions African leaders and the heritage of children of Africa in this title “Afrique.”

Shiko Mawatu has brought back the music that made Congo what it was. This album is an invitation to digging below the surface of Congolese music by re-introducing Mbwakela, an art form, and a genre of metaphor songs that he has learned and perfected from the late Grand Maitre Franco Luambo Makiadi of T.P. O.K. Jazz.

Lubangi Muniania