There are people who go down in history as legends, but are recognized too late. Siama Matuzungidi should not be one of them. He started his career as a Soukous music artist in 1971 in Zaire, now known as The Democratic Republic of Congo.
Soukous, also known as Lingala and previously as African rumba, is a music genre that originated from the Congo. The music is accompanied by instruments like the guitar and drums. Siama performed in Congo with a band known as Shama Shama for seven years before he left for Uganda in 1978. While living in Uganda, he joined another group called Kombe Kombe which later on changed its band name to Bela Mambo. This group consisted of some of his old band members as well as new members including Kanda Bongo Man and Diblo Diabala who are very well known artist in the Lingala music genre’.
Siama performed twice for Idi Amin in Cape Town, Uganda. Idi Amin was the political leader, best known as Uganda’s dictator. Due to the war in Uganda, Siama had to move to another country. In 1979, he moved to Kenya and once again was in another band called Viva Makale that performed at Garden Square in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city. Shortly after that, Siama joined another group called Shika Shika that toured all over Kenya. Inclusive in the band was famous Jimmy Monimambo, who died a few years ago in Tanzania.
At this point, Siama had lived in Kenya for two years where he joined another group Virunga with Samba Mapangala. This group consisted of at-least sixteen band members; guitarists, saxophone and trumpet players, drummers as well as vocal performers. The group, very popular in Kenya, had shows at the Star Light Hotel in Nairobi for four years before they separated.
Later, Siama and some members formed the Ibeba System band which performed in a cafeteria at The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. During one of the shows, a group of Japanese searching for African talent spotted Ibeba System band. After signing a contract, the band performed in Japan for five years.
Not tired of traveling the world and playing soukous music, Siama and a band called Losako with Koko Zigo Mike moved to Dubai where they performed for a period of seven months.
In 1995, Siama moved to Minnesota. He formed the Mbetani Twins band that had shows at First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. Later he joined Shalita band that had weekly shows at Trumps in Stillwater . He also worked with Shangoya, a band from Trinidad that performed at schools and at different festivals.
In 2001, Siama formed Marimba Africa band that consisted of five members. Marimba is a large wooden percussion instrument similar to the xylophone. The bands name originates from this instrument. Siama and his band members performed African music, Zuke and Kwasa Kwasa at the Blue Nile Restaurant.
In 2004, Siama released a CD titled Sisili that comprised of Lingala and Swahili music. The song Sisili was a huge hit in Kenya in the early 80’s. Marimba band now performs at private parties, country clubs and parks in the Twin Cities.
Besides being a great singer, a superior guitarist and a song composer, Siama contributes in local schools in Minnesota, where he teaches African culture and music. Earlier this year, Siama performed at Dashen Restaurant to help raise funds and create awareness to the awful situation in Darfur, Sudan. Strumming on his guitar strings and calling in song with his baritone voice, the cause to take action and help Darfur was evident to all present for the event.
An artist for over three decades now, Siama is still strong in his career, traveling to different states in America – Dallas, Chicago, Michigan – and sharing his love of soukous music. He is currently working on a project in collaboration with jazz musician Jacko McNelly. Siama Matuzungidi hopes that support of African music will continue and increase, to help expand it as well as keep it alive from its roots to its continued evolution.
Please visit the photo gallery to view pictures.
About Helen Kinuthia
Helen blogs on the Minneapolis nightlife and entertainment scene. You can read her entries here.
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