The sounds of Congo and Los Angeles came together this past Saturday night in none other than the famed Sunset Strip in Hollywood. With a day that was already hot, the evening transitioned to a night illuminating with perpetual warm vibes. The Roxy became a venue full of brilliant colors and feel-good ambiance.
Los Angeles band Wondem, a project released in 2015 by lead member Dexter Story opened the night with East African influences blended with funk and soul. Wondem’s inviting beats even had the most stiff and curios members of the audience dancing to the beat. This unique California music set the precedent to connect those in attendance to the sounds of the world.
Direct from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mbongwana Star thrilled fans as the evening’s anticipated headliner. The band released their debut album From Kinshasa in early 2015, which definitely turned the heads of Coachella bookers, as the band was booked to perform at both weekend of Coachella this year.
Mbongwana lit up the Roxy stage with remarkable strength and stage presence. Yakala “Coco” Ngambali and Nsituvuidi “Theo” Nzonza, former members of the street band Staff Benda Bilili — a band of paraplegic and homeless musicians who got themselves out of poverty — performed in wheelchairs as a consequence of childhood polio. They hypnotized the crowd with their vocals showing that the power of music has no limits. Their backline is a younger generation of musicians and singers that added extra strength to their already fiery background. The sounds were spacey and punk, yet deeply rooted with respect to the music of the Congo. For moments you couldn’t tell if you were at a surreal rock show with heavy soukus guitar lines and distortion pedals or if you were in Los Angeles, at The Roxy with a bunch of Angelinos trying their best to follow incomparable energy from Africa on stage.
Mbongwana Star is currently on tour and you can catch them at Coachella on April 22.
Photography and Words: Farah Sosa