DRC: Congolese music fans rejoice as Werrason and JB Mpiana finally reconcile

By Achraf Tijani
Posted on Tuesday, 12 April 2022 16:14

Jean-Bedel Mpiana and Werrason
Jean-Bedel Mpiana and Werrason (rights reserved)

It's official, Wenge Musica will be back on stage on 30 June, Independence Day, at the Martyrs Stadium in Kinshasa. No less than 80,000 people are expected to cheer the musicians. This event comes after a 25 year face off between Werrason and JB Mpiana.

Since 5 September 1997, Congolese rumba has been without one of its most famous exponents. But finally, the 28 February saw the reconciliation of its two leading artists.

Their discord was rooted in the rivalry that marked their relationship. A competition that ended up contaminating the whole group. Ego battles and disagreements raged between the four directors, namely Werrason, JB Mpiana, Didier Masela and Alain Makeba. The result? Wenge Musica was no more.

From then on, each of them could go their own way and found a group around themselves with their own singers and musicians. Werrason created Wenge Maison Mère and Wenge BCBG was born in opposition.

“They did not play nice with each other. The rivalry between them had reached a peak,” says Amadou Diaby, a Congo-Guinean businessman, producer and also the man who managed to reconcile them.

The competition occasionally bordered on the comical.

In 2001, at the Fikin (Kinshasa International Fair) neither of them wanted to stop playing until the other gave up. Driven on by a melting audience, they played from 7pm to 8am. The police had to interrupt this musical marathon and disperse the audience with tear gas.

But this duel turned tragic when the audience itself clashed. In 2005 – again at Fikin – JB Mpiana’s performance was interrupted by clashes between spectators. “The neighbourhoods of Kinshasa were divided, there were even couples separating!” exclaims Fabrice Kabuku, a specialist in Congolese music.

Prolific rivalry

For him, there is no mistaking it: “Yes, there were terrible events. But this rivalry helped them sell. Between 1998 and 2005, when tensions were running high, the fans’ attachment to their champions was particularly prolific for both men. Business was good beyond the Congolese borders. Africa, Europe and the United States welcomed these rumba aces. All over the world, neither of them wanted to flinch.

“When one did the Zenith in Paris, the other felt obliged to do it too. When Werrason sold out Bercy in September 2000, JB Mpiana followed suit a year later,” says Fabrice Kabuku, with a trace of fascination in his voice, as he recalls this duel at the top.

Each had his own audience. On the one hand, ‘Wera’, UNESCO’s ambassador for peace, with his label of ‘people’s singer’. An artist who speaks to the “shegueys”, these young men left to their own devices in the suburbs of Kinshasa. JB Mpiana’s style is more sophisticated, more bling-bling. A trait that can be found in the name of the group he created after the 1997 break-up: Wenge BCBG… [ed: BCBG = Bon Chic Bon Genre = classy/preppy].

This stylistic antagonism went even beyond the music,” he recalls. When you went to clubs in Kinshasa, you knew who was pro-Wera or pro-JB Mpiana. The former had an urban style while the latter dressed with a more distinguished look.

How do you come back from twenty-five years of resentment?

Amadou Diaby found the recipe. “We had to convince JB Mpiana and Werra. I understood that if I reconciled the two, the other directors and the whole group would follow suit. There will have been back and forth meetings with both of them for two months, until that night in early February, at his residence in Gombé. It was in this residential area of Kinshasa that the quarrel ended. “The two arrived almost at the same time, and they immediately called each other by their nicknames. “De la Forêt’ for Werrason, and ‘Piano’ for his sidekick,” he says. A secret, late-night two-hour interview during which grievances are laid to rest and resentments forgotten.

Recording a new album

In his producer’s suit, Amadou Diaby is enthusiastic: “The whole country is waiting for this”. Wenge Musica, created on 12 July 1981, is one of the pillars of Congolese musical heritage.

“Fally Ipupa and Dj Arafat were inspired by them,” insists Fabrice Kabuku. “The influence of Wenge Musica can also be found in France. Just listen to the rhythm of the songs of the rapper Naza, who draws directly from the afrobeat created by Papy Kakol, the drummer of Werrason in Wenge Maison Mère”, he says.

How will the public in Kinshasa and Africa as a whole welcome this comeback? The photo of the four Wenge directors together has already caused a buzz on social networks. Werra and JB Mpiana are now back for new adventures. On 26 April, the whole group will be in Kinshasa for the start of rehearsals and then head to Cape Verde to record a new album.

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