Plunging head first into Afro-pop in April 2009 has left me at times a bit bewildered, but the more in depth I read about the various African musical styles, the better able I am to appreciate individual Afro-pop musical artists both great and minor. Admittedly a relatively obscure artist outside of Afro-pop circles, and with scant biographical information to go on, I nonetheless, offer some background on the late Zairean soukous artist Wally Ngonda and share my observations about some of the infectious music that he created. Recorded shortly before his death in 1995, "Mody" (Stern's Africa STCD 1063, Total Playing Time 49:52) by Wally Ngonda, contains seven percolating and occasionally reflective Afro-pop songs performed in the soukous style that was originally developed and later popularized in Zaire (the former Belgian Congo). Wally Ngonda (born Mbila Dilumona in 1959) honed his vocal style and dance (or animation) skills in various Zairean soukous bands during the 1970's and 1980's. According to Martin Sinnock's excellent liner notes, Ngonda joined Bozi Boziana and Anti-Choc in 1987, which at the time was, "one of Kinshasa's most respected outfits".
"Mody" was the third (and sadly probably the last) solo record by Ngonda and it features Le Chic-Choc Renove Band which was comprised of the younger breed of musicians who, during the 1990's, incorporated more Western rock `n' roll influences into the traditionally slower paced rumba (hip shake dance) influenced soukous. The rock influences gave the new soukous a quicker beat and brought the rhythm and lead guitars more to the forefront of the sound. What emerges on "Mody" are songs (each about 7 minutes in length) that start out at a mid-tempo and gradually build with an increasingly faster tempo into a rhythmic and vocal intensity that by the end leaves the listener breathlessly dazzled and (if one has attempted to dance to it) pleasantly exhausted. Stand out tracks are the title song, "Mody" which features guest lead vocals by soukous legend, Sam Mangwana and "Lobesa" which showcases the amazingly fluid and infectious guitar work of Azulino. I highly recommend "Mody" to serious soukous fans, to Afro-pop enthusiasts as well as to anyone looking for a different groove to listen to or dance to this summer. For further background check out NME's brief biography of Wally Ngonda. Also, Marin Sinnock's well written history of Anti-Choc in "Bozi-Boziana: Zaiko to Anti-Choc With a String of Beautiful Women", was particularly helpful in providing much needed authoritative biographical background on this little known artist and on the "Mody" recording sessions). 4 1/2 Stars.