African fusion to lift the spirits
Congolese musician Niwel Tsumbu and his Song of the Nations band will perform in The Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar, on Monday, March 1.
Tsumbu’s Song of the Nations five-piece band formed around the album of the same name, which was released last year. The band boasts members from around the world – Eamonn Cagney (Ireland) on percussion, Peter Erdei (Hungary) on bass, Frailan Moran Mendive (Cuba) on percussion and Katherine Dohner (Germany) on violin.
The eleven-date Irish tour offers fans around the country a chance to see Tsumbu and his band play tracks from the album live, as well as hear new material.
Since his arrival in Ireland from the troubled Democratic Republic of Congo in 2004, Tsumbu has developed a reputation as an elegant and fluent guitarist, vocalist and composer. His ability to vividly blend African rhythms, rumba, new jazz, classical flamenco and more has gained him a legion of ardent admirers. Playing electric and acoustic guitars, and singing mostly in his native ‘Lingala’, Tsumbu performs a range of music that stretches from contemporary versions of Congolese traditional music from the 1930s and 40s to modern jazz.
The ‘Songs of the Nation’ album has gone down a storm with music critics. Reviewing the album in Hot Press last April, Edwin McFee wrote: “Tsumbu’s guitar playing is nothing short of exceptional and the wall of sound that hits you once you press play is infectious. If you’re one of the many unfortunate ones who can’t afford a holiday this year, pick up ‘Song of the Nations’ and experience the world from the comfort of your armchair.”
The band’s live performances are fast becoming the stuff of legend too. Irish Times columnist Siobhán Long attended the album-launch concert in Whelan’s, Dublin, last year, and if her review is anything to go by, the gig in Castlebar will be marked in many a music-lover’s calander:
“Antidotes to the recession don’t come much more potent than this. Niwel Tsumbu’s indomitable, infectious spirit invaded the intimate confines of Whelan’s before his first song had evaporated. Tsumbu takes his audience on a journey of discovery that traverses the peaks and troughs of life’s unpredictable terrain with startling precision. He gives full rein to a sweep of syncopated rhythms that have many punters grasping and gasping to keep up.”
StarLife Magazine’s concert review was less verbose, but no less enthusiastic: “Niwel Tsumbu’s live show is unmissable.”
The band has been on a hectic touring schedule since the album came out, with appearances at big-ticket events like the Festival of World Cultures and Electric Picnic now under their belt. Tsumbu has performed with many of the stalwarts of the Irish music scene, including Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, Mel Mercier, Kíla, Cathy Jordan (Dervish), Steve Cooney and Nigel Kennedy. He has also played support to the likes of Buena Vista Social Club, The Wailers and Horace Andy from Massive Attack, and appeared on respected arts programmes like RTÉ television’s ‘The View’ with John Kelly and Radio One’s Eleventh Hour, Spectrum and The Arts Show.
A heart-warming end to 2009 came as Tsumbu returned to Kinshasa, where he grew up, after a hiatus of five years. As well as visiting deeply missed family and friends, he enjoyed a successful and inspiring time promoting his music on national TV and radio to huge audiences, and he realised that his profile in his home country had grown in his absence. He plans to return to Kinshasa in August this year to perform at a prestigious jazz festival.
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