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Jupiter & Okwess

Backed by his longtime band Okwess, Jupiter Bokondji creates a vibrant Afro-pop amalgam that encompasses styles like Congolese rhumba, kwassa kwassa, and cavacha, as well as Western guitar-driven rock and funk music. Although the group has been active since 1990, it wasn't until 2006 that Jupiter & Okwess gained international recognition thanks to the French-made documentary Jupiter's Dance. In the decade that followed, they released two acclaimed albums, 2013's Hotel Univers and 2017's Kin Sonic, the latter of which included contributions from members of Gorillaz, the Bad Seeds, and Massive Attack. A third album, No Kozonga, appeared in 2021 and continued to expand the group's globally inclusive sound. Born in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, Bokondji spent much of his childhood living in Berlin, where he was exposed to American soul and funk acts like James Brown and Kool & the Gang. After returning to Congo in his late teens, he immersed himself in the rhythms and traditions of his native country, writing his first songs and (against his family's wishes) pursuing a career in music. By the late '80s, a revolving band had coalesced around him that combined his Western influences with regional rhumba, madiaba, and soukous rhythms. Coinciding with Okwess International's rise to popularity was the First Congo War in the late '90s. Bokondji and his collaborators endured the hardships and trauma of civil war and performed when and where they could. Inspired by his story, French filmmakers Renaud Barrett and Florent de la Tullaye based their 2006 documentary, Jupiter's Dance, on Bokondji's music, introducing Okwess to a global audience for the first time. In 2012 he was invited to take part in the African Express train tour, which featured collaborations between African and U.K. artists. Additional projects and appearances at major festivals like WOMAD and Glastonbury further bolstered the band's international recognition and in 2013, they released their first album, Hotel Univers. A showcase of their experimental Afro-pop stew, the album's release helped focus Jupiter & Okwess' touring schedule, which by then included trips to North America, Europe, and Asia. A second album, 2017's Kin Sonic, doubled down on their crossover fusion and featured inspired collaborations with Damon Albarn (Gorillaz, Blur), Warren Ellis (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), and Robert Del Naja (Massive Attack). Heading into the next decade, Jupiter & Okwess continued their musical journey with the intimate 2021 EP Rendez-vous a Paris, a collaboration with fellow Congolese musician Ray Lema, and the full-length No Kozonga, which saw them working with, among others, New Orleans' acclaimed Preservation Hall Jazz Band and French rock musician Yarol Poupaud.
© Timothy Monger /TiVo
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