According to Jupiter Bokondji, “the cultural riches of Congo are immense.” He and his band, Okwess International, are tapping into their rich heritage to create fun and innovative music for the world stage. Jupiter and Okwess have just released their second album, Kin Sonic. Born Jean-Pierre Bokondji in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jupiter is a musician who has been influenced by many different styles. He grew up in Germany where his father worked as a Congolese diplomat. Throughout his youth, Jupiter mostly listened to American soul music like James Brown and The Jackson 5. When he moved back to the Congo at age 18, he joined a band initially named Famous Black. The band was later called Bongo Folk and now goes by Okwess. The lineup of the band has changed over time, but frontman Jupiter has remained constant.
The music of Jupiter and Okwess has elements of the soul and funk young Jupiter grew up on, but it also draws heavily from traditional Congolese music. This includes the rhumba for which the Congo is famous, but also more traditional sounds that are largely unknown outside of the country. Jupiter calls his unique mix of Afropop, funk, rock, and traditional Congolese rhythms “Bofenia Rock.” They have always had a purposeful revolutionary approach to making music. Songs by Jupiter and Okwess are “funky and engaging” while addressing and challenging “the system and politics in Congo.”
The band’s first album, Hotel Univers, did quite well and attracted a new global audience. Like Hotel Univers, the music on Kin Sonic is ripe for an international audience while staying true to their Congolese roots. Despite being in his 50s and only recently gaining a larger audience for his music, Jupiter has the “swagger of a rock star” and the engaging energy of someone who is just getting started. Glitter Beat describes the record as an exploration of traditional music that “comes to take its place in a contemporary landscape where walls and borders are exploding in the face of men’s yearning to share moments of beauty and pure madness, all mixed up together.”
Check out the toe-tapping and danceable tracks of Kin Sonic to hear the band’s “own slice of life, its own bundle of thoughts and reflections, its own singularity. But also its own slice of universality.” Jupiter and Okwess are able to speak truth to power and denounce injustice in a fun and easily listenable package.