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East Africa Mourns the Death of Veteran Musician Atia Jo

East African music fans are mourning the death of long-time bass guitarist Atia Jo. He played with the Orchestra Super Mazembe- a Congolese band that has been based in Kenya since 1975. The group which plays Africa rhumba music started in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1972.

Atia is fondly remembered for his active role in popular music, as a composer, trainer, coach and recording artist. He played African rhumba in the Lingala language of the DRC, Congo-Brazzaville, Angola and Central African Republic. Atia added modern instruments such as the guitar and saxophone and was famous for songs like South View, Atia Jo, Kassongo and Ndona.

Born as Mulunguluke Mwanza, Atia hailed from the Emba tribe- 60 kilometers north of Lubumbashi town in the DRC. He was among the founder members of the popular band Super Mazembe in 1972.Mwalimu Kenny Tungani served as Mazembe’s Kisumu assistant.

Super Mazembe was comprised of the band leader Didos Mutonkole Longwa, Bukalos Bukassa (lead guitarist), Rapok Kayembe (rythmist), Atia Jo (bass guitarist), Katele Aley (lead composer and vocalist), Dodo Doris (drums), Kassongo Songoley (rythmist) and Charles Kagamba (vocalist).

Mazembe - meaning ‘Earth Movers or Bulldozers’ in Lingala, originated as Super Vox in Likasi town. It shifted to Lubumbashi town, for better growth and where the music industry was centered.

Later on Mazembe crossed to Ndola town in Zambia where the band met Nashil Pitchen, a music producer and the proprietor of the Nairobi’s Eagles Band. Pitchen brought the Mazembe to Kenya.

In Kenya, Mazembe joined the 1970’s line-up of Congolese bands like Orchestra Mangelepa, Le Kinoirs, Viva Makale, Le Noirs, Boma Liwanza, Bwambe Bwambe, Baba National-Ilunga wa Ilunga among others.

Among the Congolese musicians in Kenya who joined Mazembe are Kassongo Wa Kanema, Lovy Longomba, Fataki Lokassa, Rondo Kandolo, Charles Atei, Lobe Namapako, and Loboko Pasi.

Mazembe introduced the Mushosho dance style which made the band a household name in the region. Mazembe ruled the music scene for more than three decades with such hits as Mwana Mazembe, Naweli Nini, and Nabimakate, among others.

Kenny credits Atia for the bass guitar that helped drive the rhythms behind rhumba and animate the dance halls. He says during live performances, Atia looked cool and composed while the sound of his guitar moved the whole crowd.

Writing on the web page of AI Records, music critic Trevor Herman says “All of the songs sparkle with something special: passionate vocals, razor-sharp guitar-licks, monumental bass lines, thrilling horns and a rhythm that demands your attention and forces you onto the dance floor.”

Atia was a man who is said to have emphasized not only musical harmony, but group harmony. Kenny says he encouraged band members to stand together during tough times. He also did set design, and organized the group during recording sessions.

Mazembe’s decline began in 1986 when a businessman confiscated the band’s instruments. The businessman had purchased the equipment for Mazembe and afterward sought to own the rights to the band’s music.

When many of the founding members of the group died in the early 1990’s, Atia joined Virunga band and later played for Tchakatumba band.

He later launched an effort to salvage Mazembe by recruiting surviving founder members Katele and Kanema. The three signed up more musicians before Katele’s death two years later. After training the new comers on the Mushosho style, the group hosted live performance in major towns like Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru and Kisumu. Atia died at the time he was preparing the group to record new songs. Kanema is the new band leader.