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Siama and Dallas bring Congolese music tradition to the NU library

Photo by Clay Schuldt Siama Matuzungidi (left) and Dallas Johnson lead a sing-along of Congolese inspired music.

NEW ULM — Husband and wife musicians Siama Matuzungidi and Dallas Johnson hosted a sing-along performance at the library Wednesday.

The duo performed song styles in the Congolese tradition. Matuzungidi is originally from the Bas-Congo. In addition to music, Matuzungidi and Johnson provided some cultural background; specifically his village on the west coast of Congo.

Johnson said his home village is about a seven-hour bus ride from Kinshasa. His village was small with only 20 families. The village had minimal access to electricity, but Matuzungidi said they were resource-heavy.

He described his home as having very big forests with large trees that can be used for a variety of purposes, including instruments.

During the sing-along, Matuzungidi played a “balafon” that was made from trees in the Congo. The balafon is similar to rumba or xylophone. He said since the balafon is made from a porous wood it allows for a louder sound. No amplification is necessary to hear the instrument from a distance.

He said in some villages a large balafon, several feet long, was set up to alert citizens. There was a special melody used to convene the adults. Another melody told the children it was time for class. There was even a warning tone to alert villagers of danger.

Matuzungidi described his village as being very musical. People sang often throughout the day, whether they were preparing a meal, greeting a visitor, telling a story, or preparing for bed.

Most of the music performed by Matuzungidi and Johnson was in the Congolese rumba style. Congolese rumba would go on to inspire the “soukous” genre. Johnson said the soukous style was created by taking traditional Congolese music and combining with with contemporary instruments, such as the rhythm guitar.

Matuzungidi said when he first heard soukous music he was inspired to become a musician and began learning the guitar. By age 17 he joined with other soukous artists and began recording music. Matuzungidi recorded hundreds of songs and toured the world playing with many soukous artists.

To this day, Matuzungidi said his favorite instrument is the guitar, saying he has to play it every day.

Siama and Dallas program will be made available on New Ulm Cable Access Television (NUCAT).

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