Virunga Roots

One of the great African dance pop bands is back on the scene. And one step better: The group is making a rare local appearance this Saturday evening in San Juan Capistrano. Ever since the 1982 Malako recordings took hold in East Africa, Samba Mapangala N Orchestra Virunga has delighted audiences with its rumba and soukous music, an intoxicating blend featuring soaring vocal harmonies, glowing guitar and saxophone lines, and that signature, dance-inducing rumba beat.

The Zaire-born, now Washington, D.C.-based Mapangala, who composes and sings in both Lingala and Kiswahili languages, spent the early 1970s playing with various bands in the Kinshasa region before moving to Uganda in 1975. Relocating to Nairobi two years later, Mapangala formed Orchestra Virunga (named after the volcano located in the Congo) following the break-up of his then-group, Les Kinois.

With releases including Evasion, Virunga Volcano, Feet on Fire and Karibu Kenya, Mapangala N Orchestra Virunga was arguably East Africa's top dance band for much of the '80s and '90s. Mapangala is joined by a core of highly skilled, Paris-based musicians on last year's Song N Dance, an upbeat yet serious-minded return to form. The beat-driven rhythms and sprightly melodies are balanced by heavier, socially conscious themes about romantic betrayal (“Adija”), cosmetic corruption (“Kwa Nini”) and the need for parenthood planning (“Pangen Uzazi”).

Welcome back, old friend.

The San Juan Capistrano Multicultural Arts Series presents Samba Mapangala N Orchestra Virunga at the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library, La Sala Courtyard, 31495 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 248-7469; . Sat., 6:30 N 8:30 p.m. $5-$10. All ages.

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