Jean-Pierre “Jupiter” Bokondji is a Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo-born and-based bandleader, songwriter and percussionist. Bokondji’s grandmother was a traditional healer, who got introduced him to music by having him attend religious ceremonies and funerals, which he later would play percussion. His father was a Congolese diplomat, who received a post at the Congolese embassy in East Berlin — and as a result, the family relocated to Germany.
While in Germany Bokondji started his first band Der Neger, an act that meshed the Mongo music of his native Congo with the European rock of his German-born bandmates. When his father’s post ended, the family returned to Kinshasa in the 1980s. Upon his family’s return, Bokondji traveled around the country listening to the music of the country’s different tribes, eventually developing and honing his own style and sound. In 1984, he formed a band called Bongofolk — and in 1990, he formed his best known and longest running band Okwess International, which currently features Staff Benda Bilili’s Montana (drums), Yendé (bass), Eric (guitar), Richard (guitar) and Blaise (vocals).
In the years immediately after their formation, the members of Jupiter & Okwess toured across Africa, playing a crowd-pleasing mix of Afropop, traditional Congolese rhythms, funk and rock paired with strong sociopolitical messages that Bokondji has dubbed “bofenia rock.” But unfortunately, as they saw increased popularity, a bloody civil war broke out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some of the band’s members fled to Europe as a result of the war; however, Bokondji remained in Kinshasa. And as the war died down, the Congolese songwriter, bandleader and percussionist saw a resurgence of his popularity.
Bokondji was featured in the 2006 documentary film Jupiter’s Dance. The film brought him to the attention of British producers and musicians — and it lead to him joining the Africa Express tour and to major stops across the global festival circuit, including Glastonbury Festival and Way Out West. Adding to a rapidly growing international profile, the act released their long-awaited full-length debut, 2013’s Hotel Univers.
The Kinshasa-based act’s sophomore effort, 2018’s Kin Sonic finds the members of the band further expanding their sound outside of their homeland, incorporating elements of modern, contemporary music. As a result of the album’s popularity, Bokondji and company played 180 dates across the globe, including performing in the Paris production of Abderrahmane Sissako and Damon Albarn’s opera Le Vol du Boli.
Jupiter & Okwess’s latest EP Bolingo serves as follow-up to Kin Sonic while providing listeners a taste of what to expect for their forthcoming, third full-length album, slated for an April 2021 release. In the meantime, the Mario Caldato, Jr-recorded effort finds the Congolese act meshing a unique array of sounds across the African Diaspora from traditional African music, disco, jazz, New Orleans brass, samba and even soul while still remaining committed to sociopolitically conscious lyrics and a strong sense of purpose.
The EP’s latest single, EP title track “Bolingo” is a sonic departure from the bonefia rock they’ve established, with the band playing a shuffling and breezy samba featuring shimmering acoustic guitar, shuffling rhythms, soaring call and response vocals featuring Brazilian vocalist Rogê, and a gorgeous flute solo coda. Complete with infectious hooks, the song is centered around a simple yet very powerful message — love is our purpose. Material things don’t teach you anything about life; love does. And although, the Trump Administration’s miserable term is ending in a month, we all still feel like we’re in the end days — and we need to be reminded of the hope and power of love right now.