Sam Mangwana, an innovator of the Congolese rumba, and his seven-member band will heat up the stage today at Cal State Northridge with a sound stew served up in 10 different languages.
Mangwana blends serious African drum rhythms, delicate syncopated Cuban guitar and a bit of European instrumentation via the accordion to make his music. Mangwana was born in the Congo, where his culture fusion training began at an early age when he attended international concerts.
"He brings together the music of all regions of Africa except the north, which is Arabic," said Emmanuel Nado, a disc jockey for an African radio program in Santa Clara, Calif.
"His voice is so recognizable. Of the thousands of African artists, you can always pick out Sam Mangwana's voice."
The Cuban musical influence was introduced to Africa in the 1960s when Cuban musicians toured the Congo and performed the country-style blues of Cuba called the son.
"When we heard that music, we said, 'It's our music that went across the Atlantic Ocean and came back in a suit and tie,' " Mangwana said recently. "The music that was played had some European and Indian influences."
In the 17th century, slave traders brought Africans to the Americas, the Caribbean islands and Cuba, and when slavery ended, people of African descent returned to their homelands with their music.
"We call it the feedback process," said Jacqueline DjeDje, professor of ethnomusicology at UCLA. "Things have been taken away and then they are brought back and people tend to recreate them."
Mangwana said he faces the challenge of blending cultures while preserving his own.
"We are trying to protect ourselves, be original and get some foreign colors, just to develop our music and style," he said.
"We are respecting our traditional music, but we want to make more progress meeting the other cultures."
Sam Mangwana performs tonight at 8 at Cal State Northridge Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. $15-$9. Call (818) 677-2488.