Les Quatre Étoiles (Four Stars) is a Paris, France-based supergroup that features four top Zairean musicians: Nyboma and Wuta Mayi (vocals), and Bopol and Syran Mbenza (guitars). Apart from Mayi, they all worked with the African All Stars in the late 70s, with Bopol and Syran in the original line-up and Nyboma joining in 1979. The quartet came together as a studio band in Paris - a centre of expatriate Zairean musical activity since the 60s - in 1982. Their first album, Mayi, contained one lengthy track by each musician. Nyboma’s contribution, ‘Mama Iye Ye’, was a re-recorded song that he had written in the 70s when he was singing with Orchestre Bella Bella in Zaire. The new version, replacing the sweetness of the original with a solid beat and faint reggae-inflection in the guitar rhythms, showed the Étoiles’ willingness to adapt their music for western ears. The name of the band is no idle boast. In Zaire, the individual members of Les Quatre Étoiles had made their names with many of the country’s best musicians. Wuta Mayi started his career in 1967 and played with Jamel Natinal, Bambala and Rock-A-Mambo before joining Orchestre Continentale, one of the bands who brought in the new youth music in the later 60s. In 1974, he joined Franco in OK Jazz. Mayi’s vocal brilliance is matched only by that of Nyboma, who has one of the classic voices in Zaire - high, pure and controlled even at the top of his range. Nyboma cut his teeth with Baby National in 1969 and moved to Negreo Succes before joining Zaire’s biggest bands, Orchestre Bella Bella and then Orchestre Lipua Lipua. By the late 70s he had left, to join African All Stars, later forming Orchestre Du Zaire. Syran worked as a guitarist with Orchestre Abanite and Orchestre Lovy Du Zaire, while Bopol, who released a series of his own albums in the early 80s under the title Innovations, worked as a bass guitarist with Dr Nico’s African Fiesta and Afrisa before creating his distinctive, needle-sharp rhythm lines for Sam Mangwana. Together, Les Quatre Étoiles produce an infectious brand of rumba saccade, a fast dance music that blows fresh heat on to the rumba of Zaire. Their second album, Enfant Bamileke, released in 1984, offered further tracks from each of the musicians. Their 1985 outing, Dance, introduced electronic drums into the mix to underscore their new dance, the kinsenengoma, or ‘cricket’ (the insect, not the game). The rhythm remained the same: the group’s own blend of pure vocal melody, over a hot-rumba saccade base. In the meantime, Les Quatre Étoiles had also released a succession of solo albums, Npoma’s 1981 Double Double proving an early classic, while later ones, including Bopol’s Helena, drew on the service of Jean-Claude Maimro and Jacob Desvarieux, from Kassav, to create a strong Afro-Zouk fusion. Nyboma followed suit in 1986 with an album co-recorded with Pepe Kalle, from Empire Bakuba, which used zouk rhythms and guitar patterns, but little of the electronic technology so beloved of zouk musicians. The following year, Syran Mbenza formed his own zouk-flavoured outfit, Kass Kass, and joined Les Quatre Étoiles for their epic of hi-tech and elaborate arrangement, 6 Tubes. In the late 80s and early 90s the individual members concentrated on their solo careers, though they did reunite sporadically for studio sessions.
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