Like much of Africa, the Congo was dominated during the World War 2 era by rumba, a fusion of Latin and African musical styles that came from the island of Cuba. Congolese musicians appropriated rumba and adapted its characteristics for their own instruments and tastes. Following World War 2, record labels began appearing, including CEFA, Ngoma, Loningisa and Opika, each issuing many 78 rpm records; Radio Congo Belge also began broadcasting during this period. Bill Alexandre, a Belgian working for CEFA, brought electric guitars to the Congo.
Popular early musicians include Feruzi, who is said to have popularized rumba during the 1930s and guitarists like Zachery Elenga, Antoine Wendo Kolosoy and, most influentially, Jean Bosco Mwenda. Alongside rumba, other imported genres like American swing, French cabaret and Ghanaian highlife were also popular.
In 1953, the Congolese music scene began to differentiate itself with the formation of African Jazz (led by Joseph "Grand Kalle" Kabasele), the first full-time orchestra to record and perform, and the debut of fifteen-year-old guitarist Francois Luambo Makiadi (aka Franco). Both would go on to be some of the earliest Congolese music stars. African Jazz, which included Kabasele, sometimes called the father of modern Congolese music, as well as legendary Cameroonian saxophonist and keyboardist Manu Dibango, has become one of the most well-known groups in Africa, largely due to 1960's "Independence Cha-Cha-Cha", which celebrated Congo's independence and became an anthem for Africans across the continent.
Many of the most influential musicians of Congo's history emerged from one or more of these big bands, including Sam Mangwana, Ndombe Opetum, Vicky Longomba, Dizzy Madjeku and Kiamanguana Verckys. Mangwana was the most popular of these solo performers, keeping a loyal fanbase even while switching from Vox Africa and Festival des Marquisards to Afrisa, followed by OK Jazz and a return to Afrisa before setting up a West African group called the African All Stars. Mose Fan Fan of OK Jazz also proved influential, bringing Congolese rumba to East Africa, especially Kenya, after moving there in 1974 with Somo Somo. Rumba also spread through the rest of Africa, with Brazzaville's Pamela M'ounka and Tchico Thicaya moving to Abidjan and Ryco Jazz taking the Congolese sound to the French Antilles. In Congo, students at Gombe High School became entranced with American rock and funk, especially after James Brown visited the country in 1969. Los Nickelos and Thu Zahina emerged from Gombe High, with the former moving to Brussels and the latter, though existing only briefly, becoming legendary for their energetic stage shows that included frenetic, funky drums during the seben and an often psychedelic sound. This period in the late 60s is the soukous era, though the term soukous now has a much broader meaning, and refers to all of the subsequent developments in Congolese music as well.
By the beginning of the 1990s, the Congolese popular music scene had declined terribly. Many of the most popular musicians of the classic era had lost their edge or died, and President Mobutu's regime continued to repress indigenous music, reinforcing Paris' status as a center for Congolese music. Pepe Kalle, Kanda Bongo Man and Rigo Starr were all Paris-based and were the most popular Congolese musicians. New genres like madiaba and Tshala Mwana's mutuashi achieved some popularity. Kinshasha still had popular musicians, however, including Bimi Ombale and Dindo Yogo. In 1993, many of the biggest individuals and bands in Congo's history were brought together for an event that helped to revitalize Congolese music, and also jumpstarted the careers of popular bands like Swede Swede. Throughout the eighties, one artist that dominated the Congolese music scene is King Kester Emeneya.