Soukous is called Congo music in West Africa, and Lingala in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania - referring to the Lingala language of the region from where it originated. In the 1980s and early 1990s, a fast-paced style of soukous known as kwassa kwassa – named after a popular dance, was popular. A style called ndombolo, also named after a dance, is currently popular.
By the 1950s, big bands had become the preferred format, using acoustic bass guitar, multiple electric guitars, conga drums, maracas, scraper, flute or clarinet, saxophones, and trumpet. Grand Kalle et l'African Jazz" (also known as African Jazz) led by Joseph Kabasele Tshamala (Grand Kalle), and OK Jazz, later renamed TPOK Jazz (Tout Puissant Orchestre Kinshasa, meaning "all-powerful Kinshasa band") led by Francois Luambo Makiadi became the leading bands.
In the 1950s and 1960s, some artists who performed in the bands of Franco Luambo and Grand Kalle formed their own groups. Tabu Ley Rochereau and Dr Nico Kasanda formed African Fiesta and transformed their music further by fusing Congolese folk music with soul music, as well as Caribbean and Latin beats and instrumentation. They were joined by Papa Wemba and Sam Mangwana, and classics like Afrika Mokili Mobimba made them one of Africa's greatest bands, rivalled only by TP OK Jazz. Tabu Ley Rochereau and Dr Nico Kasanda are considered the pioneers of modern soukous.
While the influence of rumba became stronger in some bands, including Lipua-Lipua, Veve, TP OK Jazz and Bella Bella, younger Congolese musicians looked for ways to reduce the rumba influence and play a faster paced soukous, inspired by rock n roll. A group of students calling themselves Zaiko Langa Langa came together in 1969. The energy of their music, and the high-fashion sense of the singers and dancers, inspired by founding vocalist Papa Wemba, made them very popular. Pepe Kalle, a protégé of Grand Kalle, created the band Empire Bakuba together with Papy Tex, and they soon became Kinshasa's most popular youth band, equaled only by Zaiko Langa Langa.
Other greats of this period include Koffi Olomide, Tshala Muana and Wenge Musica. Soukous now spread across Africa and became an influence on virtually all the styles of modern African popular music, including highlife, palm-wine music, taarab and makossa.
In the late 1970s, Virgin records got involved in a couple of projects in Nairobi that produced two acclaimed LPs from the Tanzanian-Congolese group, Orchestra Makassy and the Kenya-based band, Super Mazembe. One of the tracks from this album was the Swahili song Shauri Yako (meaning "it's your problem), which became a hit in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. About this same time, the Nairobi-based Congolese vocalist Samba Mapangala and his band Orchestra Virunga, released the LP Malako, which became one of the pioneering releases of the newly emerging world music scene in Europe. The musical style of the East Africa-based Congolese bands gradually incorporated new elements, including Kenyan benga music, and spawned what is sometimes called the "Swahili sound" or "Congolese sound".
Kanda Bongo Man, another Paris-based artist, pioneered fast, short tracks suitable for play on dance floors everywhere and popularly known as Kwassa kwassa after the dance moves popularized by his and other artists' music videos. This music appealed to Africans and to new audiences as well. Artists like Diblo Dibala, Mbilia Bel, Yondo Sister, Loketo, Rigo Star, Madilu System, Soukous Stars and veterans like Pepe Kalle and Koffi Olomide followed suit. Soon Paris became home to talented studio musicians who recorded for the African and Caribbean markets and filled out bands for occasional tours.
The hip-swinging, booty-shaking dance to the fast pace of soukous ndombolo has come under criticism amid charges that it is obscene. There have been attempts to ban it in Mali, Cameroon and Kenya. After an attempt to ban it from state radio and television in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2000, it became even more popular. In February, 2005 ndombolo music videos in the DR Congo were censored for indecency, and video clips by Koffi Olomide, JB M'Piana and Werrason were banned from the airwaves.