Ex-Markscheider Kunst singer Seraphin Makangila on his new band, Simba Vibration.
Published: April 27, 2011 (Issue # 1653)
Sergey Chernov / The St. Petersburg Times
Seraphin Makangila moved to Russia from his native Democratic Republic of the Congo back in 1991 to study at the Mining Institute.
Seraphin Selenge Makangila, the St. Petersburg-based musician who originally hails from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has been invigorating the Russian music scene with African beats for nearly 20 years, ever since he first formed a band with a group of African students in 1991.
He came to underground fame as a singer with Markscheider Kunst, and for the past six years has been fronting his own band, Simba Vibration.
Simba Vibration made its debut — simply as Simba (which means “lion” in Swahili, Makangila’s native language) — at Kochegarka club in Vyborg on February 27, 2005. Makangila describes his music, which blends various traditional and contemporary styles, as “Afro positive music.”
“I am pleased when my songs feature African speech and then rock guitar gets in and plays in such harmony that you can’t separate them at all; you accept it simply as an overall piece,” the 42-year-old musician says.
“That’s why when I’m asked what kind of music I play, I say Simba Vibration plays Afro positive music. It includes reggae, ska, Congo rumba and Soukous music, but all at the same time.
“It’s crucial in Russia, where I often encounter a wrong attitude toward music. People tend to close their ears and eyes because they’ve chosen one specific way, even if there’s an abyss ahead. I can afford to play music depending on my mood — diverse music, anything that puts me in a good mood.”
Makangila came to the city back in 1991, when it was still known as Leningrad, to study at the Mining Institute. His first band was M’Bond Art, formed by students from Congo (Brazzaville), Benin and Guinea in September that year.
“As a carrier of this culture, I felt I was obliged to show it to Russians,” Makangila said.
“The people here had no chance to see real African culture, except for on television, but what they show on television is not always true.”
Makangila’s influence on the current Afro-Cuban style of Markscheider Kunst cannot be overestimated. When the band’s members, who also studied at the Mining Institute and spent a lot of time at St. Petersburg’s pioneering alternative music club TaMtAm, met and became friends with Makangila, they were more into blues and rock than world music.
Makangila recalls an exchange from that early era, when Markscheider Kunst’s current guitarist and singer Sergei Yefremenko asked him how M’Bond Art managed without guitar solos. Makangila replied, “But we dance.”
“You could say I was a provocateur, who pushed them toward this attitude of music-making. Through my persistence, they realized I was right and started to look in that direction,” he says.
“With Markscheider Kunst, I tried to accentuate black music, black rhythm and even African language, so that people could not simply play notes, but feel it at a profound level and speak for themselves.”
“My approach to music deals more with what’s inside me, where I grew up, the sounds that I heard, what I saw then, and I shared it with them. We practiced and tried new things, and songs emerged as a result. It’s the same today.”
Now Makangila, who graduated with a degree in economic management of mining enterprises, says that the early years with Markscheider Kunst were his way of having fun in a friendly crowd of students from the Mining Institute.
“There was nothing serious to me in it, but when I was on stage, I did everything from pure soul. When I watch old videos now, they are funny, but when I look into my eyes and the eyes of those around me, I see that we believed in what we were doing.
“That is most important to me. A person should live without deceiving themselves. When the last day comes, he or she shouldn’t feel regret: ‘I haven’t had time to change myself, I lived in a false way until now, just showing off.’”
Makangila, who parted ways with Markscheider Kunst in 2003, still performs two of the band’s songs — “Bazelyaka” and “No No No” — and employed Markscheider Kunst’s brass section on Simba Vibration’s first and as yet only album “Bolingo” (2009), although he admits he went through a difficult period when he left the band.
In 2004, Makangila experimented with performing dub and jungle with Samosad Band as Seraphin and Samosad Band, but most of the time he was left to his own devices.
The idea of forming his own band was suggested to Makangila by friends at a 2005 New Year party.
A mix of different cultures, Simba Vibration features the St. Petersburg-based Finnish guitarist Antti Juntunen, half-Ethiopian bassist Anton Mewa, half-Roma seven-string guitarist Vasily Zhandarov, percussionist Andrei Panin and drummer Dmitry Gaitnutdinov.
“It’s based on friendship; there were no auditions or castings — what’s important is that they are sincere,” Makangila says.
“I treat them as an older brother and I respect them for choosing to play with me, which is an adventure, because we are not the kind of band that gets sponsorship and is given a lot of money.”
“Bolingo” (Lingala for “love”), which comprises 13 songs in Swahili, Lingala, English, French and Russian, was recorded using money borrowed from a friend.
“Simba Vibration is not just a band for me, but a spiritual being, through which I can communicate with both people and God,” Makangila says.
“That’s why I decided that all the songs should be about love, and also maybe about empathy, but not about causing pain or any negative feelings.”
Makangila was born on August 31, 1968 in Kasongo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, into the family of a Muslim mother and Catholic father who had 12 children. But he sees himself as a true Petersburger, having seen Leningrad renamed back into St. Petersburg in September 1991.
“St. Petersburg has made me a creative person, and from here I learned more about my native Africa than when I was there,” he says.
“From here, I learned about what happens in Asia musically, about what happens in Europe and America.”
Makangila said he is grateful to the St. Petersburg rock scene, specifying TaMtAm’s coordinator Seva Gakkel for accepting him and not seeing him as “something exotic.”
He also speaks fondly of Akvarium’s Boris Grebenshchikov and DDT frontman Yury Shevchuk.
“Shevchuk announced me at a rock festival in 1996, when for the rock public, a black man was something outlandish. Most [rock fans] identified themselves as fascists, but in five years they had changed. I meet them in the streets now, and they are completely different.”
Simba Vibration will perform at 11 p.m. on Sunday, May 1 at Mod, 7 Naberezhnaya Kanala Griboyedova. Metro Nevsky Prospekt. Tel. 712 0734.