Born: 1983 Primary Instrument: Guitar
Niwel Tsumbu is the fifth child of a family of six born in 1982 in Democratic Republic of Congo (ex Zaire). Growing up in Kenshasa, he was a shy boy until the day his brother brought a guitar home. Just a week later Niwel's cousin Papy Makaya (who taught Niwel his first piece on the guitar) was amazed with the sixteen year old's ability to learn and play the music of his ancestors - soukous and rumba.
From then on Niwel’s schoolbag was under his bed and the guitar took its place.. His mother’s hopes that her clever son would become an engineer or a lawyer faded as Niwel would lock himself in his room and play all day. He was later introduced to Crispin Ngoy: a very talented musician who passionately taught Niwel jazz. This led to Niwel discovering many other styles of music which influence him to this day.
At seventeen Niwel secretly enrolled himself in music college. He still didn’t own a guitar, and spent endless hours walking from school to home, drop his schoolbag, walk another thirty minutes to borrow a guitar, and then walk some more to Crispin's house for a jam.
NIWEL TSUMBU MOVED TO CORK IN SOUTHWEST IRELAND IN 2004, leaving his troubled motherland of the Congo, looking for a safer and better life. He quickly became involved with the Irish music scene and formed many groups including Sumu, Kimia (Jazzmu), Motema, the Clear Sky Ensemble as well as starting a long-time collaboration with percussionist Eamonn Cagney.
Niwel’s elegant and fluent guitar playing draws from AFRICAN RHYTHMS, RUMBA, JAZZ, CLASSICAL, FLAMENCO and more. Playing electric & acoustic guitars & singing mostly in his native 'Lingala', Niwel plays a range of music that stretches from contemporary versions of Congolese traditional music from the 1930s & 40s to modern jazz. Niwel's love of the Spanish style of guitar playing beautifully exposes Rumba's Latin roots. As well as playing guitar Niwel plays drums, percussion and saxophone.
Still only 28 years old, Niwel has emerged as an engaging and innovative musician and composer and is in constant demand by his contemporaries. He has performed with Buena Vista Social Club, The Wailers, Michael O' Súilleabháin, Kila, Cathy Jordan (Dervish), Steve Cooney and Nigel Kennedy. With Trasna (Mel Mercier, Liam O Maonlai) Niwel performed at the Festival of World Cultures and in China at Expo 2010 alongside Xiaohui Ma. He has shared the stage with Baaba Maal and played concerts in his native Congo and in Paris. His recent interpretation of ‘Electric Counterpoint’ at The Reich Festival in front of Steve Reich was a triumph. Niwel’s year-long residency alongside composer Roger Doyle continues throughout 2011 at the Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray. Niwel continues to perform with Donal Dineen (Parish) at various festivals including Electric Picnic. Gavin Friday has asked Niwel to join him on tour in winter 2011 on his European dates.
Niwel’s first album ‘UH! E ZA NZELA MOLAYI’ was released in 2006. ‘SONG OF THE NATIONS’ followed in March 2009 with the band of the same name boasting international musicians including Eamonn Cagney on percussion (Ireland), Peter Erdei on bass (Hungary), Frailan Moran Mendive on percussion (Cuba) and Katherine Dohner on violin (Germany). Album and live reviews were exceptional.
Niwel’s third album ‘S’ALL VIBRATION’ is released in October 2011 with an Irish national tour. Performing alongside Niwel in the live band will be: Peter Erdei on bass (Hungary), Darragh O' Kelly on keyboards (Ireland), Diego Joaquin Ramirez on drums (USA/Ireland) and Eamonn Cagney on percussion (Ireland).
Over the last 50 years Central Africa has built itself an incredible reputation for giving birth to many of the world’s greatest guitarists, and Congolese Niwel Tsumbu is a fitting ambassador to carry that torch forward into the 21st century.
“There’s something about Tsumbu’s native language, Lingala that has infused the Congolese guitarist and singer with a spellbinding fluency....Tsumbu’s confident juxtaposition of clarinet and guitar, insistent percussion and declamatory vocals trace a path that’s all his own...tribal rhythms and transcendent male harmonies declare Tsumbu’s intention to carve a niche nobody else has even dreamt of” IRISH TIMES 4/5 stars Song of the Nations album review April 2009
“Antidotes to the recession don’t come much more potent than this. Niwel Tsumbu’s indomitable, infectious spirit invaded the intimate confines of Whelan’s before his first song had evaporated. Tsumbu takes his audience on a journey of discovery that traverses the peaks and troughs of life’s unpredictable terrain with startling precision. He gives full rein to a sweep of syncopated rhythms that have many punters grasping and gasping to keep up.” IRISH TIMES, Live review of Song of the Nations album launch, March 2009
“Tsumbu’s guitar playing is nothing short of exceptional and the wall of sound that hits you once you press play is infectious. If you’re one of the many unfortunate ones who can’t afford a holiday this year, pick up Song of the Nations and experience the world from the comfort of your armchair” HOT PRESS, Song of the Nations album review, April 2009
“His superb, percussive guitar style is always at the fore, punctuating each song with energy and fluidity, always skirting a half dozen genres and ultimately imitating none. He invokes Django Reinhardt and George Benson; he plays flamenco, rock and rumba simultaneously. He can run a speedy melodic flurry of notes that ends in a scraping percussion solo of plucks and scratches on the strings.This is a fully thought out, expansive work, full of surprises and pleasures.” ROOTS WORLD, Song of the Nations album, review 2010
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