Don Keller is a rare channeler of the rhythmic, tropical sounds of soukous and Congolese rumba music. The Seattle-based guitarist and composer first learned soukous music in his 20s without prior experience with African music. For more than a decade, Don has interwoven bright lead guitar lines with hypnotic drums, earthy bass, relentless rhythm guitar, and vocals reminiscent of Franco & le TPOK Jazz, Zaiko Langa Langa, Nyboma & Kamalé Dynamique, and Kanda Bongo Man. His passion is bringing back the joyous sounds of music that reigned in Zaire from the ‘60s through the ‘80s and has worked on projects with Kanda Bongo Man, Nyboma, Malage De Lugendo, and Jeannot Bel.
In the early 2000s after hearing joyful, rhythmic African music on the radio, Don scoured the Internet looking for any examples he could find that he could learn from. This was before YouTube and much of the African music that is available in the U.S. today was not available back then. The turning point was when he heard the song Mario by Franco & le TPOK Jazz after he checked out a Rough Guide compilation CD from the local library. Mario’s hypnotic, ethereal sound was unique, fresh and brought a whole new light to what was sonically possible. Throughout the 2000s Don learned and performed guitar styles in Seattle, Washington from experts of African music such as Leif Totusek and Ibrahima Camara. It was only a matter of time before he carved his own voice and identity to pursue his mission of spreading African music around the world.
Don Keller began captivating fans of African music globally when he performed soukous songs by the Congolese band Zaiko Langa Langa in 2009 on YouTube. One of the first solo soukous videos of its kind on social media, since then, his YouTube channel gained more than 9,000 subscribers and 2 million views.
In 2016, Don began composing new African music for his debut album, collaborating with Congolese musicians in Europe, including one of Kanda Bongo Man’s lead guitarists, Jeannot Bel. Don’s debut album Fiesta, released in 2019, is both a tribute to his African musical influences as well as a call to action to bring back the classic soukous and rumba sounds of the 1960s through the 1980s. Fiesta intertwines Congolese music with reggae and funk-fusion songs such as “Little Citizen” and “Spread Your Wings” to take the audience on a musical journey across a variety of rhythmic genres.