Born in 1946 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ray Lema's instrumental musical grounding was on classical piano. He also played church organ every Sunday, and commenced training as a priest.
As a young musician in what was then Zaire, Lema played the Kinshasha nightclub circuit, working as stage and studio keyboardist with a host of artists, including key names on the Congolese music scene: Tabu Ley, Rochereau, and Papa Wemba.
Immersed as he was in the sounds of Kinshasha's soukous and rhumba, Lema's ear was open to other forms and genres. He was equally inspired by Jimi Hendrix, as he was by the indigenous sounds of his country.
In 1974, Lema was commissioned by the Zairean government to assemble a National Ballet for Zaire. He travelled, observing the diverse traditional music, rhythms and dances of his massive country. Eventually he auditioned and recruited for the National Ballet.
Lema's own project - the group Ya Toupas - was a fusion and crossover group, which visited the United States. In 1979 Lema received a Rockefeller Foundation grant to study in the Unitesd States, where he was based in Washington DC for three years. Following the release of his debut album Koteja on the French Celluloid label in 1982, he moved to Europe, living first in Brussels, then Paris - his physical home ever since.
The 1980's witnessed Lema at the forefront of the emerging World Music scene, composing, recording, performing and collaborating with an eclectic array of musicians and music forms. Notable for their northern hemisphere visibility were his vocal collaborations on The Rhythmatist with drummer Stuart Copeland (1985), plus his solo albums such as Medecine (Celluloid, 1985), and Nangadeef (1989) for Island's Mango Label.
Lema sings, and plays guitar and percussion. His keyboard work extends from the ivories of the grand piano, through to a fluidity on contemporary synthesizers such as the Moog. Lema is as much at home producing and behind the mixing desk in the studio, as he is in front of the microphone, and also has extensive film soundtrack experience.
Following a brief visit, Lema spent the early 1990's in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. He recorded musicians from based in Abidjan, and also from the Cape Verde islands. Other collaborations and productions saw him at work - diversely, as usual - with the German pianist Joachim Kuhn, and later with Professor Kirim Stefanov, marrying the voices of Africa and Bulgaria. By 2000, he toured and produced the traditional Moroccan band Tyour Gnaoua.
2004 saw the release of a piano solo album (Mizila), and in 2007, Ray Lema released his 18th album Paradox, showcasing a trio formation comprising piano, kit drums (Francis Lassus) and bass (Etienne Mbappe).
The trio has toured Europe, Africa and performed in Lebanon, Russia, China and Korea during 2007 and 2008.
On May 2009, Ray Lema has been invited by the 85 musicians Jazz Sinfônica Orquestra from São Paulo - Brazil. The Maestro and Artistic Diretor, João Mauricio GALINDO, choose 13 musics composed by Ray Lema and adapted them for 02 concerts with the Jazz Sinfônica at the Auditorium Ibirapuera from São Paulo. It turned out in a unique and original african symphony which will be released DVD/CD in march 2010.
Ray Lema still performs in piano solo, with his african jazz trio and with his brand new big band , the “Saka Saka orchestra” which will be featuring his next record (spring 2010).