Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Incredible Lightness of Being Tabu Ley Rochereau and Osho on Vegetarianism
Curated by Rene Volpi

Tabu Ley Rochereau is more than just one of the greatest singers and composers in African popular music. He's also the master politician of the Congolese dance-band nation, which has splintered, fractured, revolted, imploded and rebuilt itself more or less continuously over the course of three generations while producing some of the world's most beautiful and sophisticated music along the way.

Born Pascal Emmanuel Sinamoyi Tabou in 1940 in Banningville, a port town in the Banandu region of the Belgian Congo, Tabu Ley was raised in Léopoldville. He acquired the nickname "Rochereau" as a schoolboy. Teenage Tabu Ley was a prodigy, and the Lingala, French and pidgin-Spanish songs he submitted to Joseph "Le Grand Kalle" Kabasele eventually earned him a gig with Kabasele's African Jazz, the city's top band. Rochereau enjoyed his first hit in 1958 with "Kelya," the dulcet rumba that appropriately kicks off The Voice of Lightness, a marvelous Sterns anthology of Tabu Ley sides released between 1961 and 1977 — with volume two carrying us to 1993.

The first in a long series of professional splits occurred in 1963, when most of Kabasele's band — including Rochereau and seminal Congolese guitarist "Dr. Nico" Kasanda — split in a financial huff and started their own band, African Fiesta, the best of whose increasingly exploratory Latin-tinged sounds can be heard on African Fiesta Volume I (1962-63) and Rochereau et l'African Fiesta 1968/69. Inspired first by traditional likembe thumb piano music, Dr. Nico took on a woozy Hawaiian steel guitar sound you can hear in "N'daya Paradis." The guitarist left African Fiesta in '65, but Tabu Ley had no problem finding suitable replacements, and went on to record much great music with suave lead guitarist Guvanu Vangu. Rochereau picked up some James Brown dance moves, began extending, hired Congolese music's first traps drummer (Seskain Molenda), and enhanced the spectacle with his dancing Rocherettes.

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