Congo-Kinshasa: Seven Years After Death, Tabu Ley's Fans Relive Musical Legacy

30 November 2020

Legendary Congolese crooner Tabu Ley Rochereau, one of Africa's greatest musicians, left a rich legacy, which many will be relishing today as they mark his seventh death anniversary.

The event will be marked not just in DR Congo, especially in the capital Kinshasa, but also in Kenya, where there is a loyal horde of fans, and in Europe and America, where he lived in his last days, staging concerts and recording songs. Tabu Ley, earlier known as Pascal Rochereau, left behind a rich discography dating back to the early 1960s.

His earlier career in music was with the legendary Grand Kalle's African Jazz Band, where he performed alongside guitarists Nico Kasanda, Dechaud Mwamba, Cameroonian saxophone maestro Manu Dibango among others.

Veteran singer Sam Mangwana is among those who owe their earlier singing prowess to Tabu Ley. Mangwana who now lives in Luanda, Angola established his musical career in DR Congo by performing alongside both Tabu Ley and Franco Luambo Makiadi.

This year's celebrations in Kenya will be low key due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But, thanks, to the new technology, most fans will celebrate online, sampling and enjoying his music.

African singers

Mombasa -based Rhumba enthusiasts PDG Mike Mwakamba (Panya Buku), John Mkaya, Geoff Ba' Mkubwa Luyuku , Imelda Akinyi and Peter Gakenga Githui, Dr Reuben Lubanga of Nairobi are among those celebrating music by icons Tabu Ley and Pepe Kalle (22nd anniversary yesterday). Tabu Ley, who died in a Belgian hospital exactly seven years ago, was arguably one of the best African singers and composers, who for nearly five decades kept the continent thoroughly entertained.

The crooner will always be remembered for his top songs such as Savon Omo (a commercial for Omo detergent), Mokolo na Nakokufa (The day I will die), Maze, Kaful Mayay, and Muzina (Lord's prayer). But the mention of Tabu Ley is incomplete without reference to his compatriot and great musical rival Franco (Luambo Luanzo Makiadi).

Through several decades from the late 1950s, they were considered the two main rival pillars of Congolese music. While Tabu Ley was a suave and urbane artiste, Franco's beat was more richly anchored in tradition, having a distinct guitar style.

Tabu Ley had close ties with Kenya, having sent two of his daughters, Stella and Collete, to study at the Kenya Utalli College in the 1980s.

It was no wonder that in one of Tabu Ley's most popular compositions, Nakei Nairobi (I have gone to Nairobi, sang by Mbilia Bel) he praised various towns in Kenya.

Speaking to the Nation last week, US-based former Afrisa International manager and musician Mekanisi Modero recalled how he brought Collete to Kenya in 1988. This was the same year Tabu Ley and his band moved to settle in Europe and later US.

Mekanisi said Collete is currently based in Goma, DR Congo, working for a UN agency. Elder sister Stella also works for the UN in the Central Africa Republic.

Online coordination

Stella's mother, Tete, was the woman Tabu Ley sang in praise of in the 1960 classic Adios Tete. This was the period he followed up other classisc like Christina. Mercilla and Sukaina.

Both of them have been in the frontline of family members remembering their late father through online coordination.

Tabu Ley is also remembered for his extended family of over 65 children across Africa, Europe and US. Some of his children like Melodie (daughter with songbird Mbilia Bel), Youssoupha and Pegguy followed his footsteps in music. "As we remember Tabu Ley in the US, we know his Kenyan fans will be in solidarity with us online in playing his music," Mekanisi said. Beginning last Saturday through to yesterday and today, most of Tabu Ley's fans have been exchanging and enjoying his songs on social media.

Notably, yesterday Lingala music fans also marked the 22nd anniversary of the death of another legendary Congolese singer, Pepe Kalle Yampanya. Various radio stations and TV stations have also been dedicating shows to celebrate the musical lives of the two who died on consecutive days.

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