News of the death of the great Tabu Ley Seigneur Rochereau on November 30th has reached us at Real World. This great man, a cornerstone of African music, came to Real World Studios in 1989 to whip up an unforgettable party which we recorded to create the album Babeti Soukous.
This recording by Tabu Ley – one of over 150 releases – was made one cold night in January 1989, with an audience of friends and invitees dancing and clapping in the minstrel gallery of Real World’s main studio in a converted Wiltshire water-mill.
The band had set up in the big wood-lined studio during the afternoon and played their 20-odd numbers straight through in the evening, achieving precisely Real World’s intended blend of an authentic performed sound with the best of recording technology. Seigneur Rochereau, as his junior musicians called him respectfully (“Lord “ Rochereau – the latter is a nickname from Tabu Ley’s Kinshasa schooldays and refers to a Napoleonic general) came over from Paris a few weeks later for a sweift mixing session, adjusting the solo (lead) guiar and keyboards parts painstakingly and leaving the rest to engineer Dave Bottrill’s discretion, before heading for Chippenham railway station thoroughly satisfied with yet another smoothly professional piece of music-making.
Tabu Ley was one of the two great starts of Zairean (and therefore all African) popular music. His career bridged decades – from the 50’s, when as a high-flying teenage singer/composer he made his debut in the band of the Great Kalle, father of Congolese pop, to the 70’s and 80’s, when many of the new wave soukous artistes were graduates of his Orchestra Afrisa International.
The tracks he selected for this album comprise a broad retrospective of Zairean pop of the previous 20 years. The latest guitar-and-snare rum numbers, with their racing skipping rhythms and “kwassa-kwassa,” “Madiaba” or “tshuka” dance-step calls, rub shoulders with older soukous an rhumbas featuring the delicious Latin-inflected hornchoruses and jazzy saxophone solos that had been abandoned by many younger group. Snatches of rock, R & B, French variété and Zairean traditional rhythms season the mix.“ (Phillip Sweeny from the original sleeve notes to ‘Babeti Soukous’).