Babeti Soukous

Tabu Ley Seigneur Rochereau

Released 05 June 1989

  1. Presentation
  2. Kinshasha
  3. Sorozo
  4. Linga Ngai
  5. Moto Akokufa
  6. Nairobi
  7. Seil Ja
  8. I Need You
  9. Amour Nala
  10. Tu As Dit Que
  11. Sentimenta
  12. Pitié
  13. Mosolo

Liner notes

This recording by Tabu Ley —the latest of over 150 releases— was made one cold night in January, 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 call 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 swift mixing session, adjusting the solo (lead) guitar 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 is one of the two great stars of Zairean (and therefore all African) popular music. His career bridges 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.

While his co-doyen Franco specialises in a rougher more traditionally-based sound, Tabu Ley has always seen himself as an international entertainer, absorbing outside influences, incessantly polishing his stage show, (the first in Central Africa to be choreographed and organised,) composing easily and prolifically-2,000 songs at last count and as many more as he needs on tap —and adjusting his repertoire to take account of changing trends and tastes. Not following them, he would make very clear: if he has incorporated a succession of new dance fads like the Kwassa-Kwassa into Afrisa’s act, it is only because they are all derivations of the rhumba-based soukous anyway —and Tabu Ley, he would point out firmly, is the father of soukous.

The tracks he has selected for this album comprise a broad retrospective of Zairean pop over the last 20 years. The latest guitar-and-snare drum numbers, with their racing skipping rhythms and “kwassa-kwassa,” “madiaba” or “tshuka” dance-step calls, rub shoulders with older soukous and rhumbas featuring the delicious Latin-inflected horn choruses and jazzy saxophone solos now abandoned by many younger groups. Snatches of rock, R&B, French variété and Zairean traditional rhythms season the mix.

Many of the numbers represent playing parts of some sort in the Rochereau career. “Pitié.” a European style “slow”, was written for Tabu Ley’s historic 1970 performance at the Olympia concert-hall, (Paris’ equivalent of the London Palladium,) which made him a national, and continental, hero at home. “Kinshasa”, an example of the influential “soumdjoum” guitar-based style he developed in the early 70’s, was first recorded during Tabu Ley’s three-month stay in London in 1972, when he played at the Cumberland Hotel and the Iroko Club and met the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. “Mosolo” (“money” in the majority Zairean language, Lingala) is a classic ’68 soukous, one of the first songs to be so called, while “Linga Ngai” (“Love Me”) is an equally classic kwassa-kwassa, one of the great hits of ’85. And from Afrisa’s latest output, “Moto Akokufa”, a disco rhumba, and “Sentimenta”, a madiaba, feature Tabu Ley’s new young female vocalists, Faya Tess and Beyou Ciel, with their most recent smash hits. Vintage Congolese pop, brewed in Kinshasa, bottled in Wiltshire. Tabu Ley “Babeti Soukous” —“Play Soukous”!

Philip Sweeney


  • Warm, tight, occasionally rollicking soukous that is about as good as a live set gets. Q Magazine (UK)
  • Tabu's voice is high and caressing, curious and questioning at times, and when the pace gets hotter and he's joined in the rich choruses with fabulous harmonies, punctuated with jazzy brass and rumbling percussion the whole thing takes off and just flies. This is delicious dance music of the most seductive kind - lots of rhumbas featuring Latin-inflected horn choruses and sexy sax solos. Folk Roots (UK)
  • Even when it was zooming along, Afrisa International's soukous had a light touch the drumming virtually danced atop the beat with precise, ever changing cymbal and snare patterns. The New York Times (USA)



Afrisa International are:- Lead Singer Tabu Ley; Tenor Saxophone and announcements Mekanisi Modero; Singer Faya Tess; Singer Beyou Ciel Singer Monoko Dodo; Singer Lukombo Djeffar; Singer Bonane Wawali; Singer Shaba Kahamba Vzalu; Bass Nseka Huit-Kilos; Solo guitar Makondele Dave; Rhythm guitar Madoka Kaien; Rhythm guitar Kabasele Kaber; Trumpet Ntumba Mwamba; Trumpet Akazol Kalula; Alto Saxaphone Fumunani Freddy; Keyboard Longi Makesa; Congas Mavambu Lukombo; Drums Apewayi Matshi; Dancer Onya Amisi; Dancer Lossikiya Maneno; Assistant Musical Director Tabu Ley Seigneur Rochereau; Engineered by David Bottrill; Assistant Engineer Richard Chappel; Mixed by David Bottrill; Mixed at Real World Studios, Box, England; Mastered at The Townhouse.

Recorded live at Real World Studios, England on January 30 1989. Design Mouat @ Assorted images. Photography Francis Drake. Composite Rani Charrington. (Front Cover) Tabu Ley and Acrisa International performing in Bristol. (Back Cover) Satellite picture of Eastern Zaire showing swamp land (pink) and large lakes (black). Science Photo Library/Earth Satellite Corporation.

Further Listening

  • Le Voyageur

    Papa Wemba

    Released 12 April 1992

    The high-pitched, melancholy tone of Wemba's singing style is reminiscent of his rural beginnings and of his mother, who sang traditional mourning songs for the deceased. This album is a synthesis of true Zaïrean feeling, with sounds and structures that are immediately accessible to the Western ear - the mark of a truly mature musician.
  • Tambolero

    Totó la Momposina

    Released 25 June 2015

    You don't normally get the chance to go back in time and reimagine a classic album like La Candela Viva but creating Tambolero has been a challenge and a delight. It’s become a celebration of Totó's career: six decades dedicated to preserving, researching and developing an ancestral tradition, the identity of a people, passed down through the generations. 

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