Koffi chante Tabu Ley
When a high-profile Congolese singer decides to interpret a compatriot master musician, it suddenly becomes clear just how many old-style rumba lovers are still around, as shown by the remarkable commercial success of Koffi chante Tabu Ley.
Something must have happened in Kinshasa to make the wind change direction. For over half a century, Congolese music has been an arena of never-ending spats between artists, from jealousy to slandering, stormy break-ups and even verbal parricide. It was all part of the pattern and everyone added their bit. So when Koffi Olomide made it known in May 2010 that he was going to rework the repertoire of seventy-something Tabu Ley Rochereau for a concert in a hotel in Kinshasa, the announcement created something of a sensation. Relations between the two men were still sending sparks flying only a few years ago, although Koffi has always maintained that his elder influenced his beginnings.
The 18 tracks that make up Koffi chante Tabu Ley give a taster (lasting 80 minutes!) of that highly charged evening in Kinshasa and an opportunity to rediscover Fétiche, Pitié and Connaissance Koye Bana in a new guise. These three tracks were included in the near legendary concert performed by Lord Rochereau at Olympia in 1970, which many consider as one of the high points of francophone African music. Invited to take the microphone, Pepe Ndombe, a member of the group Bana Ok, is heralded as a former “voice” of the African Fiesta band led by Rochereau, as he was then known (Tabu Ley was added during the “Zaïrisation” period instigated under President Mobutu). With his Karibu Ya Bintou, initially released in 1974, Koffi perpetuates the memory of one of the dancers from the group who died the previous year.
Although few would doubt the sincerity of his actions, he doesn’t manage to imbue the new versions with the same seductive perfume as the originals. The project’s main attraction is that it pulls on the sensitive strings of nostalgia. The boss of the Quartier Latin is well aware that he has hit on a winning recipe and has repeated the experience at other venues since. The idea has taken hold. At the end of June, Nathalie Makoma, in the same place and in the same way, paid tribute to another iconic Congolese artist, Papa Wemba.
Koffi Olomidé Koffi chante Tabu Ley (Planet Music/Rue Stendhal) 2011
Translation: Anne-Marie Harper