He’s 33 and comes from the Congo, but don’t expect Léon Malele to play rumba. With its resolutely Anglo-Saxon sound, his maiden album, Chocolate, could almost be taken for American soul.
Hardly surprising, given the young man’s passion for Marvin Gaye, Barry White and Motown, thatLéon Malele’s first album Chocolate should be all about love. “It’s massively about love. I put my whole soul into this album after a major breakup. It was a way of getting the hurt out,” explained Léon, whose shyness in the interview room counterbalances the power he packs into the microphone. “Even though I didn’t have a record label to begin with, it was vital for me to make this album. I gave it my all, it’s the very best of me. I’ll be able to look at my kids and tell them, ‘Daddy gave 100%’, and if I have to work on a building site one day, I’ll be able to say that I gave it my best go and it didn’t work out.”
Luckily for Léon, the fourteen songs that make up his first album have what it takes to pave the way to a career in music instead of bricklaying. From You Give Me to the bonus track Michelle, and I Will Always Keep My Eyes On You, Léon demonstrates impeccable skill, and his musicians, most of whom worked on Laure Milan’s album, lend him an extra dose of groove that makes the difference.
Modest Léon is quick to pay tribute to those who showed him the way. “Ben l’Oncle Soul allowed me to do what I’m doing now. He brought soul back into vogue and made it accessible, which was a really good thing for an artist like me.”
All that remains is to see how Léon performs on stage, which is likely to happen soon because Chocolate is an album designed to be played live. “My world is a mix of James Brown and Barry White, and more like James when it comes to the concerts!” confirmed the Congolese singer before bursting into laughter. Lovers of French-style soul, get ready to strut your stuff.
Léon Chocolate (Vaziva Music) 2012
Léon on Facebook (in french)
Translation: Anne-Marie Harper