Is it possible to talk about Congolese music without mentioning ‘Le Seigneur’ Rochereau (Lord Rochereau)? Is it possible to talk about Africans performing at the great Olympia hall in Paris, without mentioning the first African ever to have performed there? Is it possible to talk about Rumba, without talking about the impact Tabu Ley Rochereau had on Congolese, and therefore African music?
I remember listening to his love ballads ‘Pitié’ on the radio, while growing up. I remember watching the gorgeous M’bilia Bel singing with Tabu Ley Rochereau. Well, Tabu Ley Rochereau was one of those rare artists who have written/composed/performed/produced over 3,000 songs, and have more than 250 albums in his repertoire. He is one of the few who could claim to have influenced entire generations both in music and in politics as he later became vice-governor of Kinshasa. Just listening to the interviews of the likes of Koffi Olomide, Lokua Kanza, M’Bilia Bel, Papa Wemba, tells us a lot about him. When asked about the impact of Tabu Ley Rochereau on Couleurs Tropicales, Lokua Kanza (one of my favorites) replied: “Just like an American child can say that Nat King Cole rocked his childhood, Tabu Ley Rochereau rocked mine (Lokua’s),” and that of most Congolese children. That was the impact of ‘Le Seigneur Rochereau’.
As Kinshasa, Congo, and Africa mourns Tabu Ley Rochereau, we will remember ‘Le Seigneur Rochereau’ by dancing and singing to his great tunes. We will celebrate his life (Rochereau even wrote the song ‘Mokolo Nakokufa’ (the day of my death) a bit like Mozart composed Requiem) and influence on all of our lives (even when he stood against Mobutu with the title ‘Trop c’est Trop’). Tabu Ley was a uniter (when Kenya banned Congolese music, he sang ‘Twende Nairobi’ with M’Bilia Bel), a decider, a crooner, a lover, an activist, a melodist, but above all, Tabu Ley Rochereau was a baobab! Listen to ‘Pitié’ below, and do not forget to read these really good articles on his life on Philly.com, AFP, RFI Musique, and the best on Radio Okapi.