Veteran music giant was the ‘voice of lightness’
(GIN) — Composer, singer and dancer Pascal Tabu Ley Rochereau passed away this week in a Belgian hospital where he had been undergoing treatment for a stroke.
Pascal-Emmanuel Sinamoyi Tabu was born in what was then the Belgian Congo in 1937 (or 1940, depending on the source). He led the Orchestre Afrisa International and was considered one of the greatest Congolese musicians of all time, pioneering the musical genre known as Congolese rumba.
An innovative bandleader whose mellifluous sound melded African, Cuban and Caribbean rhythms, he sang in an airy tenor dubbed “the Voice of Lightness.”
“Seigneur (Lord) Tabu Ley Rochereau,” as his fans called him, sang in churches and then in school choirs. He would later join the Ministry of Education as public servant and then work as a financial officer at the Athénée de la Gombe.
After the fall of Mobutu’s regime, he returned to Congo and entered politics, while still pursuing his artistic activities. He was appointed a member of the Transitional Assembly and served in 2005 as vice-governor of the city of Kinshasa.
In 2012, while celebrating 72 years of age, Tabu Ley was decorated in Kinshasa by the chancellor of the National Orders with two gold medals, one for civic merit and the other arts, sciences and humanities, in recognition of his many artistic works that have enhanced the Congolese culture worldwide.
During his 46-year career, Tabu Ley composed over three thousand songs and sold thousands of records. Four of his sons, Pegguy Tabu, Abel Tabu, Philemon and popular rapper Youssoupha have launched music careers as singers and composers.
In 1985, the government of Kenya banned all foreign music from the national radio service. After Tabu Ley composed the song “Twende Nairobi” (“Let’s go to Nairobi”), sung by M’bilia Bel, in praise of Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi, the ban was promptly lifted. In the early 1990s he briefly settled in Southern California. He began to tailor his music towards an International audience by including more English lyrics and by increasing more international dance styles such as Samba.