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Tabu Ley Rochereau - The Voice of Lightness Vol. 2: Congo Classics 1977-1993

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Artist: Tabu Ley Rochereau

Album: The Voice of Lightness Vol. 2: Congo Classics 1977-1993

Label: Stern’s Africa

Review date: Jan. 19, 2011

For the last four years, Sterns Music has been releasing compilations of the great Congolese musicians of the previous century — Franco, Mbilia Bel, Nico and Tabu Ley. Until now, Franco was the only one to get multiple two-disc sets, Francophonic Vols. 1 and 2, with the others getting one set apiece. Now, however, Sterns has added a second volume to Tabu Ley’s compilation, The Voice of Lightness, covering the years 1977 until he stopped actively performing and entered politics in 1993.

The richness of the earlier collection is fully matched, with more than two and a half hours of uncut recordings, 17 tracks (nearly half of them more than 10 minutes long), and solid liner notes by Ken Brown. The selection is well chosen, too, with appearances by Franco (“Kabasele in Memoriam” and “Lisanga ya Banganga”), Mbilia Bel (“Loyenghe”), Nyboma (“Sacramento”), wizard guitarist Nico (“Ohambe”) and a kaleidoscope of musicians.

The two CDs organize this selection of Tabu Ley’s output into the period before he moved overseas (recorded in Kinshasa, Cotonou and Brazzaville) and after (primarily recorded in Paris). Some of these tracks are found elsewhere, and some are part of sessions that appear on other Sterns recordings (for example, the two cuts with Franco are from a session in Europe that is also represented on Francophonic Vol. 2), but others will be new to all but the most dedicated Congolese music fan. In particular, the lovely ballad “Sarah,” in which Tabu Ley sweetly tears apart his wife for divorcing him while he was overseas (with Mbilia Bel…) is an unusual addition, as is “La Glas a sonné,” one of the few overtly political songs Ley recorded.

This last song, responding to the decline of 1993 Zaïre under the increasingly erratic behavior of Mobutu Sese Seko, decries the fact that Africa, in ejecting the white colonial regimes, ended up providing the stage for squabbling corrupt dictators. As Braun observes in his liner notes, the chorus is a litany of great Congolese political leaders, religious leaders, and cultural figures; Mobutu is conspicuously absent from the list.

It is difficult to find fault with this collection. It does seem unfair that Mbilia Bel, so important both personally and professionally to Tabu Ley in this period, shares just one song with Tabu Ley himself. Nevertheless, it’s a minor issue with what is another stellar collection from Sterns Music.

By Richard Miller

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