Vol. 2 of the superb collection by Stern’s of the music of Tabu Ley Rochereau, the giant of Congolese music, was published a couple of months back and has been on my turntable (OK, in my CD player) pretty much ever since.
Covering the period from 1977 where Vol. 1 left off, to 1993 and Tabu Ley’s virtual retirement from record making, Vol. 2 covers a complex musical period kicking off with Tabu Ley at the peak of his powers to eventual slow decline amidst a surfeit of the synths which did so much to wreck African guitar music (at least, for me). Ever sensitive to the issues here, the selection of tracks here skirts lightly around the latter (while not avoiding it completely), leaving us with – well, you know what to expect: insistent, driving rhythms; melodic, hypnotic guitar lines that ask, nay demand, you put on your dancing feet; and soaring, honeyed vocals that are an absolute delight to listen to (click on the link above – listen to Lisanga ya Banganga (one of his two collaborations on this collection with Franco, the other Congolese giant), and I utterly defy you to sit still!). You get Tabu Ley himself, you get Franco, you get Dr. Nico on his temporary reconciliation with Taby Ley, you get a succession of other fantastic guitarists, and you get quite insane drummers that leave you gasping for breath and you get smooth production values (and a nicely remastered set which doesn’t quite relieve itself of the clicks and pops of old vinyl and tapes!). And a bit of politics too, with Tabu Ley in exile and then, in Le Glas A Sonné (The Bell Has Tolled) an overt call for revolution against Mobutu which has strong echoes in which is happening in 2011 across north Africa and the middle East.
The package is, once again, beautifully put together, dovetailing neatly with the companion volumes in the Congo Classics series by Franco and by Mbilia Bel, encompassing not just two CDs crammed full of beautiful music but also a 56-page dual language booklet with an insighful essay by Ken Braun, former manager of Stern’s US shop and a Tabu Ley enthusiast, as well as rare photos and as comprehensive a listing of the personnel on each track as you’re likely to find (evidently, no mean feat given shifting personnel, individual clashes and egos and faulty memories).
Friday night music at its unstoppable, head-clearing, working week-closing best. Have a little drink, have a little dance, put a big smile on your face.