Sickness knocks melody out of singer Tabu Ley

Friday March 23 2012

Tabu Ley. Photo/FILE

Tabu Ley. Photo/FILE 

By AMOS NGAIRA [email protected]

He was a legend in his heyday, ruling the music scene in East, Central and West Africa from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Tabu Ley Rochereau released some of the best Lingala music in the period.

The veteran Congolese crooner, who composed, among others, Savon Omo, a commercial for a detergent that went on to become a hit song, and Nakei Nairobi, in praise of former Kenyan President Moi, is now confined to a wheelchair in Paris, France.

He suffered a stroke in 2008, from which he has been recovering at his Paris home. The 72-year-old rumba legend has been unable to sing since.

At the moment, however, inability to sing could be the least of Tabu Ley’s worries. Ever since he was incapacitated, wrangles have rocked his rather large family.

Reports from Paris indicate that he is now isolated from a part of his family due to strained relations.

He seemed well on his way to recovery in 2009 while being treated as an outpatient at a Parisian hospital.

He was then staying with one of his daughters, Inna, and her mother, Melanie, in Creteil, on the outskirts of Paris.

According to US-based fellow veteran Congolese crooner, Mekanisi Modero, little has been heard of Tabu Ley since a family tussle broke out that saw one of his wives, Irene, taking full charge of his recovery.

“We understand Melanie returned home to Brazzaville following a misunderstanding, leaving Tabu Ley with Irene,” Mekanisi said.

This has also strained the relationships between some of his children from different mothers living in Europe. Tabu Ley had twins with Irene in the 1990s.

His relatives in DR Congo complain that they are no longer in touch with the ailing singer.

The singer led his Afrisa International band during his fierce rivalry with the late Franco, another Congolese crooner.

The two collaborated in the songs like Lisanga ya Banganga and Ngungi in the early 1980s.

Franco, singer and band leader of TPOK jazz, died in a Belgian hospital in 1989.

He had just recorded the song, Attention Sida, in which he warned his compatriots about the dangers of the HIV/Aids scourge.

From the 1960s through to the 1980s, Tabu Ley, churned out a slew of beautiful songs such as Mokolo Nakokufa, Ibrahima, Silikani and Sorozo.

In 1980, he released Maze, which was a big hit in East Africa.

Tabu Ley experienced a fresh lease of life in his musical career when he discovered songbird Mbilia Bel in the 1980s.

The former dancer provided vocals for songs such as Nadina, Beyanga and Nakei Nairobi.

But the two also got romantically involved, and daughter Melodie was born. Melodie is also now a fairly successful solo musician in Europe.

Some of Taby Ley’s contemporaries living in Europe include veteran solo guitarist Dino Vangu and bassist Shaba Kahamba, who live in Holland.

Other former Afrisa International band members include guitarist Huit Kilos, singers Dodo Munoko and Wawali Bonane, all who live in the USA.

Meanwhile, the Afrisa International fraternity suffered a blow recently with the death of former saxophone player Gerra Kongi, who is also best remembered for his stints with Kinshasa-based Vox Africa Band.