In much of the world, the name Tabu Ley evokes reverence.
In these parts, it’s likely to evoke “Tabu who?”
That should change Saturday night when Tabu Ley Rochereau brings his 13-piece L’Orchestre Afrisa International to the lobby of the Davenport Hotel.
Rochereau is an international superstar, creator of 200 albums and more than 2,000 songs. In Europe and Africa, his name is synonymous with soukous, the infectious dance music he helped invent nearly 30 years ago.
Soukous blends Central African rhythms with Latin influences and even American pop. Normally based on traditional Zairean rumbas, soukous songs have two sections: The first is a lilting opening with a delicate melody sung by Rochereau and a chorus; it gives way to the hyperspeed rush of the closing sebene, highlighted by the intricate twin guitar interplay of Huit-Kilos Nseka and Makondele Loko-Bingi.
“The first part is for lyrics and poetics - words,” where audiences “listen to what the musicians are talking about,” Rocherau told a reporter. “After that, sebene comes and people move.”
Sometimes, soukous sounds a little like reggae; more often it has the lilt of a rumba. It’s extremely colorful, with dancers and bright costumes, and imminently danceable. In Africa, L’Orchestre Afrisa International is a 25-musician affair; in the States, it’s pared to a mere 13.
Rocheareau’s subject matter ranges from the romantic to the political. Rochereau is a political exile - he left Zaire in 1989 because of the worsening situation under the Mobuto Sese Seko regime. His CD “Exil Ley” was written in response to the dictatorship and, on “Requisitoire,” the final song on “Muzina,” is a plea to the political leaders of Zaire to resolve their differences peacefully.
Rochereau was born in the Bandundu region of Zaire, formerly known as the Congo. He began singing at 14 and earned his stripes performing in the legendary Congolese orchestras of Grand Kalley & African Jazz, African Fiesta and African Fiesta National. He was an innovator, introducing the Western drum kit to the sound of the Congolese orchestra and, in the late ‘60s, inventing soukous.
Rochereau and soukous caught on in Europe in 1970, when L’Orchestre Afrisa International staged an unprecedented 18-day, 26-performance run at the Paris Olympia. He conquered London on that tour, too, with a successful engagement at the Palladium.
But here in the United States, where soukous tends to get lost under the huge World Music umbrella, Rochereau is still something of an unknown quantity: His first U.S. release, “Muzina,” came out on Rounder Records earlier this year, and his second is on its way.
Spokane bagged this show because L’Orchestre Afrisa International is headed for Seattle where it begins a six-night engagement Sunday at Jazz Alley.
As this story was being written, ticket sales were lagging - a result, no doubt, of the fact that, aside from a program on KPBX-FM called “Afro-pop Worldwide,” soukous hasn’t had much exposure here. With luck, Saturday’s show will help remedy that.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TABU LEY ROCHEREAU AND L’ORCHESTRE AFRISA INTERNATIONAL Location and time: Davenport Hotel, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Tickets: $11 ($13 at the door)