M'bilia Bel

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M'bilia Bel
M'bilia Bel.jpg
Background information
Birth nameMarie Claire Mboyo Moseka
Born (1959-08-30) August 30, 1959 (age 61)
Belgian Congo (now DR Congo
GenresCongolese rumba soukous
Years activepresent
LabelsRounder Records, Shanachie Records and more
Associated actsTabu Ley Rochereau

M'bilia Bel (born August 30th 1959) is a rumba and world music singer from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[1] She is known as the "Queen of Congolese and African Rumba".[2] She rose to fame after first being discovered by Sam Manguana and later by Tabu Ley Rochereau who helped her gain confidence, master her powerful soprano voice, and achieve acclaim as one of the best Congolese female singers.


M'bilia Bel became successful in the early 1980s when she joined Tabu Ley Rochereau's band (Afrisa International). They made several albums together. In the mid-'80s, the birth of their first child prompted her to take a break from performing for a year; however, after her last album with Tabu Ley in 1988, she moved to Paris. There she started working with guitarist Rigo Star Bamundele and between 1989 and 1990 toured the United States, Europe, and West Africa. M'bilia Bel won fans throughout Africa and beyond, becoming the continent's first female transcontinental diva. Miriam Makeba of South Africa, known as "Mama Afrika," achieved peak popularity in the 1960s, but even she did not attract as many fans as M'bilia Bel did in the 1980s.

Musical career[edit]

At the age of seventeen, Mbilia Bel began her performing career, singing as a backup singer for Abeti Masikini, the "Queen of Perfumed Soukous," and later with Sam Mangwana. As Tabu Ley's protegee, she leveraged his composing genius and her own voice to produce many hits for l'Orchestre Afrisa International. Mbilia Bel's first song with Afrisa, released in 1981, was "Mpeve Ya Longo" ("Holy Spirit" in Kikongo), a moving song about spousal abuse. In the song, she tells the story of a woman who had been abandoned by her husband and has to raise her children by herself. The song was very popular, especially among women in Zaire.

Her music[edit]

Mbilia Bel's first album, released in 1982, was the extremely popular Eswi yo wapi. The title song, which roughly translates to "Where did it hurt you?", was composed by both Tabu Ley and M'bilia Bel. The song won the award for the best song of 1982 in Zaire, and M'bilia Bel won the award for best newcomer. Other songs on the album such as Tabu Ley's "Lisanga ya Bambanda", "Kelhia", and Dino Vangu's "Quelle Mechancete" were big hits for Afrisa International. Afrisa's popularity began to rival that of Franco's band TP.OK Jazz thanks to the arrival of the woman who was referred to as "The Cleopatra of Congolese music". M'bilia Bel quickly became the main attraction at Afrisa's concerts in the Congo and wherever they toured, often whipping huge crowds into a frenzy when she joined the Rocherettes (dancers) in their routines. By the mid-1980s, Mbilia bel officially married Tabu Ley and gave birth to a daughter named Melody Tabu.

Mbilia Bel's songs continued to dominate the Congolese music scene, among them "Mobali na ngai wana" ("This Husband of Mine"), composed by Tabu Ley and Roger Izeidi, an adaptation of a traditional song in Kikongo. In the song, M'bilia Bel praises her husband as being handsome and successful and stresses that even though he has the opportunity to choose from any of Kinshasa's beautiful women, he chose her. Other songs that dominated the charts during her reign in Afrisa included "Balle a terre", "Bameli soy", "Ba gerants ya Mabala", "Keyna", "Cadence Mudanda", "Bafosami", "Nakei Nairobi", "Ba jeux de Coin", "Paka Wewe", "Boya Ye", "Yamba Ngai", "ShaWuri Yako" "Beyanga", and "La Beaute D'une Femme".

In 1987 Tabu Ley recruited another female artist to accompany M'bilia Bel. Kishila Ngoyi was her real name, but she was known as "Faya Tess". It was with this new lineup that Afrisa embarked on a tour of East Africa that took in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, culminating in the album Nadina, which had Lingala and Swahili versions of the title song. The tour was well received. M'bilia Bel took center stage, overshadowing other Afrisa artists including Ndombe Opetum, who had returned from T.P OK Jazz. Upon their return to Kinshasa, rumours started surfacing about a rift between Tabu ley and M'bilia Bel. Both publicly denied having any problems when they were interviewed by journalists.

Solo career[edit]

M'bilia Bel quit the band late in early 1988 to embark on a solo career. She briefly utilized a Gabonese producer in Libreville before leaving for Paris, where she joined guitarist Rigo Star Bamundele. Her first album with Rigo Star, entitled Phénomène, was a huge success in Kinshasa as well as abroad. Subsequent releases such as Desolé, 8/10 Benedicta, Yalowa, and Exploration met with limited success.

Following the departure of M'bilia Bel, the popularity of Afrisa International as a band decreased substantially. Tabu Ley himself seemed to lose inspiration for composing as is evidenced by the substantial reduction in the number of albums released. With the exception of her debut album, Phénomène, Mbilia Bel's career also lost energy when she left Afrisa. She lived in Paris for almost six years to expand her European horizons, but in 1996, M'bilia Bel decided to return home to try to regain her place in the Congolese music scene. This time she approached Maestro Suzy Kaseya, well-known for his work with another Congolese Diva, Tshala Muana. In 2001, M'bilia Bel and Suzy released a CD of 10 tracks entitled Welcome, a huge success that won her a "Kora Award" for Best Female Vocalist of Central African. Tshala Muana received the same award in the same year.

In 2004, M'bilia Bel and Suzy Kaseya released their second collaboration Belissimo, but the album wasn't a huge success. The local Congolese press accused the singer of neglecting to promote the album by refusing to meet with them that year. M'bilia Bel's title as Queen of Congolese rumba was also threatened by the ascent of young singers such as Mj 30 and Cindy Le Coeur. However, by 2009 she was collaborating with Lutumaba Simaro, one of the guitar masters of Congolese rumba, to interpret his song "Mobali Ya Bato", which quickly topped the charts. In 2010, M'bilia Bel traveled to Canada and Colombia for concerts. When she performed at the Festival Of Baranquina in Cartagena with guitarist Lokassa Ya Mbongo, the mayor gave her the key to city.

After this tour, M'bilia Bel released a 2011 CD called The Queen with 13 songs, including a special track "Immigration Fatale", a song by singer Nyboma about the death of African children who cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life in Europe.

M'bilia Bel's most recent work combines African Rumba, Soukous, Afrobeat, Hip Hop, Rap and other modern elements. She released Pantheon in 2013 and her most recent album Signature 8646 in 2017, which include all of these styles.

Today M'bilia Bel is dedicated to passing her musical knowledge to young adults in Kenya and around Africa by teaching African music and especially Congolese rumba.





1982 Eswi Yo Wapi
1983 Faux Pas
1984 Loyenghe
1984 Ba Gerants Ya Mabal
1985 Keyna/Cadence Mudanda
1986 Boya Ye
1987 Beyanga
1987 Contre Ma Volonte
1988 Phénomène
1991 Bameli Soy
1991 Désolée
1993 Ironie (with Rigo Star)
1997 8/10/Benedicta/8/10
1997 Yalowa
2001 Welcome
2004 Belissimo
2011 Queen
2014 Pantheon
Contributing artist


  1. ^ Phull, Hardeep (2017-01-07). "The best international music you've never heard of". New York Post. Retrieved 2017-03-06.
  2. ^ "Times of Zambia | Mbilia Bel coming". www.times.co.zm. Retrieved 2017-03-06.