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M'bilia Bel (born 1959) is a rumba and world music singer from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is known as the "Queen of Congolese and African Rumba". She rose to fame after first being discovered by Sam Manguana and later by Tabu Ley Rochereau who really helped her to gain confidence, matter full control of her powerful soprano-voice and to reach to the summit of being 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). Both of them have made several tracks together included her own solo albums. In the mid 80's due the birth of her child with her mentor and husband Tabu-ley prompted her to take a break from performing for a year, however and after a 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 she went on touring the United States, Europe, and West Africa.
With a combination of beauty, an angelic soprano voice, really good dancing/dancers, and tremendous agility on stage, M'bilia Bel stole the hearts of music fans all over the continent and every where outside of the African continent. She was Africa's first female transcontinental diva. And also became the second notorious female singer from Africa who could claim popularity all over the entire continent, of course, In fact, one could argue that there has not been any female singer from Africa who has captured the imagination of music fans across the continent as much as M'bilia Bel did in the eighties. South African Miriam Makeba known as "Mama Afrika" popularity peaked in the 1960s but could not attract as many fans as M'bilia Bel did later.
At the age of seventeen Mbilia Bel began her performing career singing as a backup-singer for the Queen of (Perfumed-Soukous) as she used to call her own music's style the one and only Abeti Masikini and later with Sam Mangwana. She really burst into the music scene when she became Tabu Ley's protegee. And the combination of Tabu Ley's composing genius and Mbilia Bel's heavenly voice resulted in high sales of Afrisa records. Their couple as performers was phenomenal with plethora of hits. Mbilia Bel's first song with Afrisa, released in 1981, was "Mpeve Ya Longo", which means Holy Spirit in Kikongo. It was a moving song about spousal abuse. In the song, she sang the part of a woman who had been abandoned by her husband and has to raise the children by herself. The song was very popular, especially among women in Zaire.
Mbilia Bel's ever first album, released in 1982 was the extremely popular with the title "Eswi yo wapi", one the song in the same album which roughly translates to "Where did it hurt you?", 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. And the rest of the songs in th same album such as Tabu Ley's "Lisanga ya Bambanda", "Kelhia" and Dino Vangu's "Quelle Mechancete" were all huge hits to point that Afrisa International popularity started soaring. Even songs that did not feature M'bilia Bel were receiving more exposure. The stranglehold that Franco's band TP.OK Jazz had held in the music scene was now being loosened, as Afrisa could now match TP.OK Jazz in popularity and notoriety, thanks to the arrival of this new sensation who was now being referred to as " The Cleopatra of Congolese music".
M'bilia Bel quickly became the main attraction when she appeared in each of the Afrisa's concerts in the Congo and everywhere that they were touring. Often she drew huge crowds into a frenzy. She was a talented stage performer and often tantalized crowds with her exceptional dancing ability when she would join the Rocherettes (dancers) in their dance routine. By the mid-eighties, Mbilia bel officially married Tabu Ley and was a refined and mature performer. Her songs continued to dominate the scene. Among them was "Mobali na ngai wana", which roughly translates to "This Husband of Mine". The song was composed by Tabu Ley and Roger Izeidi and is an adaptation of a traditional song in Kikongo. In the song, M'bilia Bel praises her husband as being handsome and successful and stresses the fact that even though he has the opportunity to choose from any of Kinshasa's beautiful women, he chose her. Other songs that blazed 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", "La Beaute D'une Femme" and many more...
In 1987 Tabu Ley recruited another female artist to accompany M'bilia Bel. (Kishila Ngoyi) was her real name, but she was known by her artistic name, 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 by the crowds. M'bilia Bel took centre stage, overshadowing other Afrisa artistes 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. Apparently their couple(Tabu-Ley -Mbilia Bel), got into misunderstanding of some private or personal conflict and often Both publicly denied having any problems when they were both interviewed by different journalists in the country .
M'bilia Bel quit the band late in early 1988 to embark on a solo career. She briefly joined with a Gabonese producer in Libreville before leaving for Paris where she joined with guitarist Rigo Starr Bamundele. Her first album with Rigo Star was entitled "Phénomène" and was a huge success in Kinshasa as well as abroad. Subsequent releases such as Desolé, 8/10 Benedicta, Yalowa, and Exploration have met with limited success.
Following the departure of M'bilia Bel, the popularity of Afrisa International as a band plummeted 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 took on a downward spiral when she left Afrisa. And also her long absence in her country when she opted to live in Paris for almost 6 years to conquer European horizons. In 1996, M'bilia Bel finally decided to pack and return home to try to regain her place into Congolese Rumba again. This time she approached Maestro Suzy Kaseya a well-known name in Congolese Music who once worked with another Congolese Diva, Tshala Muana. Both M'bilia Bel and Suzy released in 2001 a CD of 10 tracks "Welcome" which was a huge success and awarded her a "Kora Award" of Best Female Vocalist of (Central) area of the African Continent. On the other hand, Tshala Muana received the same award for the same year.
In 2004 M'bilia Bel and Suzy Kaseya released their second collaborative CD "Belissimo", but the album wasn't a huge success, even though She used different voice techniques such as Melisma and Belting to project another vocal's dimension of her, the Whole local Congolese press accused the singer of neglecting the promotion of the entire album by resisting to approach them that year. M'bilia bel thereafter suffered a brief downfall as the Queen of Congolese Rumba and also with the venue of young singers such as Mj 30 and Cindy Le Coeur the terrain was getting tighter. Mbilia Bel as time went by she gained more knowledge of the show-biz, things changed for the better with her savoir-faire as old school. In 2009, she went back to an elder collaborative which is Lutumaba Simaro "One of The Congolese Rumba Master Guitarists" to interpret his song "Mobali Ya Bato" that quickly topped the chart and here again, M'bilia Bel was fully back on the road with her career. She took time the next year (2010) and traveled to Canada and Colombia for concerts where she was welcomed, especially in Colombia, in the City, Cartagena, when the mayor recognized her by giving her the "Key" of that city where she performed and was accompanied with Guitarist Lokassa Ya Mbongo in (Festival Of Baranquina).
After this tour, M'bilia Bel released a CD of 13 songs "The Queen" in 2011, included a special track "Immigration fatale" a song made by singer "Nyboma" that talks about the negative and fatal Immigration when Africans Children (Crossing Mediterranean Sea) in search for a better life in Europe. Her most recent work involved taking her usual style traditional African Rumba, Soukous, Afrobeat, Hip Hop, Rap and other modern elements. She released in 2013 "Pantheon", and her last album in 2017 is titled "signature 8646" that included all the above styles. Today M'bilia Bel is dedicated to passing the knowledge that she gained from Abeti Masikin-to-Tabu Ley Rochereau help Young adults in Kenya and around Africa in teaching African Music (Congolese rumba).
- Phull, Hardeep (2017-01-07). "The best international music you've never heard of". New York Post. Retrieved 2017-03-06.
- "Times of Zambia | Mbilia Bel coming". www.times.co.zm. Retrieved 2017-03-06.
- 1982: Eswi Yo Wapi
- 1983: Faux Pas
- 1984: Loyenghe
- 1984: Ba Gerants Ya Mabala
- 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