Tabu Ley Rochereau

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Tabu Ley Rochereau
Birth namePascal-Emmanuel Sinamoyi Tabu
Born(1940-11-13)13 November 1940
Bagata, Belgian Congo
(modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Died30 November 2013(2013-11-30) (aged 73)
Brussels, Belgium
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter
Years active1956–2008

Pascal-Emmanuel Sinamoyi Tabu (13 November 1940 – 30 November 2013),[1][2] better known as Tabu Ley Rochereau, was a leading African rumba singer-songwriter from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was the leader of Orchestre Afrisa International, as well as one of Africa's most influential vocalists and prolific songwriters. Along with guitarist Dr Nico Kasanda, Tabu Ley pioneered soukous (African rumba) and internationalised his music by fusing elements of Congolese folk music with Cuban, Caribbean and Latin American rumba. He has been described as "the Congolese personality who, along with Mobutu, marked Africa's 20th century history."[3] He was dubbed "the African Elvis" by the Los Angeles Times.[4] After the fall of the Mobutu regime, Tabu Ley also pursued a political career. His musical career ran parallel to the other great Congolese rhumba bandleader and rival Franco Luambo Makiadi who ran the band TPOK Jazz throughout the 1960s, 1970s and '80s.

During his career, Tabu Ley composed up to 3,000 songs and produced 250 albums.[5][6] In 2023, Rolling Stone ranked him at number 178 on its list of the 200 Greatest Singers of All Time.[7]


Early career[edit]

Pascal-Emmanuel Sinamoyi Tabu was born in Bagata, in the then Belgian Congo.[6][8] His musical career took off in 1956 when he sang with Joseph "Le Grand Kallé" Kabasele, and his band L'African Jazz.[9] After finishing high school he joined the band as a full-time musician. Tabu Ley sang in the pan-African hit Indépendance Cha Cha which was composed by Grand Kallé for Congolese independence from Belgium in 1960, propelling Tabu Ley to instant fame. He remained with African Jazz until 1963 when he and Dr Nico Kasanda formed their own group, African Fiesta.[6] Two years later, Tabu Ley and Dr. Nico split and Tabu Ley formed African Fiesta National, also known as African Fiesta Flash. The group became one of the most successful bands in African history, recording African classics like Afrika Mokili Mobimba, and surpassing record sales of one million copies by 1970. Papa Wemba and Sam Mangwana were among the many influential musicians that were part of the group. He adopted the stage name "Rochereau" after the French General Pierre Denfert-Rochereau, whose name he liked and whom he had studied in school.[1]

Later career and exile[edit]

Rochereau performing at the Paris Olympia in 1970

In 1970, Tabu Ley formed Orchestre Afrisa International, Afrisa being a combination of Africa and Éditions Isa, his record label.[10] Along with Franco Luambo's TPOK Jazz, Afrisa was now one of Africa's greatest bands. They recorded hits such as "Sorozo", "Kaful Mayay", "Aon Aon", and "Mose Konzo". They performed also at the Zaire 74 and therefore are in the documentary film Soul Power.

In the mid 1980s Tabu Ley discovered a young talented singer and dancer, M'bilia Bel, who helped popularise his band further. M'bilia Bel became the first female soukous singer to gain acclaim throughout Africa. Tabu Ley and M'bilia Bel later married and had a daughter named Melody Tabu together. In 1988 Tabu Ley introduced another female vocalist known as Faya Tess, and M'bilia Bel left and continued to be successful on her own. After M'bilia Bel's departure, Afrisa's influence along with that of their rivals TPOK Jazz continued to wane as fans gravitated toward the faster version of soukous.

After the establishment of Mobutu Sese Seko regime in the Congo, he adopted the name "Tabu Ley" as part of Mobutu's "Zairization" of the country, but later went into exile in France in 1988.[6] In 1985, the Government of the DRC banned all foreign music from the National Radio service. After Tabu Ley composed the song "Twende Nairobi" ("Let's go to Nairobi"), sung by M'bilia Bel, in praise of Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi, the ban was promptly lifted. In the early 1990s he briefly settled in Southern California where he attended Moorpark College. He began to tailor his music towards an International audience by including more English lyrics and by increasing more international dance styles such as Samba. He found success with the release of albums such as Muzina, Exil Ley, Africa worldwide, Babeti soukous, and Man from Kinshasa. The Mobutu regime banned his 1990 album "Trop, C'est Trop" as subversive.[3] In 1996, Tabu Ley participated in the album Gombo Salsa by the salsa music project Africando. The song "Paquita" from that album is a remake of a song that he recorded in the late 1960s with African Fiesta.

Return from exile and death[edit]

When Mobutu was deposed in 1997, Tabu Ley returned to Kinshasa and took up a position as a cabinet minister in the government of new President Laurent Kabila. Following Kabila's death, Tabu Ley then joined the appointed transitional parliament created by Joseph Kabila, until it was dissolved following the establishment of the inclusive transitional institutions. In November 2005 Tabu Ley was appointed Vice-Governor of Kinshasa, a position devolved to his party, the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) by the 2002 peace agreements.[8] He also served as provincial minister of culture.[6] In 2008, he was said to have fathered up to 102 children, including the French rapper Youssoupha and singer, composer Pegguy Tabu[11] with different women.[9][12]

Tabu Ley Rochereau died on 30 November 2013, aged 73, at Saint-Luc hospital in Brussels, Belgium where he had been undergoing treatment for a stroke he suffered in 2008.[2][5][8] He was buried on 9 December 2013 in the Cimetière Acropolic de la N'sele in Kinshasa, after receiving an official mourning ceremony at the Palais du Peuple.


Contributing artist


  • Honorary Knight of Senegal
  • Officer of the National Order, the Republic of Chad


  1. ^ a b "Tabu Ley "Rochereau"". Rumba on the River. Cold Run Books. Archived from the original on 2012-07-06.
  2. ^ a b "Décès du roi de la rumba congolaise Tabu Ley Rochereau". La Libre Belgique. 30 November 2013. Retrieved 2013-11-30.
  3. ^ a b Bangre, Habibou. "Tabu Ley Rochereau, king of Congolese rumba dies". AFP.
  4. ^ Vanderknyff, Rick (21 August 1995). "Tabu Ley Rochereau: Stranger Adrift in a Strange Land : Pop music: The 'African Elvis' left Zaire in 1988 for political reasons. Now, as his U.S. market grows, the singer finds that here-Anaheim-is where he must stay". Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ a b Kimani, Sheila. "Legendary Congolese Musician Tabu Ley Rochereau passes on". Retrieved 2013-11-30.
  6. ^ a b c d e "RDC: Tabu Ley Rochereau, monstre sacré de la rumba, est mort". Radio France International (RFI). 30 November 2013.
  7. ^ "The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time". Rolling Stone. 1 January 2023. Retrieved 14 February 2023.
  8. ^ a b c "Tabu Ley Rochereau, king of Congolese rumba dies". Global Post. 30 November 2013.
  9. ^ a b "Le chanteur Tabu Ley est mort". BBC. 30 November 2013.
  10. ^ Stewart, p. 172
  11. ^ "Personnes | Africultures : Tabu Peggy". Africultures (in French). Retrieved 2022-02-01.
  12. ^ "Tabu Ley Rochereau est mort à 73 ans à Bruxelles". GaboNews. 30 November 2013. Archived from the original on 3 December 2013.

Further reading[edit]

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