Compilations: Doing The Right Thing
Double-albums of classic Congolese and South African recordings demonstrate the right and the wrong ways to go about compilations.
Tabu Ley Rochereau
The Voice Of Lightness Vol. 2: Congo Classics 1977-1993
From its inception, everything about Sterns' compilation program has been pitch-perfect. Curated by enthusiasts with deep knowledge of their subjects, who assemble collections which balance greatest hits with more obscure material, Sterns' compilations are exemplary. The care with which they are put together respects artists and listeners.
Congolese singer and bandleader Tabu Ley Rochereau's The Voice Of Lightness Vol. 2: Congo Classics 1977-1993 maintains the standard. Compiled and annotated by Ken Braun, one of the world's top half dozen Congolomelomanes (his term), the 17 tracks combine the familiar and the less well-known, and come with a 56-page booklet packed with photos, track-by-track personnel listings and a scholarly commentary which incorporates previously unpublished interview material with Rochereau and some of his surviving associates, including his longtime arranger and saxophonist, Modero Mekanisi.
From the 1960s through the 1980s, Pascal Tabubetter known as Seigneur Rochereau or Tabu Leywas one of the best selling voices in Zairean, not to say African, music. The heir to Congolese rumba's Joseph Kabasele's progressive originating style with his band, African Jazz, Rochereautoday 70 years old and dividing his time between Kinshasa, Paris and Brusselskept the flame burning with new dances and rhythms, poetic and romantic lyrics, and new fashions and forms of stage presentation.
By the late 1980s, Rochereau had released over 170 albums, and a total of over 2,000 songs, putting him in the same heavyweight bracket as his contemporary rumbaist Franco (who has been anthologized, also by Braun, in Sterns' Francophonic series). More polished than Franco's, Rochereau's style presented his own mellifluous vocals in front of Mekanisi's sophisticated arrangements for a band which featured, over the years, such breathtaking guitarists as Nico Kasanda Mikaleyi and Dino Vangu, and horn sections which could rock out, as powerfully as did Franco's T.P.O.K. Jazz, the extended "soukous" instrumental sections which were a feature of classic Congolese rumba.
The Voice Of Lightness Vol. 2: Congo Classics 1977-1993 can only skim across the surface of Rochereau's prodigious output, but it touches down in all the right places. It includes two tracks, "Kabesele In Memoriam" and "Lisango Ya Banganga," made by Rochereau and Franco together in Paris in 1983the pair had been reunited by a shared desire to honor their mentor, Kabasele, who had just died back in Kinshasaand another, "Loyenghe," featuring vocalist Mbilia Bel, who Rochereau in turn mentored and made into a star. Also included, the most explicit political song Rochereau ever recorded, "Le Glas A Sonne (The Bell Has Tolled)," which compares Zaire's President-for-Life, Mobutu, unfavorably with Congolese independence heroes Kasavubu, Lumumba, Bolikambo and Tshombe. The track was made in exile in Paris, along with "Exil-Ley," also included here, in 1993.
The Voice Of Lightness Vol. 2: Congo Classics 1977-1993 shows how a compilation ought to be put together.
Mahlathini And The Mahotella Queens / Soul Brothers
Jive And Soul: The Very Best Of
Compared with the Rochereau set, Jive And Soul: The Very Best Of is a little disappointing. There's nothing wrong with the musica CD's worth each from South African township stars Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens and the Soul Brotherswhich focuses on both groups' gritty, early recordings from the 1970s and early 1980s. And the liner essay, by John Armstrong, is good so far as it goes, though it's too short to cover anything other than the basics. But crucially, the liner credits, as for Nascente's Miriam Makeba anthology, South Africa's Skylark (2010), lack session and personnel information (though they do include composers and publishers). When dealing with historically important material, it is incumbent on record labels to do the right thing by artists, listeners...and history.
That said, there are two discs of immortal music here, from the close harmonizing, rootical Mahotella Queens and their basso profundo male "groaner," Mahlathini, and the more outward looking Soul Brothers, whose Hammond B3-infused style incorporated elements of American soul, funk and gospel.