Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Tabu Ley Rochereau: The Voice of Lightness Vol. 2: Congo Classics 1977-1993 [Sterns Africa, 2010]
With Mobutu squeezing every fantasy of affluence out of Congolese life as he strove to consolidate his power, soukous's greatest vocalist felt the pinch as recording studios, pressing plants, and his own label broke down. And though his velvet tenor remained strong and flexible as he turned 40 and then 50, his spirit faltered. As usual, Ken Braun makes the most of a discographical briar patch, most of it originally released as dance-length two-sided 45s. There's nothing approaching a clinker on these two CDs--mourning a teacher or going disco, Tabu Ley remains an ineradicable rumba original, a lover of melody and leader of men. But only at the start of disc two does the music enter the transcendant realm where the first volume lives: with "Kabasele in Memoriam" and "Lisanga Ya Banganga," both long known to American soukous fans from Franco & Rochereau's Omona Wapi, whose other two tracks woudld flow right in as well. Conclusion: although Rochereau has lived a longer and happier life, his rival and coequal probably lived an edgier and deeper one. A