Admittedly, I am not particularly knowledgeable on matters of Africa International. Even if I were to write everything I know about the Tabu Ley-led band – Le Afrisa International, leave alone its female vocalists, it would only span at most a paragraph. Therefore, I would like to give a special mention to a good friend, an Afrisa Mujahideen in his own right, George Omondi, whose input to this work, was not only immense but indeed valuable.
Tabu Ley, dubbed the African Elvis Presley, began the incorporation of women into the vocal front in the formative years of African Fiesta, a band he had formed with Dr Nico Kasanda, due to immense sweetness a soprano voice created and the relief is delivered in a line-up dominated by males.
This experiment was initiated when he brought on board a young woman singer, Photas Myosotis (Photas forget-me-not) in the band in 1965.
At the end of 1965 when African Fiesta split into Tabu Ley’s African Fiesta National and Dr. Nico’s Fiesta Sukisa, he (Tabu) hired Henriette “Miss Bora” Borauzima to play a similar role in his outfit.
Miss Bora, according to Gary Stewart’s Rumba on the River, had a four-month in Franco’s OKJ back in 1963, where she joined with Vicky Longomba’s help. Before finally joining Ley’s outfit, she had had sojourns in Rossignol’s Rock’a Mambo and Orchestra City Five. It is at the latter where she caught Rocheareau’s eye.
The next hiring was in 1971 when after a performance at the Paris Olympia, Ley recruited Muana Shaba who went on to record the songs Dialogue and Mofuku na Libenga in 1972.
Two years later in 1974, Yondo Denise Kusala, popularly known as Yondo Sister and her late sister Chantal Yondo joined Afrisa and sang the compositions Leride and Naya.Yondo Sister who started as a dancer and still regarded as the Queen of Soukous, credits Tabu Ley for inspiring her to try out her vocals.
She later joined Soukous Stars and has had a successful solo career ever since. Though not certain, Chantal had a brief stint in OKJ and in a band performance televised in 1986, she is seen backing up Jolie Detta in her Magnum Opus, Massu.
Also read: THE AFRICAN RUMBA GUITAR
Thereafter, Ley unveiled a bombshell in the person of Marie Claire Mboyo popularly known as M’bilia Bel and her stint in Afrisa formed the success of the female vocal experiment in Afrisa and the entire rumba music fraternity. And it is said to have made Franco, Ley’s musical nemesis, hire Jolie Detta in 1986.
M’bilia participated in umpteen records in Afrisa and all turned out to be hits. In Kenya, the hits Nakei Nairobi, Paka Wewe, Nelson Mandela, Wendenda, and Nadina are synonymous with her fans.In 1986, before Mbilia’s departure, Ley brought on board Itela Boketsu a.k.a Baniel Bambo to serve as Mbilia’s understudy. She left a year later to join OKJ.
M’bilia Bel finally left Afrisa in 1987 and Ley enlisted Kishila Ngoyi a.k.a Faya Tess in 1988.
Faya Tess in collaboration with Canta Nyboma and Wuta Mayi, has done a lot of renditions of some of the rumba classics from Tabu Ley, and Franco. This has enlisted different reactions among rumba diehards with some praising her for breathing life to some of these classics, while others viewing her works as mutilating the sweet olden antiquities.
In the years that followed Efomi Mondjoy, Kizita Yal was featured in the band’s recordings of the ’90s.
In Ley’s last studio album Tempelo, he featured his daughter Melodie Tabu who is among the few of Tabu Ley’s multitude of children keen on perpetuating her father’s musical legacy.
Ley’s contribution to rumba was huge and last time I read from a Facebook user that “Tabu Ley is underrated” I asked the user: “Who underrates him?” Of course, because because of limited knowledge on such, there was no reply.
For Ley, now we have Mbilia – one of the finest rumba musicians – and now we know why Franco Luambo too, had to bring the sweet vocals of Nana Akumu, Baniel and Jolie Deta.