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Congolese music is characterized by sweet melodies and Latin rhythms. Kabasele gave birth to that sound. This two-CD set reflects the enormous influence he had at home and throughout Africa. Determined to create a non-colonial style, Kallé, as he became known, formed African Jazz in 1953 and began incorporating Afro-Cuban styles like the rumba and cha-cha, giving them a distinctly Congolese spin. Over the next 15 years, Kallé’s band—which featured big names like guitarist Dr. Nico, saxophonist Manu Dibango and singer Rochereau—recorded hundreds of popular recordings. Many are included here, including Baila, boasting Kallé’s appealing tenor vocals, and Table Ronde, with its cascading guitars. The collection also offers topical songs like Carrefour Addis Ababa, a rumba written for 1966’s Organization of African Unity conference in which Kallé sings the names of all 38 member states, and Independence Cha Cha, which ushered in Patrice Lumumba as the leader, albeit briefly, of a democratic Congo. This is essential listening for any world music fan. As Ken Braun writes in his excellent liner notes, Kallé provided nothing less than the soundtrack for a revolution.
Originally published in Penguin Eggs Summer 2014