MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
Here's music critic Robert Christgau.
ROBERT CHRISTGAU: Of soukous' many stars, two ruled: the gruff guitarist-vocalist Luambo Franco and his mellifluous rival, singer-bandleader, Tabu Ley Rochereau. There have been two great Franco collections available for most of this decade. Now, a two-CD compilation evens things up for Rochereau, it's called "The Voice of Lightness."
(SOUNDBITE OF "THE VOICE OF LIGHTNESS")
TABU LEY ROCHEREAU: (singing in foreign language)
CHRISTGAU: Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "CHRISTINE")
CHRISTGAU: Rochereau was always an ambitious exploiter of foreign sounds. Pay attention and you can make out surf guitar, James Brown dynamics, and what are said to be the first Afropop trap drums, or his tribute to the wah-wah pedal on a song onomatopeiacally entitled "Aon Aon."
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LEY ROCHEREAU: (Singing in foreign language)
CHRISTGAU: Although Rochereau had his thoughtful side, he was given to romantic smarm. He was no satirist and rarely criticized Joseph Mobutu's brutal Zaire regime. Yet the early '90s found him in exile in Los Angeles anyway. He didn't return to Congo until after the revolution and post-Mobutu. He has served as a cabinet minister, a parliament member and a vice governor of Kinshasa. Nevertheless, we should think of Rochereau and admire him primarily as a purveyor of pure beauty.
(SOUNDBITE OF SOAP JINGLE)
CHRISTGAU: In this unforgettable tune, is Omo the name of his sweetheart? Is it the Lingala term for some civic virtue? No. Omo was a laundry soap whose manufacturer paid Rochereau for a jingle and got a doozy.
BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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