Tabu Ley Rochereau & Orchestra Afrisa International | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Tabu Ley Rochereau & Orchestra Afrisa International

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Zaire's Tabu Ley Rochereau, who due to harassment from the Mobutu Sese Seko regime has lived in France since 1989, is the grandson of a traditional griot, but he's known primarily as a 1960s innovator of the twinkling-electric-guitar-powered Congolese soukous style that absorbed Cuban and African American influences to become the dominant form of urban pop music across the African continent. Even now, with his tinkering impulse intact, Rochereau remains the kind of guy who's willing to throw just about anything into his riotous dance-party variety show, from ageless Kebo rhythms to a weird instrumental cover of the Beatles' "Let It Be." A large portion of the program is given over to the various singer/dancers in the company; each (including Faya Tess, a hit recording artist in her own right) gets a chance to front the formidable Orchestra Afrisa International. The music is funky and catchy enough to make you forget you ever heard of George Clinton, and only intermittently does Rochereau himself--who's something of a living legend throughout sub-Saharan Africa--come back onstage to croon another one of his Greatest Hits (in Lingala, French, Spanish, and occasionally even English) and humbly accept the adulation of the crowd. This whole show is lathered with enough cheesy proto-Vegas flash to feed months of thought on how Western ethnomusicologists are missing the point in their search for "authenticity." Rochereau is the representative not only of an African pop-music era that has almost passed, but also of a larger living, changing tradition that refuses to stand still to be either analyzed or revered. Saturday and Sunday, Equator Club, 4715 N. Broadway; 728-2411.

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