Giant of Congolese Pop Music,
This review is from: Gigantafrique! (Audio CD)
Pepe Kalle (1951-1998), "The Elephant of Zaire," "La Bombe Atomique", "The Giant Of Africa", is one of the greats of Congolese music. Starting at about age 20, he made dozens of albums and had lots of hits. During his lifetime his recordings were hardly available outside of Africa, though they may be better known in France than in the English-speaking world (Congo/Zaire being a French-speaking country, many Congolese musicians spent a good part of their careers in France or Belgium). This CD has some of his best known songs, though there are other albums and collections of his music that are just as good. At this point, someone with an interest in African music has to take what is available. And anyone with an interest in African popular music should have a Pepe Kalle CD and get to know his baritone singing voice.
(Also see his group, Empire Bakuba, though that group evidently has recorded without him after Pepe Kalle's death.)
I had the good luck to see Pepe Kalle in concert in Libreville, Gabon in 1989. After an opening band, around 10:00 PM, Pepe Kalle's band came on and played a song or two without Pepe Kalle. The crowd was at a fever pitch. Then Kalle and Emauro (a midget who was a dancer at his shows) entered together from a door opposite the stage and danced down the aisle to the bandstand. I don't think I've ever been in such excitement in a crowd. Pepe Kalle (who was a huge man) and Emauro together -- it's a sight you don't forget.
The music and showmanship were superb. In Africa, it's a tradition for concertgoers to give money to the singers and dancers on stage, sometimes by sticking banknotes to the dancer's foreheads. While Emauro danced there was a long line of people waiting to give him banknotes. The money was falling out of his pockets. Then he made a special effort to shake hands and greet the handicapped concertgoers in their wheelchairs. It was very touching.