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We shared a house with Tabu Ley

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David Nsilu and Dippo Lacrise meet Tabu Ley in their early years in Democratic Republic of Congo.

David Nsilu and Dippo Lacrise meet Tabu Ley in their early years in Democratic Republic of Congo.Ley in their early years in Democratic Republic of Congo. 

By Joseph Lagen

Posted  Saturday, December 7  2013 at  02:00
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When the news of the passing of Pascal-Emmanuel Sinamoyi Tabu, more famously known to his fans as Tabu Ley jammed all media last Saturday night, the buzz and condolences, as for any star of his ilk, were enormous. Yet as it is with stardom, only a handful of those were truly heartfelt.

Of those truly bereaved, I managed to meet two of the late singer’s guitarists who strummed alongside his strong and sharp vocals on various great stages worldwide and slept under the same roof with him for years, and through that saw a side to the rumba artist that fans would only imagine.

I was the youngest in his band
Many instrumentalists dream of playing on the big stage, but for then 22-year-old David “Jimmy” Nsilu, he was a living reality performing in Paris with Tabu Ley in 1970 on the grandest and most prestigious of theatres in all Francophone countries to date, The Olympia.

“Only about five months after I joined his (Tabu’s) AfRiza International Band, we got a letter through the French Embassy from the French Collegiate of the Arts to perform at the Olympia. While Tabu Ley and the others jumped in excitement, I was reduced to tears of joy…a small me…” a reminiscent Nsilu recalls.

Born in 1948 in Kinshasa Province, the now 65-year-old Nsilu had his first encounter with music at 16. His first instrument was an acoustic guitar but for lack of a plectrum (guitar strumming device), he took on the bass guitar with a street band “Super Venus”.

“At the time, instrumental bands were a rare sight. There were only two bands worth reckoning. African Jazz with whichTabu Ley was a member and O.K Jazz Band with Mzee Franco. It was in January of 1970 that Tabu started his own Band Afriza.”

Together with Tabu, Papa David wrote and arranged some of the hits that jammed all of the few airwaves there were at the time. “We did (wrote) Kafulu Mayaye in 1972, Mongal in 1970 and Mokolo Nakokufa in 1974, a song that I believe foreboded his death,” the old bassist sorrowfully says.

Mokolo Nakokufa according to him is loosely translated from Lingala to mean “The Day I will die”. “The chorus says ‘those I drank with will mourn, millions will ask how they can live without me…” And as the now born again guitarist looks back to his days with the artist, he can’t hold back the tears from the memories of a man who shaped him musically.

“Tabu called me “Jimmy” for the way I played my guitar. Being a young member of the band with a love for women, he advised me saying ‘They (girls) are the same… focus on your passion.” And with hindsight, Nsilu is certain his success would not be possible without him. He can be spotted in the famous historical tape “The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin” plucking away at the Nile Hotel (now Serena) for the President himself.
“If I had one more chance to speak to him, I would tell him how grateful I am to have played with him and that I would love to perform one last time with him.”

We were neighbours, but he was a father
Saturday night found Dippo Lacrise in bed but unable to sleep. He had failed to have his supper as one usually would and was rolling in bed for up to six hours. “It was at 4 am when I opened my tab and via Facebook, saw the obituary of the man who played father in his life from birth till he was ten.

“I wept as the message from Papa Wemba (another Rumba Artist) disclosed his death, I now realized why I had failed to sleep,” a somber Dippo recalls.

Dippo Lacrise was born in June 1969 to an Acholi father, Wokorach Dippo who met his Belgian mother Denise Rose Fanard while on a trip to Congo. “By the time I was born, my father had already left my mum for Uganda.” Fate had it that Ms. Denise lived in the one half of the duplex in which the late Tabu Ley resided.

“He treated me like his own son. I even played with his son Marcel (Tabu) and we’d sleep in whichever apartment the night found us,” he recalls with a smile. He adds that it is the same artiste that taught him his first steps, occasionally paid his fees at Athenee De La Gombe where he attended his primary and eventually introduced him to the acoustic guitar at nine years.

Dippo recalls Tabu Ley as a tough but loving father figure. “Because I was stubborn then, I would go and break the guitar strings and he would come chasing me calling me “But this thing!”. I would hide at my mother’s for a day or two and thereafter he’d personally come to invite me back…” the 43 year old reminisces.

In 1979, the family had to separate as his mother had to travel to the U.S with his three siblings and he had to come to Uganda in search of his father. “I was 10 then but I had never seen my biological parent,” he recalls. For the next ten years, all Dippo was to have of Tabu Ley were his tracks on the Ugandan shortwaves.

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