|Congolese musician and founder of African Jazz
|Democratic Republic of the Congo
16 December 1930, Matadi, Bas-Congo province, Democratic Republic of the Congo
11 February 1983, Paris, Île-de-France, France
Joseph Athanase Tshamala Kabasele (16 December 1930 in Matadi, Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) – 11 February 1983 in Paris, France), popularly known as Le Grand Kallé, was a Congolese singer and bandleader, considered the father of modern Congolese music. He is best known for his role as leader of the band, Le Grand Kallé et l’African Jazz, in which capacity he was involved in a number of noted songs, including Indépendance Cha Cha.
Le Grand Kallé was born Joseph Athanase Tchamala Kabasele in Matadi, Bas-Congo in what was then the Belgian Congo, modern Democratic Republic of Congo. He came from a prominent Congolese family, which included Cardinal Joseph Malula Kallé went to secondary school and became a typist at a succession of commercial firms in the capital of the Belgian Congo, Léopoldville.
In the early 1950s at a new recording studio called Opika he received an opportunity to pursue a career in music. His first group was OTC, led by George Doula.
In 1953, disillusioned with the lack of modernisation at OTC, he formed l’African Jazz which thought to be the most important Congolese band. L’African Jazz was one of the most popular early African Rumba bands. At its height, L’African Jazz included big names like guitarist Dr Nico Kasanda, saxophonist Manu Dibango and singers Tabu Ley Rochereau, Sam Mangwana and Pepe Kalle.
In 1960, he established his own label, Subourboum Jazz, which was home to Franco Luambo’s TPOK Jazz. Grand Kallé was responsible for striking deals with European record labels to ensure high quality recordings of his band’s music for the Francophone market.
In the mid-1960s, Kallé suffered his first major setback when two of his protegés (Tabu Ley Rochereau and Dr Nico Kasanda) left to form their own group called Africa Fiesta. Kallé never recovered from this setback, concentrating on nurturing the talent of singer Pépé Kallé.
As a prominent figure in the Belgian Congo, Kallé was chosen as a member of the Congolese delegation at the “Round Table Conference” on Congolese independence in 1960. He composed several songs on a political themes, notably “Indépendance Cha Cha” and “Table Ronde”.
Le Grande Kallé died in a hospital in Paris, France on 11 February 1983. He was buried in Gombe Cemetery in Kinshasa.
Kabasele was one of the great African singers of the twentieth century. He was the first musician to mix Cuban rhythms with a traditional African beat to create what is now known as Soukous. He was also the first African musician to create his own record label.
He has been referred to as the “Father of Congolese Music.”
- The Rough Guide to Congo Gold (2008, World Music Network)