Soukous' star singer Aurlus Mabélé passed away in a Paris hospital on the 19th March at the age of 66. He was born in Brazzaville, the capital of the 'small' Congo which was a French colony, on the North bank of the wide Congo river, facing 'big' Congo's capital Kinshasa, which was once a Belgian colony, on the South bank.

He is known to regular John Peel listeners as a member of Le Groupe Loketo, which also featured Peel's huge favourite, guitarist Diblo Dibala, as well as another singer Mav Cacharel. Ongoing changes in the band didn't help much. Le Groupe Loketo, however, made Soukous music even more popular than Pepe Kalle and Kanda Bongo Man had done a few years beforehand. Aurlus almost formed a duo with the inimitable Diblo Dibala, who on and off demanded all the attention, but the thrilling and irresistible singer and guitarist parted company around 1992. Dibala formed Matchatcha and Mabélé continued to lead Loketo, now with Dally Kimoko on guitar. His last CD 'Ça Va Ce Savoir?' was released in 2004 on Martinique and wasn't even released in Europe or the USA.

Aurélien Benoît Miatsonama, as he was born, first formed Ndimbola Lokolé in 1974 , but there were no known (foreign) releases until 1986 when the golden age of Loketo – which translates as hips or loins in Lingala - started. From the mid-1980s onwards, the Groupe Loketo released a string of LPs and soon CDs on Mélodie in France and Jimmy's Production in Shanachie in New Jersey, sometimes spending more time in Brussels and Paris than in Kinshasa. They were very popular too in the French Caribbean, West Africa and in particular Kenya. Aurlus himself was quite a charmer with a winning grin and smart dance moves.

The addictive Soukous sound earned Loketo a rather large crowd of devotees, but sales lagged behind. A CD I had ordered sounded genuinely dreadful which put me off CDs just as they were getting introduced. The few LP releases were notoriously bad French pressings. Never having seen them on stage, I had to do with Peel playing the LPs on Forces FM Radio. Always providing an exhilarating invitation to dance and join the band, a Loketo track often was saved for the end of the show. Ah, the wonders of FM radio ... Then it felt as if someone had pulled the plug at a great party when the pips announced the news.

Aurlus Mabélé was a slightly hoarse tenor effortlessly singing in French and Lingala on individual tracks. A true entertainer, Mabélé celebrated life and would not raise obvious issues. When Président Mobutu Sese Seko won elections with a 99% majority, Loketo would dance away the misery. Prominent synthesizers marked the decade after Mobuto's death and album releases became increasingly sporadic.

Aurélien Benoît Miatsonama settled in Paris and raised a family. Although he suffered a stroke six years ago, it didn't stop Aurlus Mabélé planning to tour again. He lived a rich life in music and leaves us with a tremendous heritage.









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