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Album Review

When Mbilia Bel launched her solo career with Phenomene, she had a strong track record in African pop that included stints with Tabu Ley (her best-known association), Sam Mangwana and Abeti Masikini. Bel's admirers were excited by the prospect of Bel taking center stage, and she didn't let them down. With the highly respected arranger/songwriter Rigo Star providing his valuable input, Bel showed a lot of potential as a solo artist. Phenomene is exuberant and often danceable, and yet, Bel isn't as hyper or as intense as many of the soukous and zouk artists who took the African pop world by storm in the 1980s. The singer/dancer brings a certain sweetness as well as a lot of charm to such inviting selections as "Cher Ami" and "Mayaval" and the title song, all of which are sung in French. Most of the songs were written by Star, although Bel herself wrote the title song and the infectious "Sans Frontiere." First released in 1988, Phenomene was reissued on CD by IMA in 1996.


Born: January 10, 1959 in Kinshasa, Congo

Genre: World

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Mbilia Bel's career took off in the mid-'80s when she sang alongside Tabu Ley on a number of recordings and tours, also recording solo albums at the same time. After her first child was born, she took some time off and decided to part company with Ley, making one last album with him in 1987. She moved to Paris and hooked up with guitarist Rigo Star, who composed and arranged much of her material. Most of her lyrics revolve around themes of adult love, which has proven controversial on some occasions....
Full Bio
Phénomene, Mbilia Bel
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