26 years later: Franco Fans to mark day with concerts

The late Congolese music maestro Luambo Luanzo Makiadi. It is 26 years since the death of Makiadi. Popularly known as Franco, the TP OK Jazz band leader and guitarist contributed massively to the growth of popular Lingala music. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Today, a very popular topic of discussion is on the fate of  the ‘Franco orphans’ – members of his TP OK Jazz, a huge ensemble of nearly 50 musicians.

  • Some, like his long-serving deputy Lutumba Simaro Massiya, have kept his legacy alive for nearly three decades.

  • Franco’s story, however, is incomplete without the mention of Pascal Rochereau, later known as Tabu Ley, who, incidentally, also died in a Belgian hospital two years ago.

It is 26 years since Congolese music maestro Luambo Luanzo Makiadi’s death. Popularly known as Franco, the TP OK Jazz band leader and guitarist contributed massively to the growth of popular Lingala music.

As happens at this time of the year, there is excitement in Kinshasa and elsewhere on the continent. His fans will this weekend be involved in various musical shows marking the anniversary.

At his death in a Belgian hospital in 1989, Franco left behind a massive discography. It is estimated that he recorded 300 albums and over 1,000 songs.

Franco was a born leader who was adept at identifying and nurturing talent. Many of the big stars of his period like Ndombe Opetum, Youlou Mabiala, Madilu System, Lutumba Simaro, and Sam Mangwna flourished under his wings.

Today, a very popular topic of discussion is on the fate of  the ‘Franco orphans’ – members of his TP OK Jazz, a huge ensemble of nearly 50 musicians.

Some, like his long-serving deputy Lutumba Simaro Massiya, have kept his legacy alive for nearly three decades.

Franco’s story, however, is incomplete without the mention of Pascal Rochereau, later known as Tabu Ley, who, incidentally, also died in a Belgian hospital two years ago.

Tabu Ley’s second anniversary will be marked next month.

Both men made a huge contribution to music not just in DRC, but also in Belgium, where they recorded some of their music and performed in various cities. There is a sizeable population of Congolese in Belgium and France.Having begun performing in 1955, Franco would establish himself with great compositions ranging from his debut song, "Bolingo na Ngai na Beatrice"to the blockbuster, Mario, a duet with Madilu System.

Some of Franco’s musical orphans — Simaro, Josky Kiambukuta and Prince Youlou Mabiala — have been battling with ill health in recent years.

Simaro will always be remembered for his efforts to try and keep the TP OK’s name alive, amid opposition from Franco’s family. To avoid an ugly fight, Simaro and almost the entire group of musicians formed a new band, Bana OK.

Among the Bana OK was Ndombe Opetum, who died in May 2012.

In Kinshasa today, there will be concerts by some members of the Bana OK.

In Brussels, the Odemba OK Jazz Stars led by Mandjeku Dizzy Lengo will hold several shows. “Though we will not have a special concert, we will stage a few gigs to entertain our fans,” said Mandjeku.

The Odemba band features Malage Lugendo, Nana Akumu, Baniel Mbambo and Lokombe N’kalulu. Singer Josky Kiambukuta, who was previously based in Paris, now also lives in Belgium.

Nation Team at Dream Village, Nairobi, in Memory of Luambo Luanzo Makiadi. At his death in a Belgian hospital in 1989, Franco left behind a massive discography. It is estimated that he recorded 300 albums and over 1,000 songs. PHOTO | GERALD ANDERSON | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Another notable former member of the TP OK Jazz is guitarist Mosese Fan Fan, of the Dje Melasi hit song fame. Fan Fan, who now lives in London, has been doing well lately with the song, Papa Lolo.

 Others who played with Franco and are still active in Europe, include guitarist Michelino, solo guitarist and composer Nedule Papa Noel who composed Tangawusi, Flavien Makabi, Thierry Mantuika and singer Wuta Mayi.

City fans

In Nairobi, Dr Henry Mulindi, a diehard Franco fan, nostalgic about Franco’s shows that he attended in New York in  December, 1983, said he would spend the weekend listening to his songs. Mulindi, who lives in Mago in Vihiga County, attended the last performance by the TP OK Jazz without the then ailing Franco in May 1989 in New York.

“One of his biggest classics then was Liberte, a song about freedom,” Dr Mulindi says. His younger brother, Dr Sobbie Mulindi, also a Franco fan will be among those celebrating Franco’s music this weekend.  Also  Eliakin Kiemo , Sebastian Wambua Manza and Elisha Mwenesi all of Nairobi , and Gedion Alang’o Omwono of Eldoret said they would spend the weekend listening to Franco’s songs.

Most clubs and radio stations across Africa, Europe and other parts of the world will dedicate special sessions to playing his music this weekend.

ABOUT FRANCO

Franco was born on July 6 , 1938, in Bas Congo (Lower Congo) (now DR Congo).  His parents, Joseph Emongo and Mbonga Makiesse, relocated to Kinshasa in the mid-1940s.  Franco had a step brother, Bavon  Marie Marie, who would later gain fame as the leader of the Negro Success band that had such big hits as Maseke ya Meme.

A tragedy hit the family in 1949, when Emongo died, leaving Makiesse to take care of Franco, Bavon and their sister, Marie Louise.

Franco made his debut as a lanky young musician inspired as a guitarist by Paul Ebongo Dewayon, who was an elder brother of Johnny Bokelo Isenge. TP OK  Jazz was formed  in June 1956 by Franco and his friends Essous, Rosignol  and Vicky Longomba. The group featured an array of talent, reaching its peak in the 1980s. At its most successful period, Franco split the band into two, with one based in Kinshasa and another in Paris.

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