Fans of legendary Congolese musician Franco Luambo Luanzo Makiadi have this week been immersed in a frenzy of celebrations, enjoying his hits as they mark the 33rd anniversary of his death.
This year, the event has been devoid of any sorrow as fans relive the joyous memories of the guitar wizard, top vocalist, composer and band leader, who from 1956 to 1989, was feted as one of Africa’s greatest musicians with this group, TPOK Jazz Band.
Most of Franco’s fans in Africa, Europe and America began the celebrations a week ago, which will reach the peak next weekend. Many FM radio and TV stations specialising in rhumba have been dedicating musical shows to the man, whose evergreen compositions have kept the legend alive.
Some fans turned to social media, sharing translations of some of his popular songs from Lingala into English and French.
The music maestro, who would have turned 84 this year, died at a prime age of 51 in a Belgian hospital after a long illness.
As most of his ardent fans recall, Franco’s death came when he was on a musical tour of Europe. His health had started failing and rumours prompted him to record a second dispelling the unfounded talk.
This did not stop the speculation over the cause of his illness, and it was not surprising that he penned the song “Attention na Sida”, to warn his hordes of fans about the new killer disease.
For rhumba fans of all ages, many of whom never got to watch him perform live, as he enjoyed strumming his solo guitar and singing, occasionally breaking into a jig, Franco remains popular.
Ardent rhumba fan Catherine Karanja said she had this week been spending quality time listening to Franco. Speaking to the Nation yesterday, she said she would forever remember the great Congolese musician.
“What I liked best about Franco was his collaborative style. He was an amazing composer, musician, crooner and a master guitarist. But his greatest strength was his collaborative style”.
Franco had that unique ability of teaming up with other musicians inside TPOK Jazz to produce big songs.
He also collaborated with his rival of several decades , Tabu Ley Rochereau, the Afrisa International Band leader, to record the grand album “Lisanga ya Banganga” (unity of witchdoctors — of music, of course).
The grandmaster, as he was popularly referred to, attracted the very best of African musical talent, making TPOK Jazz one of the greatest groups in the world. Some of Franco’s best songs that Ms Karanja and others have been listening to this week include her all-time favourite “Bureau des Coeurs”.
Other hits are “Ngungi” by Franco and Tabu Ley, and Franco and Sam Mangwana on “Toujours OK”.
In Ms Karanja’s playlist also are “Azda”, “Mamou”, “Kimpa Kisangameni”, “Kinsiona”, “Mario”, “Fabrice”, “12600 Lettres” and “Matata Na Muasi Na Mobali”.
Mombasa-based rhumba fan Geoff Ba’ Mkubwa Luyuku remembered Franco as “the type that comes once in a generation”.
“Were you a footballer, you would have been greater than Pele and Diego Maradona, and in literature, you would have been above Shakespeare,” he said of Franco.
He also compared Franco to Mozart, the classical opera music performer.
With his fellow fan John Mkaya, Luyuku, was due to join Franco fans during a special show by the Ambro Musica band at Moonshine Club in Mombasa for a show last night.
Other Franco tribute shows are expected to be held at Sky Lounge Bamburi, Mombasa.
For Sebastiain Manza from Nguluni, Machakos County, it would be about playing Franco’s music throughout the week. Other Franco fans include George Muruli of Nairobi and London-based Congolese guitarist Fiston Losambo.
In Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, considered the Mecca of African music, several events have been lined up by live bands and on radio and TV stations dedicated to Franco.
Some of the living former TPOK Jazz legends are singers Wuta Mayi, Michel Boyibanda, Sam Mangwana, Malage Lugendo and Youlou Mabiala.
The guitarists are Nedule Papa Noel, Dizzy Mandjeku, Celi Bitshou, Makosso and Flavian Makabi.
At his peak, Franco had nearly 60 musicians, with half of the group based in Europe and the rest at home in Kinshasa. He was the most prolific band leader throughout his career.