It's hard to believe that the great Franco, l'Okanga la Ndju Pene Luambo Makiadi, has been gone almost 20 years now (he passed on October 12, 1989). In his day he strode the scene like an elephant, or more like a Brontosaurus, really - pretty much defining modern African music, not only in his native Congo, but throughout the continent.
It just so happens that among the many hours of African 45s on tape reels that I recently digitized are thirteen tracks that le Grand Maitre recorded with his band le Tout Puissant OK Jazz in 1972-73. This era is interesting for several reasons. In October 1971 President Mobutu Sese-Seko proclaimed his policy of Authenticité, which had a number of implications. For one thing, the name of the Democratic Republic of Congo was changed to the Republic of Zaïre (it was changed back following Mobutu's overthrow in 1997). The cultural dimensions of authenticité are described by Graeme Ewens, in his essential biography Congo Colossus: the Life and Legacy of Franco & OK Jazz (Buku Press, UK, 1994):
. . . Authenticite coloured every aspect of Zaïrean culture, and Mobutu started by renaming all those places without African names, before imposing the same indigenisation on the people themselves. . . Women were prohibited from wearing miniskirts or trousers, on pain of arrest, while the approved wear was the pagne, or cloth wrapper. Taking further inspiration from the French Revolution the people were obliged to call each other 'citoyen' and 'citoyenne.'. . . Although there were no written laws on the production of music, there were constant reminders that this too should meet the criteria of Authenticity. . . (pp. 135, 137)Mobutu, of course, was the archetype of the African kleptocratic ruler (he is said to have embezzled over $5 billion from his country), and one could argue that Authenticité was a cynical diversion meant to occupy the masses while they were being fleeced by their rulers. Perfectly reasonable, but there is a lot to be said that it had a salutary effect on the development of music in Congo/Zaïre. Musician Sam Mangwana said:
. . . I am not a politician or a fan of politics, but you can honestly say that when Mobutu spoke of the need for Authenticity it gave the musicians many ideas. Authenticity never blocked musicians from playing other music, like soul or funk if they wanted. But Zaïrean musicians are very proud of their music. They play as they feel, and they don't feel the need to change for any other people. . . (Congo Colossus, p. 140)The songs presented here, then, show Franco at a major turning point in his career, when short, catchy melodies gave way to lengthy, more complex compositions. In a few years his style would mutate even further, toward baroque, almost orchestral pieces like "Proprietaire," "Tres Impoli" and "Attention na SIDA." While some of these tunes have been reissued on CD in recent years, I'm not sure that any of them are in print now. Others have never been reissued to my knowledge. All of these are Kenyan pressings.
"Siluvangi Wapi Accordeon" and "Casier Judiciare" are Sides A and B of ASL Records ASL 3245. Accordionist Camille Ferruzzi, featured in "Siluvangi Wapi Accordeon," was a contemporary of Antoine Wendo Kolosy and was one of the first Congolese musician to be professionally recorded in the early 1950s. This song and "Casier Judiciare" present Franco and the band in a more sensitive light than many associate them with:
Camille Ferruzzi & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Siluvangi Wapi Accordeon
Luambo Lwanzo Makiadi (Franco) & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Casier Judiciare
"Mbanda Nazali Nini" and its flip side "Likambo Ya Ngana" (ASL 7-3244) also feature Camille Ferruzzi:
Camille Ferruzzi & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Mbanda Nazali Nini
Luambo Lwanza Makiadi (Franco) & L'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Likambo Ya Ngana
In the early 1980s TPOK Jazz was actually two orchestras, one based in Brussels and led by Franco and a second team helmed by Lutumba Ndomamuendo, or "Simarro," which stayed in Kinshasa. I've been unable to find any mention of "Exodus" (ASL 2271) in Congo Colossus or in Naotaka Doi's extensive Franco discography. I suspect that it has been released under another title. It's just too good a song to dwell in obscurity! Note: See update below.
Lutumba Ndomamuendo (Simarro) & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Exodus Pts. 1 & 2
Likewise, I've been unable to find any mention of "Tangela Ngai Mboka Bakabaka Mobali" (ASL 7-3274, side A) in any of the literature. Check out the extended instrumental break that kicks in around the 3:30 mark! The B side, "Envoutement," features Michel Boyibanda, a talented vocalist from Congo-Brazzaville who joined TPOK Jazz around 1963:
l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Tangela Ngai Mboka Bakabaka Mobali
Boyibanda & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Envoutement
"Lezi," written by Simarro, is from the Editions Populaires pressing EP 151:
Lutumba & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Lezi Pts. 1 & 2
Bassist Celi Bitshoumanou ("Bitshou"), who wrote "Mokolo ya Mpasi" (Fiesta 51.086B), joined OK Jazz around 1965 when the band was temporarily in exile in Brazzaville following a run-in with the newly-installed Mobutu regime. He was responsible for a number of OK Jazz hits, including the classic "Infidelité Mado." Bitshou left the band around 1974 with Mosese "Fan Fan" Sesengo and Youlou Mabiala to form the first incarnation of Orchestre Somo Somo. "Fifi Nazali Innocent" is the B side.
Bitshou & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Mokolo ya Mpasi
Simarro & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Fifi Nazali Innocent
Armando Antoine aka "Brazzos," who wrote "Sukola Motema Olinga" (Fiesta 51.125B), was a founding member of OK Jazz in the mid-1950s. "Andu wa Andura," another Michel Boyibanda composition, is the flip side:
Brazzos & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Sukola Motema Olinga
l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Andu wa Andura
About "AZDA" (Editions Populaires EP 140), Graeme Ewens writes in Congo Colossus, "As if to show just how good a commercial song could be, in 1973 Franco released what proved to be one of his biggest hits outside Zaïre, AZDA.' This was the advent of the full-blown big band sound which would be the trade mark of the latter-day OK Jazz. While many outsiders thought it must have a heavily romantic lyric it was, in fact, an advertisement for the national Volkswagon dealership, whose acronym made up the title. The refrain 'Veway, Veway, Veway, Veway' is the local pronunciation of 'VW.'"
Luambo Makiadi (Franco) & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - AZDA Pts. 1 & 2
Update: Reader Peter writes, ". . . As for 'Exodus,' I don't think it was written by Simaro & performed by OK Jazz. I think it's a Youlou Mabiala track from the late 1970s." Which could very well be true, although I transcribed the recording information on the label correctly. Consulting Tim Clifford's new Kenya-Tanzania 45s, it appears that "Exodus" was issued in the late '70s-early '80s, rather than in the early '7os as I had earlier thought.
Update 2: I should have mentioned this earlier but didn't. The background information in this post came from Congo Colossus, cited above. It's a great book! You can get it from Sterns or Amazon.