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Remembering Congo's rumba king

Left: Franco performing Mario, a screen grab from YouTube Right: Franco Et L’Orchestre TP OK Jazz – Editions Populaires, African label 1974 - LP cover

By Noel Mwakugu
BBC News, Kinshasa

When Franco Luambo Makiadi died 20 years ago, the whole of Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire), stood still.

Franco's aunt Elizabeth Masaka
I remember he even made one [guitar] out of a tin and strings
Franco's aunt Elizabeth Masaka

The death of the undisputed king of rumba was a shock to millions of people not just in his home country, but across Africa.

In his 40-year music career, Franco, as he was commonly known, had more than 100 albums and about a thousand songs to his name.

His style of music, a blend of Cuban rumba and authentic Congolese rhythms, wowed both the old and young. His influence can still be heard in Congolese music, which remains popular in nightclubs all over the continent.

Most of his hits were done in the 1970s but they still get a lot of airplay on Africa's radio stations - and in East Africa most FM stations have dedicated weekly or daily programmes to rumba, thanks to Franco.

His aunt Elizabeth Masaka, who in her 90s still lives in his home village of Sona Bata in western DR Congo, says from a tender age Franco showed all the signs that he would become a musician.

"As he was growing up he loved playing the guitar very much. I remember he even made one out of a tin and strings - he would carry it along to school and the market where he would entertain his friends," she told the BBC.

"I knew he would be a great musician."

School drop-out

When he moved with his parents to Kinshasa, the young Franco seemed to have already made up his mind to scale the musical heights.

Franco's first wife Pauline Laumbo
I think he sang about what was happening in Kinshasa and at that time no musician was bold enough to do that
Franco's first wife Pauline Laumbo

"Franco did not have interest in school so he joined a popular traditional music group - the group leader Papa Dewayu taught him to play the guitar and also compose music," his younger sister Marie Jane remembers.

"He later dropped out [of school at 12] and settled for music," she says.

Franco was inspired by musicians like Henri Bowane, Antoine Wendo and Kalle Kabasele who were big stars in Kinshasa in the 1940s.

He joined their group and perfected his guitar-playing skills. In the 1950s, he became the band leader, renaming the ensemble the TP OK Jazz after the OK Bar where they played.

However "the Sorcerer of the Guitar", as his fans nicknamed him, was not always popular with the authorities, especially after his hit Luvumbu Ndoki (The Wizard Who Kills People), a veiled reference to Zaire's former leader Mobutu Sese Seko.

Jail

But it was laws banning pornography that landed him and some of his band members in jail in 1979 for the sexually explicit lyrics of the songs Helene, Jacky and Francois.

Singers in Sona Bata
Franco still influences young Congolese musicians

His first wife Pauline Laumbo says his fearlessness added to his popularity.

"It is difficult to say only one thing inspired him to compose, but he was a social commentator. I think he sang about what was happening in Kinshasa and at that time no musician was bold enough to do that. His style was different."

In the few interviews that Franco gave to the media he denied using his songs to attack influential politicians or corrupt businessmen; however his outspokenness did force him into exile in Belgium.

This turned out to be a blessing as, from his base in Brussels, he released the track Mario - which propelled him to international fame.

The song criticises a lazy young man who earned his living having affairs with wealthy older women.

Mausoleum

Other songs that gave Franco and the TP OK Jazz Band a ticket to tour the world were Mamou and Tres Impoli.

He is our Picasso
Broadcaster Biyevanga Lengemi

The Congolese still fondly remember their legend and one cannot fail to hear his songs belting from bars and sound systems in the capital.

"He is our Picasso,'' says veteran Congolese broadcaster Biyevanga Lengemi.

Yet despite his continuing fame, his family feels the authorities in Kinshasa have not commemorated him properly.

His only son, Emongo Luambo, says the family plans to exhume his body from the public cemetery in Kinshasa where he was buried after his death in Belgium.

Franco club billboard
The club Un Deux Trois where Franco usually performed is still a popular venue

"We want to build a mausoleum in Sona Bata where his fans can pay him proper homage and even the youth in Congo can learn more about him," he said.

Marie Jose Jibambuyi, known by her stage name MJTrente, says upcoming Congolese musicians are still influenced by the "Guitar Sorcerer".

She was just a toddler when Franco was at his most famous.

"I believe apart from entertaining, music should also play a role in educating the masses," she says.

"Franco did that and I borrow a lot from him. I do not only sing about love, I also sing about social issues, thanks to Franco."


What do you remember of Congo's rumba king?

Thanks for sharing your memories. Please read a selection below:

Franco music represents the highs and the lows of post-colonial Africa. He did for Africans - unity - what years of independence and their rulers, could not do.
Osagie Ayanru, Huntington, West Virginia, USA

I do not know what to say about Franco and his music. Till tomorrow i will not forget this man. His music all is my live and i mostly listen to it all my life in parties and while in bed. I love his music and his passion about his music. I wish he is still alive because i use to listen to his music when i was young. i real miss him and we hope to meet one day as a christen we believe, Amen.
Artist Nelson Nyangole, Perth, Australia

Franco...Mamou... what a legend. We listen to his tracks here in Jozi, especially Mario, Was still in Kenya when He came to Kisumu and brought the whole City to Standstill. Franco was great!!!!
Jonie b, Johannesburg, South Africa

Oh what a great guy Grand Master of Rumba he was! I was only a small boy in the late 60s and early 70s when I started enjoying his music which my older brothers would play on the gramophone and later record player. We would sneak to the village dances which my brothers and their older village friends would organize. And indeed Franco's hits would dominate. I could even sing along fluently without understanding what the lyrics meant and earned the title of 'musician' in my family. Am still an ardent fan and collector of his music. Death is truly a robber! RIP Franco
Peter Odyambo, Gulu, Uganda

Franco had a uniqueness in his performances, seen in the style of his music. During his visit to Kampala in 1981-82, he filled the specially constructed outdoor stage in Nakivubo stadium with equipment and performers. I remember seeing the largest number of vocalists ever presented on stage but all well coordinated to produce unparalleled quality music. I remember his extraordinary combination of the fourth guitar which was his innovation, to the traditional three guitars most bands use. For the first time in Kampala, we saw computerised percussions/drums which Franco's TP OK Jazz Band inaugurated. In one of his songs, he showed us the power of ingenuity, when through his guitar he made a spectacular performance with one of his saxophonist in an interaction that delivered a strong message to his audience in total amazement. To date, that peculiar sound still resonates in my mind. His legacy lives on, his music will continue to inspire many across boundaries.
Mwaita Patrick , Pallisa, Uganda

I grew in Enugu (former capital of Biafra) where Franco was simply known as OK Jazz. In the 70s & 80s, 2 hrs of radio airtime (12noon - 2pm) was dedicated religious to what was then known as Congo music (AKA, OK Jazz). Franco Luamba was so loved that there was an anecdote that he was actually an Igbo child who absconded from his family at the age of 6 due to harsh treatment from a wicked step-mother, to living in Congo. Even until today, it will be difficult to convince some Igbo people that he wasn't really an Igbo man in the Diaspora.

I could remember when BBC world service broke the news of his death; people wailed openly on the streets. Of course, many Igbo people felt a personal attachment to him. How could anyone not feel such attachment when they are used to listening to his music everyday except Sundays. Franco's death was as big a shock as Nelson Mandela's release from Prison was a joyous occasion for Africans. We'll always miss our beloved "OK Jazz".
Emeka Aneke, London

i learned about Franco from my dad who was his biggest fan. once he would come home drunk and play his music on the record player while he narrated of how his shows he had attended were like, while we took turns with my siblings to dance with my father to the moves he had copied from him.he had almost every Franco album and it would be an all night Franco dominance especially during Christmas. i loved Franco through my father and while he was away i would take the lead and together with our neighbors' kids we would just dance to the music till one day we were caught by my mother in the high life. she just stood and stared at us and later joined us as my father came home only to hear his Franco music play from far.
Elisha Ratemo, Nairobi, Kenya

Franco's music will always keep alive the memories of my late beloved brother Dr James Manson Sesay who passed away in Freetown this year. He would listen to the guy's music religiously. He loved his music to pieces, so do I. We do not understand the language though, but what is striking about his type of music is the combination of his wonderful voice, the guiter and his ability to entertain people in Africa of all sorts. May the souls of both rest in peace.
Jusu Gbatongoh, Batkanu

As a young man who survived the Biafran war with Nigeria, I and many Igbos who survived that ruthless war knew him as OK Jazz. I came to know him as Franco after he died in 1989. Without OK Jazz music in 1968 -1974, I don't think there was anything to hope for in a war ravaged Igbo land. I still have a copy of a song he performed together with Sam Mangwana "Luka Mobali Moko." I will always miss him.
Ezekiel C. Nwakwue, Sugar Land Texas, USA

I am sitting in Nairobi City stadium in the 70's, waiting for the soccer game to start and blaring out of the speakers is "AZDA", and on cue as the refrain comes about the whole stadium is dancing and chanting "Vewe na Azda Vewe"...Nani kama Franco?(who is like Franco?)
Ochieng K, USA

First discovered music from Africa through 2 cassettes, sound'afrique vols 1 & 2. Living in London in the late '70's, I was a frequent visitor to Stern's where I first heard Franco. Now some 30 yrs later I still listen to Rumba. Sam Mangwana, Tabu Ley, M'bilia Bel and on through Kanda Bongo Man's Kwasa Kwasa to today. But Franco is the King..he'll be on my Ipod as I travel home tonight. If only my fellow commuters knew why the grey haired guy in the suit was smiling and tapping his feet! Let's Rumba!
david jarrett, new york new york

I was coming from Lusaka, Zambia when I heard about Grand Franco's death on the radio that the passenger sitting next to me had. The broadcaster simply announced, "The rumba Maestro Franco has passed away in Belgium". Soon after, his songs, most of them very melancholic, begun to play without interruption. I was saddened by the news but when I arrived in Lubumbashi, DRC, the mood was more celebratory. Bars, kiosks, shops, and public sound systems were all playing Grand Maitre Franco's songs. His style was unique in a sense that he was a preacher and a teacher. RIP Maestro.
Godfrey Kisela, Birmingham, UK

Franco Mario and Madelu are the greatest ever african singer. It used to be played at Mateso bila chuki in Eastleigh Galole ya juu. It remembered me golden days when i was young God bless you.
Loodon Warfa Afi, Hargeysa Somaliland

Maitre Franco was God's gift to the world of music lovers. Each early morning in Victoria-Cameroon, I would tune to the Voice of Zaire hoping to catch one of Franco's songs. It was my way of starting the day, right. if for any reason I did not hear one of Franco's songs, I would stop by a record store and give the store onwer a tip and ask him to play any music by Maitre Franco. My love for his music, despite the fact that I did not understand its meaning, was its rebellous qaulity, its social commentary and its disdain for autocrats like Mobutu Sese Seko. Long live Maitre Franco and the TP OK Jazz.
Levai Babaya, Minnesota-USA

The best inheritance a father can leave his children is a good example,Luambo leaved the good example that some musician need to follow, he played the music that can be enjoyed by all ages.some people succeed because the are destined to, but most people succeed because they are determined to.Despite being uneducated he was determined and proved that he can make it in life and lead, be blessed the legend Makiadi and rest in peace
Antony Juma Namwamba, Nairobi-kenya

Oh great days - end of the month wages in the pocket - Octopus (Bottoms-up) Disco in Kisumu and hours of dancing to marvellous Franco and many others (Mangelepa, Super Mazembe et al) - and of course several Tuskers to lubricate the hip joints. Asante sana. Asante mno mno mno.
robin le mare, Allithwaite, Cumbria UK

I was a kid in the 70s and I remember my brother and I went to the National Stadium to see Lwambo and his TP OK Jazz. What I vividly remember was that power went off just when the number Djemelasi was being played. I mean, after the opening staccato of trumpets, the deep bass sound seemed to have killed the power of the whole area. But still, in the dark, the percussionists did not stop. The bongos, drums went on for about three minutes, conjuring a never hear before of Rhumba. Then power was restored. The last strings of that son will forever remain in my mind.
Muhidin Issa Michuzi, Tanzania

Franco was a very powerful musician, in my home country Sierra Leone my father use to own a small recording studio and it always amaze me how people will be trooping into that small shop for his music even though they do not understand what he is saying he was indeed the guitar sorcerer, i remember receiving a hot slap from a customer for not been able to complete his Franco selection on a christmas eve the side A was completed when NPA took what belongs to them i mean the electricity it was a day i will never forget the man has to take his cassette home and bring it back after the holiday for completion. less i forget business was good because of the likes of Franco, rest in peace PAPA FRANCO.
Nasiru, Darby, USA

He was simply put the best i discovered Franco after he was already dead. i remember my dad putting his tape when his body was arriving from Belgium to Zaire and included in that film was his old tapes and those amazing girl dancers he was simply the best.
Eunice, Marshall town, Johannesburg

The first time I saw Franco playing it was in Kenya over 30 years ago in a club near River Rd. I was a very young lad travelling through Africa. I did not know who he was. I was completely shocked. I had the luck to attend again a couple of his concerts in Nairobi and Lusaka before he died. Each was almost 4 hours of real fun and dancing music of excellent quality. The performance of his huge band, playing non stop with musicians rotating and competing, gave me a taste of how it must have been in New Orleans or Kansas City during jazz golden age. To me Franco, when alive, was like the Beatles. Each 3-4 months you would expect a new album full of new, beautiful songs with interesting lyrics, quite different from the previous one. A fresh surprise.
Mauro Ghirotti, Khartoum Sudan

I remember the years when i used to hear his music being played from nite clubs in Zimbabwe, in late 70s. I was young then, but i grew up loving his music. When i got my first ever salary in 1987 i bought the albums MARIO and MANOU and his music inspired me to love Congolese music, although most of these artists lack the quality of Franco, Sam Mangwana and Mpongo Love.. His music is still part of my great collection. RIP king Of Rhumba.
FREEDOM ZULU, CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA

I have been an avid fan of Franco and his TP Ok Jazz since the early 70s. All along I had been following with great interest all the developments taking place with him and the group. I read his autobiography 'Congo Collossus' within a few hrs and I revise it from time to time. I also watch his videos on youtube and have discovered some of the songs i have never heard before. I still think that Franco is the greatest musician who has ever lived in Africa. His musical abilities and managerial skills which had kept the group together for years (though with updated membership)is rivalled by none. When I heard of his death in 1989, it took me a while to really believe it had happened.
Francis Okello, London

I remember during the 80s when Franco was invited by the government to perform during one of the celebrations in Nairobi. The event was broadcast live on the national broadcasting station (KBC). My father could not let me listen past 11.00 p.m. So I went to wake up my neighbour who was my friend to get me his radio. Of course I had to promise him that I will buy him new batteries the following day. I listened to the show till the end. My IPod has 200 Franco songs and I am still collecting more. What a music legacy this maestro left behind!
James Kioko, Nairobi Kenya

I was only seven years old when Franco passed on, but i clearly remember my father and his brothers spending the whole evening playing his music and drinking away. When they became drunk, i remember fully grown men singing along to music that wasn't in a language they could speak and shouting "Tirikuchema Franco", meaning "We moan the death of Franco". I am surprised it's already 20 years from his departure.
Zee, Harare, Zimbabwe

My introduction to Franco came courtesy of my dad's trip to Kampala (Uganda), from where he brought home a tape that featured the song "Mario" on one side. While a child I marvelled at how a song could be the entire A side of a cassette tape, not knowing this was probably his biggest hit. In truth I didn't much like the artiste's style, associating such with my father. I would follow my own musical path and only come to truly appreciate Franco's genius in adult life. His music far transcends his 100 or so albums. Where would you get the melancholic sadness of Maya? The cheeky playfulness in Mario? The range (and contrast) of styles from Madilu's heavy tremolo-baritone, to Josky Kiambukuta's high-pitched rhythm, to the haunting (and enduring) sadness from Simaro's songs. This man was a genius, period. I've been privileged to listen to a true colossus of music, not just African.
Sam Wanjere, Nairobi, Kenya

Franco has made me love rhumba so much much that some people in my country (Zambia) think I am from Congo DRC. I started to listen to his music at a very young age - my father had LP and single records of this man. I think he has inspired some of us to appreciate the sweet music of DRC. I love slow rhumba esp and still loves mario and Mamou. MHSRIP
Alexander Museshyo, Lusaka

As a young secondary school boy growing up in Kenya we listened and danced to Franco's music on the weekends. A decade earlier my father's generation also used to crowd around the transistor radio listening to Franco's music. Years later I was to attend a live concert by Franco in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Today as father of hip-hop generation teenagers Franco's music still tops my charts. My son maintains a special ITunes playlist labelled "Dad's music" and among the songs are many from Franco that my son also occasionally listens to. Franco not only defined Congolese music to the rest of Africa and the World but his music has transcended generations and will continue to influence generations to come. He is definitely gone but not forgotten, the King still lives on in many hearts!. I am work and listening to Franco's " Kufwa Ntangu".
J. Otiso, Rochester, New York

When I Left Kenya for Japan in 2006, the only musical CDs I remember to come along with were those bearing my compilation of 140 songs of TPOK Jazz. It will not be normal not to listen to a TPOK Jazz song on any given day. He was in a class in his own!
Oyoo E, Ibaraki, Japan

Luambo Makiadi Franco I will always remember you as the greatest musician, vocalist and guitarist Africa has ever produced. His music to me it is as though it was sang a few months ago yet it is over twenty years. His music really inspires me a lot, soft and it touches my soul. I remember playing his songs on records when I was a small boy went to audio tapes and today I was watching him on CD singing with the late Madilu what a great rumba grand master Africa lost. It is unfortunate that most of the new generation artists are using computers destroying the culture of playing instruments. Franco you are gone but your music will remain forever and how I wish your son could carry own with your music. I support the idea of building a museum for you and I am ready to contribute in a small way. Aurevoir Grand Maitre.
Jerry Mukube Musole, Ndola, Zambia

On rentre 'OK' on sort 'KO'.
Lisanga ya ba nganga.
Les leopards! in a song when Zaïre was participating to FIFA cup 1974.
Ok Jazz, ok jazz!
Mario tu m'as viré.
Mamou is a great title of Franco singing with Jolie Detta.
Rober Lito, Brussels Belgium

I grew up 3km from the DR Congo border in Kasese (Uganda). Grazing goats in bush, we used to hold music competitions. I was Seignuer Tab Ley and our neighbour's son Hamza was Franco. One day, I did Tab Ley's 'Sorozo' and Hamza did '12600 Letters'. Hamza won the contest but I fought him because he didn't address me as Seignuer (French for Lord). Otherwise Seignuer Tab Ley. I realised that Franco's songs were easy to sing.
Asuman Bisiika, Kampala, Uganda

Can still recall in 1986 when Franco visited Kisumu and as soon as he strummed his guitar to tune to Mario, the fans came in droves and brought the wall of the stadium down.
FRED ORIDO, Nairobi, Kenya.

When Zaire (Now DR Congo) was going through political turmoil, wars and public funds mismanagement, Congolese could only get a consolation from music. For long, in Congo, the musicians have contributed to a psychological well being of Congolese people as they were being ignored by the politicians. Luambo is one of the bests, I grew up listening to his music and as a proof I memorised 90% of all his songs lyrics. I hope that his family will benefit from his loyalties. His songs have a purpose and the purpose is a good and strong morality. Franco wanted people to be considerate in their approach and avoid hurting each other and love one another.
Jean-Paul Benda, UK, London

I remember being a little boy and my mother will put me on her back while cleaning the house and listening to Franco. Many of us young Congolese in particular and African in general got introduced to his music through our parents. I still play his classic hits like Mario whenever I'm thinking about the motherland and brings back a lot of memories. I hope the Congolese government will officially recognize and give Franco the respect that he deserves.
Fabrice L. Londeke, Pembroke, United States Of America

His music was brilliant and the message was always of reality (Mamou, Ngungi, Mario, PDG, Lisanga ya ba nganga, &...) I still play all these songs almost every weekend. Musique ya Franco ekotikala na mitema na biso mpo na libela (Translation: His music will remain in our heart forever)
Dacquin, London

Franco was a great man. Our former president Moi used to invite him during our independence celebrations and Franco could entertain the whole country thru our national broadcasting station. I still enjoy his music.
Bernard Kisia, Nairobi, Kenya

I first heard Franco's music by chance on Andy Kershaw's world music radio show almost 15 years ago. I was immediately hooked and it led me to discover a whole new world of African music. I'm still enchanted by the Rumba sound and still in love with African music. And that's down to Franco.
Roy White, Andover, UK

FRANCO IS STILL THE BEST MY IPHONE IS LOADED WITH HIS MUSIC. MADILU VS FRANCO KILLED THE COMPETITION..EVEN THOUGH I WAS STILL A YOUNG ONE I CAN STILL REMEMBER MY PARENTS PLAYING THE MUSIC EVERY WEEKEND AND NOW I AM PLAYING
ALLAN OCHI, kenya

Franco was a great musician that up to now I find his music very entertaining - whether you are in bad mood or good mood it just sets you on! From his history he truly worked hard and was consistent with his music. Indeed, he will live on through his music.....
Anne, Lusaka, Zambia

Luambo Makiadi Franco was and is the Bob Marley of The Congo, he wrote very powerful music that only the wise men could understand, this of course did put him in trouble with the political system of the time. Franco did not have Borders from eldest to youngest, from Congo to Belgium , from South Africa To North, his music was and is still enjoyed by so many. And when it comes to his style of playing the Guitare, although we have so many talents in the Congo we have not found a new Franco yet. My messages to the Congolese Stars is please you need a bit of inspiration from Franco as way of paying him respect.
MBOKA EZO ZIKA, london

Oh Franco!! There's none like him, genius loves company and in Fela and Hugh Masekela he found the best. The three kings who forever rule African Music. My grandfather listened to Franco, my dad still does, I can't think of a better performer and my kids will be bred on the grand master.
Vincent Odhiambo, Nairobi Kenya

Franco Luambo Makiadi song's reminds me my youth time at a Arusha town in northern Tanzania when he came to Tanzania and the Arusha studium was over crowded with old, young and children, women and men. I remember him very well put on a long gaun, very humbled man, with great personality. His music was the King of Rumba in Africa. I have listed to this clip of Mario on BBC and its gave me a extra strong feelings about my home and my people whom we were shared his great legency. God blessing him and his soul shall prevail in African music. HE WAS GREAT!!!
David , Kristiansand

i was introduced to Francos music by my elder brother. i was only about 7 years old and ive been hooked ever since. simply put, Franco to me remains the best rumba musician of all time. I believe Franco used to plan his music before releasing it unlike what we see with most musicians nowadays. I cant believe 20 years have already gone by since his demise. We miss you Le Grand Maestro!
Ali Salim Ireri, Malindi, Kenya

Franco was huge in Cameroon too. Mario was one of my late mother's favourite songs. It is now one of my favourite songs too. Franco lives on.
Emmanuel Nuesiri, Oxford, UK

Franco will never be forgotten in Southern Sudan; Mamou and Mario are some his best hits which will always remain in our homes forever. We shall all time be his fans.
Andy Murusal, Khartoum, Sudan

When i hear african music i always remember Franco he is the ultimate musician. i was introduced to franco's music by way of Colombia university radio program Afro Pop in new york city. I think some one must start to build a musical museum in his honour. i will be the first to contribute in his honour. Because music is against war.
micheal alazar, eritrea

When I read this tribute I am shocked to realise indeed it now 20 years since the passing away of Luambo Luanzo Makiadi, popularily known as Franco. My laptop is full of his songs. The songs are as new as as when they were played, so good as though life never can come to an end. The name T.P. OK Jazz were the same thing. The music was and remains unique. Rumba dance and Franco's music made many couples marry. Franco's music is for the soul and rumba dance is for the preservation of the human spirit. Oh Franco!, He lives and lives, and for ever he will live.
Eresu John, Kaberamaido, Uganda

Franco played most of his music when I was still young. I used to listen to his music on our National Hi-Fi radio. But when I grew up I loved his music and bought many of his audio tapes. Just like Lucky Dube, he left an indelible contribution on the music scene. His music with Sam Mangwana still make my days. I miss him.
J G Okello Mang'oli, Busia, Uganda



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