Fans of legendary Congolese rumba maestro Franco marked the 23rd anniversary of his death on Friday.
Events marking the date were fairly low-key in Franco’s home city of Kinshasa and other East African cities where he was extremely popular. Franco, officially known as Luambo Luanzo Makiadi, died 23 years ago in a Belgian hospital, but his legacy lives on.
This has not been a good year for former members of Franco’s band, TP OK Jazz. The musical family was hit by the death of composer and vocalist Pepe Ndombe Opetum in May.
Another kingpin of the old TP OK Jazz, Josky Kiambukuta, has been off the concert stage for most of the year after being hospitalised in Paris.
However, recent reports indicate that he is getting better. Singer Nyboma Mwandido, another Paris-based Congolese musician, recently visited Josky and confirmed that the singer’s health was improving.
“Josky is doing much better now, though he still needs a little more time to stabilise before he can resume live performances,” Nyboma said.
Due to his illness, Josky was unable to travel to Kinshasa for Ndombe’s funeral in May.
It was left to Lutumba Simaro Masiya, the long-serving vice-president of TP OK Jazz, to lead his former colleagues and other associates in marking Franco’s death anniversary in Kinshasa.
Simaro fell out with Franco’s family over the control of TP OK Jazz shortly after the maestro’s death, but he stayed true to Franco’s legacy after forming Bana OK with other former OK Jazz members.
While Franco’s former band mates marked the day in Kinshasa, in Nairobi Bilenge Musica will stage special shows at Dream Village Restaurant while in Mombasa Amitie Musica band will perform at the Zaituni Bar.
Among radio stations, QFM will dedicate a special session to Franco’s music while veteran radio presenter Fred Obachi Machoka said he would dedicate his ‘Roga Roga’ show on Citizen Radio on Saturday to him.
Rumba fans Rawlings Ungwe, Ann Njiiri and Richard Obiero all of Nairobi say they plan to spend the weekend listening to Franco’s classics.
In Brussels, the Odemba OK Jazz Stars, led by Mandjeku Dizzy Lengo and which features many former TPOK Jazz members, is still active and will also mark the day with a show.
Franco died on October 12, 1989 in Brussels.
A section of his band led by Ntesa Dalienst and Malage Lugendo had also set up base in the Belgian capital.
Odemba OK Jazz Stars plans to tour Kenya later this year. Besides Malage, the band features other former TP OK Jazz members like singers Nana Akumu, Baniel Mbambo and Lokombe N’kalulu.
Veteran singer Sam Mangwana and guitarist Papa Noel are among the surviving former members of TP OK Jazz band.
Franco, who was born in 1938, remains the biggest Congo DR musical star ever. In his heyday, he led an orchestra comprising over 30 members.
In his final years, he split the band into two, with one based in Europe to perform at concerts and record music, taking advantage of the superior facilities in France and Belgium. The second one remained at home in Kinshasa, to entertain local fans.
In the 1960s, he sang about a Kinshasa motor dealership, Azda, that imported the then popular German Beetle, VW, and the fans loved it.
When in the 1990s, he did ‘Fabrice’, a song, spanning 10 minutes and again, fans in Congo and beyond sang along.
Then in the 1980s, he teamed up with talented composer and vocalist Madilu Bialu System in an enchanting partnership that yielded some of the most memorable TP OK Jazz hits.
Many Kenyan fans loved ‘Pesa Position’, which they mistakenly believed was about money. The song was, in fact, about love. Other popular songs include ‘Mario’, ‘Mamou’ and ‘Mobali Malamu’.
The band leader, composer and lead guitar wizard is credited with releasing over 200 albums and writing nearly 800 songs.
In 1985, Franco released what is considered by many as his biggest song, ‘Mario’, about a young lazy man who lived off his sugar mummy.
He surprised many by releasing the song ‘Attention Na Sida’ (beware of Aids), at a time when rumours of his ill health were swirling around Kinshasa and in Europe. He died shortly after.