Kinshasa loses yet another musical icon

Saturday May 26 2012

Ndombe Opetum, a former singer with the legendary TPOK Jazz. Ndombe collapsed and died in Kinshasa on Thursday. Photo/COURTESY

Ndombe Opetum, a former singer with the legendary TPOK Jazz. Ndombe collapsed and died in Kinshasa on Thursday. Photo/COURTESY 

By AMOS NGAIRA ([email protected])

One of DR Congo’s finest musicians, Ndombe Opetum, is dead.

The news of the death of the 66-year-old singer spread fast in Kinshasa on Web alerts and social networking sites as the capital came to terms with the loss of yet another icon on Friday morning.

According to Djo Djo Ikomo, his former colleague in the legendary TPOK Jazz, the singer collapsed and died soon after admission at the Kitambo Hospital in Kinshasa.

Also speaking in Nairobi on Friday, Congolese musician Kasongo wa Kanema said he had been informed of Ndombe’s death from back home.

“It is indeed a blow, considering that he was the last of the former Franco associates,” he said. Also sending condolences was US-based Congolese gospel singer Freddie Nyembwe and Nairobi-based Darzee Kalend of Bilenge Musica.

Mr Ben Kantai, a Nairobi-based fan of Franco’s TPOK Jazz music, said he was devastated on learning of the Ndombe’s death.

Ndombe, who was popularly known as ‘Pepe,’ gained fame throughout Africa as a member of the TPOK Jazz, a band founded by perhaps the best Congolese musician ever, Luambo Makiadi, aka Franco.

Ndombe’s name evokes fond memories among Lingala music lovers of his hugely successful hit, Angela, released in the twilight years of Franco leadership of TPOK Jazz.

Franco died in a Belgian hospital in 1989, but Ndombe and other members of the band, under the leadership of Lutumba Simarro Masiya, remained with the band for four years, until a feud with the maestro’s family over the control and management of finances, record labels and other issues finally caused a split.

Deep vocals

Simarro, the rhythm guitarist fondly referred to as the Le Poete because of his song writing skills, and nearly 30 members of TPOK decamped to start Bana OK.

Ndombe sang on nearly all the TPOK hits, and his contribution is recognisable from his deep vocals that balanced out the sharp voices of lead vocalists like Josky Kiambukuta.

Ndombe’s great songs include Voyage ya Bandundu, Mawe, Mabe yo Mabe and Coupe du Monde. Others are Youyou, the superb Angela and Cherie Samba (while with Tabu Ley’s Afrisa International).

He was one of several musicians who worked with the two pillars of Lingala music, arch rivals Franco and Tabu Ley.

He was the lead vocalist of Tabu Ley’s Afrisa International until the late 1970s, when he returned to TPOK Jazz.

With the death of Ndombe, the mantle passes on to his son, Baby Ndombe, who, incidentally, has already made a name for himself as one of the top Congolese musicians of the new generation.