Franco, the king of rhumba still rules, 28 years after his death

Friday October 13 2017

Franco Luambo Luanzo Makiadi

The late Congolese music maestro Luambo Luanzo Makiadi. It is 28 years since the death of Makiadi. Popularly known as Franco, the TP OK Jazz band leader and guitarist contributed massively to the growth of popular Lingala music. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

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Exactly 28 years Thursday, Africa lost one of its greatest musicians — Congolese guitar wizard and crooner Franco Luambo Luanzo Makiadi, who died in a Belgian hospital.

To the many seasoned rhumba music fans across Africa and beyond, regardless of age, this week will be a time to savour fond memories of the numerous alluring tunes from his rich discography.

The Nation established through telephone enquiries  that some of his counterparts and family members were due to have a memorial vigil by his grave at Gombe Cemetery in Kinshasa, yesterday. Confirming this, veteran musician Pascal Onema, who also worked with Franco, said he would join others at the memorial.

Franco and his giant musical ensemble, TP OK Jazz Band, will be remembered for having been one of the pillars of Congolese Lingala music. His nearest competitor was Tabu Ley Rochereau, who, incidentally, also died in a Belgian hospital four years ago.


This week, social media has been abuzz with fans sharing and discussing what they consider to have been some  of Franco’s best tracks. 

Perhaps, it was Tabu Ley,  who died in November 2013, who seriously rivalled Franco in terms of popularity in Congo, and elsewhere.

Simaro led an offshoot from TP OK Jazz, Bana OK,  from 1993 until a few years ago when illness took him off  the stage. The group featured some of the leading former top  singers from TP OK  such as  Pepe Ndombe Opetum (also deceased)  and Josky Kiambukuta, who like Simaro, has lately been inactive due to poor health.

In Europe, one of the notable former TP OK  musicians is London-based guitarist Mose Fan Fan, who composed the household tune Papa Lolo. Mose Fan Fan a hit in the 1970s, with the song Dje Melasi, with TP OK.


Other former members based in Congo Brazzaville and DR Congo are singers Edo Nganga, Michel Boyibanda,  bass guitarist Celi Bitchou, who composed the Infidélité Mado song and guitarist Armando Brazzos.

Those in Europe, include Prince Youlou Mabiala, Dizzy Mandjeku and his Odemba OK band in Belgium and Michelino, Papa Noel and Wuta Mayi in Paris. Sam Mangwana is in his native Angola.

In Kenya, some clubs will  today  and tomorrow  have shows in Franco’s honour. Elvis Lola, the son of Lola Checain, who was a long-serving singer with TP OK Jazz, will lead his Afro Sound band during a special show on Saturday at the Meladen Club Restaurant in Nairobi.

During Saturday’s show, Lola has asked fans to come dressed in black and white “in memory of Franco”.  Lola Checain is best remembered for Libala ya Bana NaBana and teamed up on  vocals with Ntesa Dalienst and Djo Mpoyi.


Nairobi rhumba music fan Dan Ochieng is promising “Franco fireworks”  at BeePee Lounge in Trans Towers, near KIMC, at Nairobi South B. Dan has been a big fan for years, having lived in DRC for three years.

Health scholar Dr Sobbie Mulindi recalled he received news of the death of Franco while attending  an Aids conference in Marseille, France. Franco died  in  Brussels in October 1989.

“I used to meet Franco whenever they toured France  when I was a student in the 1980s,” he said.

Rhumba fans Peter Mahagwa Luhongo and Eliab Kiemo say they would spend the weekend listening to Franco’s music.

And veteran broadcaster Fred Obachi Machoka says he will dedicate this weekend’s Roga Roga musical programmes both on Radio and Citizen TV, to Franco’s music.