The death of one of Africa’s greatest musicians, Lutumba Ndumanueno Simaro Massiya, brings the curtain down on the career of yet another rhumba colossus who has provided solid entertainment across the continent for over half a century.
Simaro, who was born in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo on March 19, 1938, died on Saturday.
News of the death in Paris, France of the master composer, consummate guitarist and vocalist, threw the rhumba music fraternity into deep mourning.
Simaro was a long-serving vice-president of the legendary TPOK Jazz founded by his mentor Franco Luambo Luanzo Makiadi, who died in Belgium in 1989.
The band was among those that made music from the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) the ubiquitous sound of Africa. It has a massive fanbase in Kenya that spans generations.
The music is mostly sung in Lingala, sometimes with a tinge of Kiswahili, French and a range of Congolese languages.
After he joined TPOK Jazz in 1961, Simaro excelled as a composer and arranger, teaming up with Mujos, Kwammy, Picole, Simon Moke, Isaac Musekiwa and Dessoin.
He had replaced Bolhem, who had joined the rival Negro Success, where the grand master Franco’s younger half-brother, the late Bavon Marie Marie, was a leading vocalist.
The man fondly known to his legion of fans as ‘Le Poete’ (the poet), for his lyrical compositions that have yielded some of the greatest rhumba songs ever, succumbed to a long illness, according to his family members.
He had been suffering from diabetes and hypertension.
Salomon Lutumba confirmed his father’s death in a post on his Facebook page on Tuesday. He had recently travelled from Coventry City, England, to join the rest of his family when they called on his father.
But the death was an anti-climax, especially that it was only a few days ago that Salomon had been at the forefront of organising dedications for Simaro’s 81st birthday.
In the Facebook post, Salomon wrote: “Rest in peace, Papa. We always Love.”
Simaro was based in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, most of his life — unlike the rest of his family, including his wife Hellen Nkelani, who lived in Paris.
Having retired from active music two years ago, he occasionally travelled to Europe for medical check-ups and treatment.
Most of his music counterparts said he never liked living in Europe even during his tenure with TPOK Jazz.
Speaking to the Nation from Luanda, Angola, veteran singer Sam Mangwana, also a former key member of the legendary ensemble, recalled with nostalgia Simaro’s musical works.
Rhumba enthusiasts will remember Simaro's hit compositions and household anthems such as "Maya", "Kadima", "Testament ya Bowule", "Mandola”, "Mbongo" and "Faute ya Commercante".
“Gone is a great composer, who we will always remember his poetic lyrics,” said Mangwana, also a popular rhumba musician with a huge following across east and central Africa, including Kenya.
Notably, when Mangwana joined TPOK Jazz in 1973, he was among those who participated in recording Simaro’s "Mabele" and "Ebale ya Zaire" hit songs.
London-based former TPOK Jazz guitarist Mose Se Sengo “Fan Fan”, he of the "Papa Lolo" hit song fame, was nostalgic when he spoke to the Nation by telephone on Saturday.
He recalled the time he performed alongside Simaro from 1968 to 1973, when he left the group.
“Simaro was a kingpin in compositions and most of us got our inspiration from listening to him,” said Mose.
The popular rhumba musician said he would be travelling to Paris tomorrow to condole with the bereaved Simaro family.
Also speaking from Paris on Saturday, Nyboma Mwandido, another popular rhumba musician, told the Nation that the entire Paris-based Congolese music fraternity had learnt of Simaro’s death with shock.
“We are awaiting funeral arrangements from the family,” said Nyboma.
In Kenya, veteran radio broadcaster Fred Obachi Machoka interrupted his Roga Roga musical show to break the news of Simaro’s death.
Other rhumba diehard fans, including Dr Reuben Lubanga, Mark Mala and veteran journalist John Machio, also sent their condolences.
Lingala music fan Dan Ochieng of BeePee Lounge, at Nairobi’s South ‘B’ estate, said he was terribly saddened by the news of the death of one of his favourite musicians.
“From today, and for the next several days, I will listen to nothing but Lutumba Simaro’s music,” said Mr Ochieng.
“He was one of the greatest composers in Lingala, a real poet with great lyrics.
Several musicians of repute, among them Kenyans Joseph Kamaru and Ayub Ogada, Zimbabwean Oliver Mutukudzi and Congolese Dodo Munoko, have died in recent times.
Kamaru, a celebrated Kikuyu Benga musician, died in October 2018 at MP Shah Hospital in Nairobi where he had been admitted days before after falling ill. He was 79 years old.
Kamaru, who hailed from Kangema in Murang'a County was born in 1939 and started his singing career in 1956.
Ogada was born in 1956 in Mombasa to parents who were musicians. Travelling with his parents exposed him to both Western and African cultures, which influenced his music.
He favoured the Nyatiti, a Luo string instrument, in most of his songs.
Mutukudzi, a star of Afro-jazz who won a following across the continent and beyond, died in January at the age of 66.
He passed away at Avenue Hospital hospital in Harare, the local press reported.
Munoko died in October 2018 at a hospital in Los Angeles following a short illness. He was 61 years old.