When he was seven years old, Francois Luambo Makiadi
built his own guitar. He would become one of the titans of 20th Century African music, Le Grande Maitre of the All Powerful Orchestre Kinois Jazz.
Franco and his band Tout Puissant OK Jazz
were the foremost practitioners (and transformers) of rumba Congolaise
, arguably the most popular music in Africa, but Franco is still largely unknown
in the US
and non-francophone Europe, even among aficionados of "world music
." He barely toured the US, never sang in English and rarely adapted his music to international tastes, in part a reflection of his agreement with the government policy of Authenticitie
Called the Sorcerer of the Guitar
, for more than 30 years
, Franco and OK Jazz sang about relationships
, personal conflicts
and bad behavior
, (while many songs also had hidden meanings
). He also responded to critics
, while taking time to praise his tailor
and a Volkswagen dealership
. Franco and OK Jazz were hugely prolific
, producing more than 2000 songs. When Franco died
, reportedly of AIDS
, the government declared four days of national mourning; his music was played non-stop on the radio without repeating a song.
OK Jazz musicians, singers and collaborators are a who's who of Congolese music: Madilu System
, Papa Noel
, Youlou Mabiala
, Ntesa Dalienst
, Josky Kiambukuta
, Tabu Ley
, and the great Sam Mangwana
(who said that a man like Franco came along only every hundred years), and many more.
Politically, Franco was no Fela
: he was distressingly close to Mobutu
, composing praise songs
for the US-supported dictator, and even assisting Mobutu's move to appropriate Lumumba
for his own rule
. In return, Franco was named "Le Grand Maitre" (a title usually reserved for judges and scholars), exercised tremendous control
over the music industry in Congo, and died a multi-millionaire.
His music was once available only as expensive imports, with the songs often butchered
, but perhaps a new two volume
retrospective (reviewed here
) along with mp3s at iTunes, will make Franco more well known to those outside of Africa, where he is still revered. There remain untold hours of material to be digitized. Fortunately, there is Aboubacar Siddikh's youtube channel
, and various blogs
which feature long out of print Franco vinyl.
So, dive in: even if you don't know the languages, you will still lose yourself in those guitars
, those glorious
Be careful though: you enter OK
, but you leave knocked out!