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François Luambo Makiadi

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Franco Luambo

Background information
Birth name François Luambo Makiadi
Also known as Franco
Born July 6, 1938(1938-07-06)
Died October 12, 1989 (aged 51)
Genre(s) Rumba
Occupation(s) Singer, songwriter, guitarist
Instrument(s) Guitar
Vocals
Years active 1950-1980s
Associated acts OK Jazz, TPOK Jazz

François Luambo Makiadi (6 July 1938 - 12 October 1989) was a major figure in twentieth century Congolese music, and African music in general. He is widely referred to as Franco Luambo or, simply, Franco. Known for his mastery of rumba, he was nicknamed the "Sorcerer of the Guitar" for his seemingly effortlessly fluid playing. As a founder of the seminal group OK Jazz, he is counted as one of the originators of the modern Congolese sound.

Contents

[edit] Formative years

Francois Luambo Makiadi was born in the rural village of Sona Bata in the western Bas Zaire region of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then the colony of Belgian Congo). When he was still a baby, his parents moved to the capital city of Leopoldville (now Kinshasa). His father, Joseph Emongo, was a railroad worker while his mother baked homemade bread to sell at a local market. At age seven he built a rudimentary guitar that he played to attract customers to his mother's stall. His talent was recognized by guitarist Paul Ebengo Dewayon who taught Francois how to play. In 1950, the twelve year old made his professional debut as a member of Dewayon's band, Watam, impressing audiences with his skills on a guitar almost as big as himself. Three years later, Francois recorded his first single Bolingo na ngai na Beatrice (My love for Beatrice) after he had become part of the house band for Loningisa Studio. The band leader, Henri Bowane, shortened his given name to "Franco", a tag that would stay with him for the rest of his life. Under Bowane's tutorage Franco became a lead guitarist skilled at the Congolese guitar display style called sebene, and also began writing songs for Loningisa artists and singing some himself. By now he had embraced the Cuban rumba and other styles of African music mixed with Latin influences.

In 1955, although he was being given plenty of studio work, Franco formed a band with Jean Serge Essous that debuted in the OK Bar in Leopoldville. The following year the band was renamed OK Jazz (later TPOK Jazz) in honor of the place it had begun. Within a year of its founding, OK Jazz, now with singer Vicky Longomba, was challenging Grand Kalle's African Jazz as the biggest group in Congolese music, and it continues to be the standard by which modern Congolese musicians are judged. In 1958, Essous left OK Jazz, as 19 year-old Franco went on to become the main songwriter of a constantly metamorphosizing group that ballooned from six original members to about 30 in the 1980s. Franco claims that OK Jazz produced over 150 albums during the 30 years of its existence, though 84 have been conclusively documented, and the band dominated the Congolese music scene.

In 1958, Franco was jailed for a motoring offense, but by now he had become a star in Léopoldville and crowds of fans enthusiastically greeted the release of their rebel anti-hero. This was a time when confidence was growing and Congo was moving towards the independence that would come in 1960. As the violence and instability then accompanying the transition to independence spread Leopoldville grew with migrants from the countryside and its nightlife continued to thrive. In 1960 Longomba left OK Jazz, leaving Franco as undisputed leader, of an enlarged band.

The continued violence in the country convinced Franco to move OK Jazz to Belgium to continue recording. When the situation stabilized under the rule of dictatorial President Mobutu Sese Seko, who named the new country 'Zaire', Franco was supportive and returned to play the Festival of African Arts in Kinshasa in 1966. OK Jazz in return gained government support as part of Mobutu's attempt to create an authentically Zairean culture. Nevertheless, Franco did not shy from political subjects in his songs, or from venturing from his accustomed 'praise' tradition of music to the 'preaching' tradition, leading to several arrests when he displeased the authorities. These brushes with the law only increased his popularity with his fans.

[edit] Mid-career

Franco proved to be an astute businessman, forming a number of recording companies to control his own work and nurture new talent (Surboum OK Jazz, Epanza Makita, Boma Bango and Éditions Populaires). In the 1970s Congolese music spread throughout Africa, led by OK Jazz with its line-up of star musicians and songs such as their huge 1971 hit Infidelité Mado, still playing rumba but supplementing it with bolero and other new rhythms, switching from section to section of a song between traditional Congolese music, Latin rhythms, American funk, and the electric guitar sebene style known as soukous.

In 1970 Franco suffered the loss of his younger brother and rival guitarist Bavon Marie-Marie Siongo who was killed in a car accident after angrily driving away from a quarrel with Franco over a girlfriend, who was also crippled in the accident. For some months he retreated into his home returning with a quieter and sometimes melancholy persona and music. But the band quickly revived, now becoming TPOK Jazz, the almighty, and scoring another pan-African hit in 1973 with AZDA which was in fact recorded as a commercial for Zaire's Volkswagen dealership.

Remaining close to Mobuto, despite occasional fallings-out, Franco thrived in the 1970s, becoming president of the Musicians’ Union, and an employee of the royalty agency, while continuing to perform and record. He went on to own land in France, Belgium and Zaire including the four biggest nightclubs in Kinshasa one of which the Un Deux Trois club became his headquarters, a large building including a recording studio, offices and apartments. Following his second arrest, in 1978, for indecency when bootleg cassettes of private recordings of obscene songs found their way on to the market, Franco left Zaire touring constantly, particularly in Africa and Europe. However at this point, there were two OK Jazzs, one left behind playing nightly at his clubs in Zaire while the other was on the road in Europe.

OK Jazz never broke into the American market; a 1983 U.S. tour was unsuccessful. For reasons that have never been explained, Franco declared himself a Muslim in the mid-1970s and changed his name to Abubakkar Sidikki. However, he never observed the tenets of the Islamic faith and continued to be known as Franco.

[edit] The 1980s

In 1980, Franco was named a Grand Master of Zairean music by the government, an honor that linked him with the ruling elite that was responsible for much of the economic problems beggaring the country. The subject of his songs shifted dramatically in this period to patriotic songs and praise songs to wealthy fans. He also began a drastic weight gain, eventually reaching about 300 pounds (136 kg). However, he retained the ability to move and excite people with his music. In 1985, Franco released his biggest hit ever, Mario, an account of a gigolo who lives off of his older lover.

In 1987 rumors began to circulate that Franco was very ill. The only solo composition he released that year was "Attention Na SIDA" ("Beware of AIDS"), a warning to avoid catching the disease, leading to unconfirmed speculation that he had contracted HIV. He began to withdraw his energies from OK Jazz, causing the band to begin to disintegrate under internal tensions, and reconverted from Islam to Roman Catholicism. On 12 October 1989 Franco died while in a Belgian clinic. His body was flown back to Zaire where his coffin was transported on a flag-drapped hearse with police escort through streets packed with thousands of grieving fans. The government declared four days of national mourning during which state radio played nothing but Franco's songs. On 17 October he was buried.

[edit] References

Liner notes from [Francophonic - Vol. 1: 1953-1980] by Ken Braun / [Sterns Music]

[edit] External links (inc discography)

[edit] See also

[edit] Further reading

  • Congo Colossus: Life and Legacy of Franco and OK Jazz by Graeme Ewens, Publisher: Buku P. (12 Oct 1994), ISBN-10: 0952365502

[edit] Band members

[edit] Line-ups

1956

with

1957

Franco, Vicky Longomba and De La Lune Lubelo with...

1960s

the band included:

1970s

the band included:

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