Lest we forget – popular Congolese figures nurtured, mentored, showed others the way

Monday, March 22nd, 2021 00:00 |
Simaro. Photo/PD/File

While the grim reaper takes the best of the best, one thing is certain, legendary musicians did not take their talents to the grave. Alan Adalla looks at how popular Congolese figures nurtured, mentored and showed others the way

The month of March began on a sad note to the music world after the sudden loss of two music legends in just a week.

Reggae musician Neville O’Reilly Livingstone populaly known as Bunny Wailer departed at 73.

Four days later, Joseph Kiambukuta Londa, better known as Josky of Tout Puissant Orchestre Kinshasa (TPOK ) an all-powerful Kinshasa orchestra band, died at 72, with his family confirming that he died out of fatigue. 

The demise of the Chandra hitmaker has struck the Congolese Rumba fanatics hard, as many claim that it is the end of an era for TPOK Jazz band, which was once the biggest music band in Africa  formed in 1956 by the legendary Luambo Makiadi alias Franco.

Josky, also known as “Le Commandant”, was mentored by Franco. His popular songs have hit the airwaves ever since his death was announced including, Mabi, Bimansha, Chandra, Sincerite, Fariya and Missile.

He joined TPOK Jazz band as a vocalist in the early 1960s together with his close comrade Simaro Lutumba who earned the moniker, “Poet” due to his mastery in composing songs. 

Big hit

This month marks the second anniversary of Simaro’s death after succumbing to diabetes and hypertension on March 30, 2019.

Josky changed the face of TPOK band. Photo/PD/File

Together with Josky, the duo changed the face of the band after joining when some of the band members such as Vicky Longomba—the father of Lovy Longomba (member of Super Mazembe) and Awilo Longomba, both popular musicians — left the group to form Lovy du Zaire band.

Simaro is credited with composing many songs for the band including, Testament ya Bowule, sang by Malage de Lugendo, Faute Ya Commercant  sang by Sam Mangwana, among others. 

“I accomplished my mission. Let others follow in my footsteps. I consider myself a music teacher”, said Simaro during his official retirement on March 19, 2018.

Franco’s death in October 1989 at age 51 was a big hit to the Congolese rumba.

He was given a state sendoff granted by the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko whom Franco once composed for him a song titled Candidat ya Mobutu campaigning for his presidency.

Franco had more than 150 albums and over 1,000 songs. Franco developed the Afro-Cuban music into the “Rumba Congolaise,” later known as “Soukous”.

They say that music knows no language, and this made Franco become a brand all across Africa with his lyrics, which were in Lingala and French language.

Known for his skill of African Rumba, he was nicknamed by fans and critics “Sorcerer of the Guitar”.

Franco mentored almost every Congolese musician that rose during his era. The late Jean de Dieu Makiese better known as Madilu System was also amongst the popular artists that passed through his hands.

Madilu was described as the band’s “brightest vocal talent” during its 1980s heyday. Madilu’s first hit with TPOK Jazz was Mamou in 1984 and then Mario.

Madilu together with Simaro, Josky and other members of Bana OK tried to continue with the band after the death of Franco, but due to wrangles over funds, the group officially collapsed in 1993. 

Madilu went solo and this saw his success giving us more hits including Ya Jean, Vice Versa, Vieux Sammy, Frere Edouard, Pesa position, Sans Pappier, Nzele, among others.

Madilu met his death while shooting his last songs videos after collapsing on Friday, August 10, 2007.

We also can’t forget Mose Fan Fan, the legend guitarist and the hitmaker of Papa Lolo who met his death in May 2019. He was also a product of Franco. 

Tabu Ley Rochereau was amongst the few Congolese musicians that were successful without ever being a member of TPOK Jazz, but he did some songs with Franco with Ngungi done in 1983 being one of them. Some of his popular hits were Maze and Ibeba. 

Tabu Ley died in 2013 aged 73, but Kenyans remember him for one thing: In 1985, the Government of Kenya banned all foreign music.

After Tabu Ley composed the song Twende Nairobi (Let’s go to Nairobi), sang by M’bilia Bel, in praise of Kenyan former president Daniel Arap Moi, the ban was promptly lifted. 

Tabu Ley identified Mbilia Bel’s talent at a younger age, trained her and she later became the first female soukous singer to gain acclaim throughout Africa.

In 1988 Tabu Ley introduced another female vocalist known as Faya Tess who still makes cover songs of these classic Congolese hits amongst them being Mokolo na Kokufa that was originally done by Tabu Ley and Tangawisi that was originally done by TPOK Jazz. 

Rhumba chapter not yet closed

With most people saying that Congolese Soukous music is dead, there are so many artists that kept the rumba music on the map after the death of Franco, the likes of  Kanda Bongo Man aged 66.

He last performed in Kenya in the Koroga festival in 2019. We also have Sam Mangwana, 76, the hitmaker of Fatimata, Toujours featuring Franco among others.

He is renowned of his proficience in several languages, and can sing passionately in Lingala, Kikongo, Swahili, Portuguese, French, and English.

Sam still composes songs and performs on stage.”It hasn’t been easy coping with the loss of many of my counterparts, but I’m optimistic that the musical spirit will carry on,” says Sam.

Other Congolese musicians that are still hitting the airwaves include the controversial Koffi Olomide aged 64,  who started from Papa Wemba’s band, Viva la Musica in 1970s.

He has had several gold records in his career being the founder of the Quartier Latin International orchestra that gave birth to notable artistes, including Fally Ipupa and Ferré Gola. Others include Samba Mapangala, Tshala Muana, Nyboma, Werrason among others. 

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