Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Thursday, October 15, 2009

In honor of Franco

In honor of the greatest Congolese musician of the 20th century, Franco Luambo, who died 20 years ago this week, I wanted to give a platform to some (probably gratuitous) speculations on Kinshasa's streets.

In 1985, Franco released what would become his greatest hit, Mario. It was a rambling, 13 minute track about a young gigolo who, despite having a god education, chose to sit around and live off his lover, a woman twice his age. Wonderful stuff, especially because there was some speculation that the maestro was really talking about Mobutu - the double entendres and oblique criticism were typical of Congolese music and Franco's own style of social commentary. After all, Franco could not openly insult his biggest benefactor. The Congo is full of this playful, tongue in cheek resistance.

Which brings me to the gossip on the radio trottoir of Kinshasa. Earlier this year, Kofi Olomide - arguably the successor the Franco as the king of the Congolese rumba - released his new album, "Bor Ezanga Kombo," which translates roughly as "The Thing Without a Name." This, naturally, led aficionados quickly to infer that he was talking about none other than President Kabila, whom many Kinois still suspect of being Tanzanian, real name Hippolyte Kanambe. Hence: The Thing Without a Name. Check out the track, even if you don't get the words, it's a good show.

Talking about names, for some reason Kofi has now (actually for the past 2 years) changed his name to Kofi Olomide Sarkozy. Is it entirely unclear why - I guess in 2007 there weren't many other charismatic western leaders to choose from. Maybe next year it will be Kofi Obama Olomide (after all, one of Werra Son's greatest proteges used to go by Bill Clinton (now McKintosh)). He's already tried Grand Mopao, Mopao Mokonzi, Papa bonheur, Papa plus, Papa fleur, Koraman, Quadra Koraman, Tati Wata, Chéri O, Benoît XVI (he had to drop this last name after the Catholic church protested)....

Franco was just Franco.


jfdub said...

And there a great compilation of Franco's work coming out this week on Sterns records - Francophonic volume 2 (1980-1989). The first volume about his earlier works is just awesome... JFD

Unknown said...

Thanks for reminding us of this and reminding people of the rich musical tradition in Congo. Koffi says he chose Sarkozy because of Sarko's style--blunt and showy--and because Koffi was once a resident of Neuilly-sur-Seine, where Sarko was mayor and made headlines carrying out those kids from the hostage situation. You already knew this probably but other readers might not have. I think there was a JA interview with Koffi that addressed this. He still keeps his other monikers, doesn't he? The handles to his home in Mont Fleury are still in the shape of "MM," signifying mopao mokonzi. -Josh

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