November 02, 2008

Our candidate

This is the first post in a series about political songs by Franco. In two days time a new president will be elected in the U.S.A.. Whether there is much of a choice to be made by the electorate remains to be seen. However, things can always be worse (or can they?).

On July 29th/30th, 1984, presidential elections were being held in Zaire (now D.R.C.) and there was only one candidate, Mobutu Sese Seko. Luambo Makiadi, aka Franco, was "asked" to produce a propaganda song for the occasion and, as if he had a choice, he obliged. The result was "Candidat Na Biso Mobutu".

Several of the songs Franco produced in his career involving politics, had aspects about the musical arrangement that were uncommon in his repertoire. Today's posting has a treat I have not detected in too many other songs by Franco & le T.P. O.K. Jazz, and that is muted trumpets.
At the time, this song may not have stood out as an exceptional gem in Franco's total output, but in hindsight, in the light of what is being produced by today's artists, it is certainly worth listening to.

More about Franco's relationship with Mobutu in this interview with Lutumba Simaro.

"I will tell you a little about the person who was Mobutu. He was a fanatic for Franco, above everything. He was a fanatic for our team, even before he was president. I found Mobutu at Franco's side when I came in 1961. At all the parties that happened at Mobutu's home, when they hired a band, it was we who played. Baptisms of children, birthdays, all that. Mobutu was a fanatic for Franco as an artist.

It was Mobutu who chose, frankly. When Mobutu rose to power, it was 1965. In '66, we were in Brazza, making a little tour, and Mobutu asked Franco and his band to come back to Kinshasa to play. So we stopped and went back directly with Franco to Ndolo. Ndolo was a small prison in town that was reserved for the military. After a day or two, we went to Franco. The president had told him to stay at his side. "With me in power, you will go far. I will have need of you." So that's how it started. In any case, as I said, as far as the relationship between President Mobutu and Franco, from the start, Mobutu was a fanatic for Franco. And with time, as he became president, he was president of all the artists, not just Franco. Those who were lucky enough to play for President Mobutu received his small gifts that the president gave them. It was not only Franco.

So, when President Mobutu had need of a little publicity, or even propaganda, he would call Franco secretly. But he gave opportunities to many artists. It was Mobutu who decided. He had a whole community. "We'll do it like this. He will speak and tell people to listen. Simaro will make a song. Another will make a song. We'll record them and I'll listen and decide which is the best song." That's how it worked.

When Franco was very sick, near the end, Mobutu did something for him. Even when he was dead, the band found him in Europe, and President Mobutu paid all the bills, the hotels and everything. He asked all the artists to return. He sent a special plane that brought the body."
(Quoted without permission, I hope they'll forgive me. )

More political songs by Franco:

Dix Ans Ya Révolution (1975)
Béléla Authenticité Na Congres Ya MPR (1970)
République du Zaire (Kwamy) (1970)
Lumumba, Hero National
Ngai Kaka Bomboko (1977)

And two by African Jazz:

Vive Patrice Lumumba
Table Ronde

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