Well, let's get it over with then. I could have posted Osadebe's "Rangers International", "FC Dragons" by Johnny Bokelo or Mokontafe Sako's tribute to "Les Aigles du Mali". But instead I am going to go for a duel between two of the leading figures of the two schools of Congolese music: Franco and his Tout Puissant O.K. Jazz and Tabu Ley Rochereau and his Orchestre Afrisa. Both made a tribute to a Gabonese football team, the Football Canon 105 from Libreville.
Gabon have never qualified for the World Cup. Their team, "Azingo Nationale" (or "Black Panthers"), finished behind Cameroon in the qualification for the 2010 edition, which has started yesterday. They did managed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations three times, with their best showing a place in the quarterfinals in 1996. In the 2010 edition they didn't survive the group stage, although they beat Cameroon.
The Black Panthers play their home matches in the Omar Bongo Stadium in Libreville, - which also happens to be the stadium of Gabon's most succesful club: the FC 105 de Libreville. The FC 105, founded in 1975 as the club of the army and the police, was mainly succesful on a national level, winning 11 titles. Their heyday was in the 1980s. They won the championship in 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986 and in 1987.
Given the political situation in Gabon at the time, I am almost certain that president Omar Bongo must have had something to do with this success. And I strongly suspect that he also had a hand in commissioning two of Africa's leading stars to sing in praise of those immortal heroes of the FC 105.
Tabu Ley was the first to receive a commission. He released this lp in 1985, no doubt on the occasion of the fourth championship. In his sleeve notes on the back of this lp Tabu Ley is trying hard to convince us that the release was inspired by his love of football and that the FC 105 had been his team all along. He is careful to avoid mentioning the name of Omar Bongo, even in the name of the stadium (..."dont je tais le nom"). As for the title track, listening to it terrible and traumatic images keep flashin in my mind of le Seigneur dressed in a white sheet prancing 'round the stage in the Melkweg. I have tried to trace the folkloric Gabonese dance "Nzobé" from which the rhythm was borrowed for this track, but have been unable to find a musical example in my collection.
Ley cites FC 105's slogan of "compétence, éfficacité et disponibilité", and names founder, board members and other functionaries with the club, - all signs of a commission....
Personally I prefer the B-side of this lp, which opens with a version of "La beauté d'une femme" sung by Rochereau himself. This song is probably better known in the version sung by Mbilia Bel, which was released shortly after this version. The album is concluded by a track composed by Mekanisi Modero (who happened to feature in the recent Cobantou post).
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Franco's version of "le F.C. 105 de Libreville" was released the same year.
Right from the start of this song it is obvious that Franco's approach of the subject is going to be more subtle. The chorus (heavyweights Josky Kiambukuta, Madilu System and - probably - Lola Djangi Chécain) recalls the foundation of the club, and when the horns set in an anonymous narrator 'officially' (or ceremoniously, if you like) announces the subject of the song. After this impressive opening Franco joins in after two minutes, on guitar first, and after 2'42 on lead vocal.
Tabu Ley once told me in an interview that he started liking Franco's singing in the 1980s. I don't agree; I think he was already a superior backing vocalist, even in the 1950s. And as a lead vocalist he may not have met any belcanto standards, but he certainly succeeded in touching many an emotional button with his audiences. This is, however, not one of Franco's most inspired songs. Like Tabu Ley, he does little more than cite the names of FC 105 big shots and functionaries. In the sebene, after 9'14, the interplay between the guitars is quite interesting, with Franco injecting some short, but clearly recognisable chords.
The B-side features two songs about the darker side of love. The first of these, "Bourreau des coeurs" (which translates as "ladykiller"), was composed by Denis Bonyeme, a singer who Franco had attracted as a (vocal) replacement for Ntesa Dalienst, who had left the T.P. O.K. Jazz in 1984. I can only guess what inspired Bonyeme, and perhaps it is only a coincidence that a french movie with the same name appeared a few years earlier. Curiously the lead vocalist in this song is none other than the man Bonyeme was supposed to replace: Ntesa Dalienst. Although he had moved to Europe, he remained an 'appartenair' (associate) of the O.K. Jazz, and was available for concerts and for recording sessions in the European studios.
Franco's role on guitar was filled in by Thierry Mantuika.
It is also remarkable that Franco played this song during two concerts in the Netherlands in 1984 (one of these - in which Franco himself is playing - can be found here) as well as during a concert in Brussels in 1983, i.e. two years before it was released on lp.
The composer of the last track of this lp is a certain Djo Djo. I don't think this was a member of the orchestra. Perhaps this Djo Djo is singer Djo-Djo Bayingue, who played with Papa Wemba.
Josky, singing the lead, is the main attraction of this song, with the solid chorus coming second.
All and all this is quite a good B-side, and better than a lot of other albums from this period.
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Interestingly enough, in 1986 (a year after these albums were released) president Omar Bongo divorced his second wife, Marie Josephine Kama. She moved on to start a career as a singer, under the name of Patience Dabany. I personally only know her of an album in which together with Tabu Ley (!) she sings a song in memory of Franco (!!)....
But getting back to football, I think the winner of this FC 105 match is clearly Franco. Tabu Ley scores points with his B-side, but sadly makes an own-goal with the A-side. Franco not only impresses with some classic team work, but with the star duo Ntesa & Josky scores some serious goals on the B-side....