The subject of this post is one of my favourite ones: the music of Franco and his O.K. Jazz. More precisely I would like to focus on that fascinating period of the early 1970s, when Franco took control of the O.K. Jazz and the O.K. Jazz had not yet 'transformed' into the Tout Puissant O.K. Jazz.
Although it is easy to state this nearly forty years later, I am inclined to belief that Franco came out on top after the attempts to undermine his popularity in the late 1960s. One of the key ingredients of his success, and not just then but throughout his career, was that he had a capacity to absorb influences by others while remaining himself. Asked about the inspiration for his music Franco has replied in several interviews that he has spent his whole life listening to the music from his country. These words are not to be taken as some form of cliché. Franco really listened to all music from Congo/Zaïre and had done so since his youth. Seen in this light the call by Mobutu for a "recours à l'authenticité" seems 'tailor-made' for Franco.
The word "recours" has over the years been misinterpreted. It does not mean a return to, but rather an appeal to.
And authenticity was of course by no means an invention of Mobutu. For Mobutu it was actually more a solution to an imminent - or perhaps even urgent - problem. In that respect I think there are some parallels with the present search for a national identity and the 'recours' to a disturbing and shortsighted form of nationalism in countries like the Netherlands...
For Franco the 'recours à l'authenticité' meant a confirmation of what he was already doing. When he contacted people from the pre-independence era of Congolese music in 1971 he wasn't the first to do so. Wendo had been playing with Rochereau in the 1960s. Contrary to Rochereau legendary musicians from the Ngoma label like Manuel D'Oliveira and Camille Feruzi played with the O.K. Jazz on equal terms; they weren't used as an embellishment.
As far as I know (and please, please, please correct me if I am wrong!) Franco recorded two songs with and by Manuel D'Oliveira and a whopping five with Camille Feruzi. Of the latter I am only sharing four with you in this post. Of the last song (unconfirmed title "Tika Kolela Cherie") I have only a sadly very low-fi copy.
Three of the songs with Camille Feruzi have been released on CD (Sonodisc CD 36581), but - typical of Sonodisc - not without a slight cockup. "Kuyina" has been renamed to "Mbanda Nasali Nini?", - which happens to be the title of the track that is missing from the CD.
The songs were originally released on three singles by Franco's Editions Populaires, and according to my information in December 1972 (the first two singles) and the beginning of January 1973 (the third). Gary Stewart states that it was exactly one year earlier, and - although I am willing to believe this - I have no confirmation of this, or of the source of this dating.
The first of the three singles contains besides Franco's brilliant "Likambo Ya Ngana", featuring not only Franco and Camille Feruzi (on accordion) but also the same female chorus that can be found on "Boma L'Heure", an equally brilliant "Casier Judiciaire" (= criminal record). And this last song is a different version from the track included on the CD I mentioned before. Franco's acoustic solo after 3'20 is to me one of the absolute highlights of his career.
A small detail: on the CD "Likambo Ya Ngana" fades out a few seconds earlier than on the single. Why??
EP 78 [Fiesta 51.149]
On the second are two compositions by Camille Feruzi. On the B-side is "Siluvangi Wapi Accordeon?" which you may know from the CD. And on the A-side is the song missing from the CD, "Mbanda Nasali Nini?". Again I wonder why. Why wasn't this song included in the CD?
Coincidentally this happens to be a song with a bit of a mystery. Because who is the singer besides Youlou Mabiala? Aboubacar Siddikh suggests it might be Vicky, but I am more inclined to think it is Kwamy. Alternatively it can be a singer brought along by Camille Feruzi (Tenor Beya perhaps?).
This song is not only different because of the singer, but also because of the arrangement. In the second part (after 2'32) there is a full orchestral arrangement with the horn section sparring with Feruzi's accordion. Fascinating!
EP 79 [Fiesta 51.151]
The third single not only features the fourth track with Camille Feruzi, "Kuyina", with Franco and Feruzi competing for a place in the limelight, but also a track composed by that seminal composer duo from the early 1950s: Georges Edouard and Manuel D'Oliveira. Together with Henri Freitas and Bila Edouard they formed the group San Salvador, which can be described as the band that laid the foundation for all Congolese modern music. I will certainly be dedicating a post (or perhaps even more than one) to this group in the coming year.
The song "Ba Mipangi Ya Matadi" is in my opinion the very best example of a "recours à l'authenticité". I am not sure of the singers, but I suspect one of them is Manuel D'Oliveira, and the other could be Michel Boyibanda. The rhythm is 100% San Salvador and is accentuated by the percussion. Franco seems to have adjusted his tuning to the tuning of San Salvador, but remains clearly and recognisably Franco.
Again I can not understand why this song has never been included on one of the many Sonodisc CD's.
EP 80 [Fiesta 51.181]
The three singles plus the second track of Manuel D'Oliveira with the O.K. Jazz ("Na Mokili Mibale Na Mibale" - see this post) can also be downloaded in one file and in the FLAC format (alternative links - 2 files: here and here).
I will be posting more from this fascinating period very soon.
I wish you all a happy, healthy and successful 2012!
* and I am well aware that you may already be in the new year.