October 12, 2008

The magic of Franco

A key track in the oeuvre of Franco is the 1974 song "Kinzonzi Kitata Mbenda*". Composed and recorded in a time when Mobutu was at the height of his power. In an attempt to create his own version of a négritude movement he had 'africanised' Congo into Zaïre, and had ordained that all culture must comply with the standards of Authenticité.
It was a time of intellectual challenges. In the OK Jazz these were met by Lutumba Simaro's poetic masterpieces "Ebale Ya Zaïre" and "Mabele".
Franco, ever the man of the common Congolese, complied with the song "Kinzonzi Kitata Mbenda".

The text does little to explain the deeper meaning:
Let me go (away), (for) the palabre is in the blood. Ask Papa Mbemba, mama (2x)
Chorus:Eh, eh, ask Papa Mbemba
Papa Mbemba, the palabre is in the blood, (so) they have lied to the people of Kinshasa, mama
Papa Mbemba, the palabre is in the blood, (so) they have lied to those from Zongo, my father
Let me go (away) eh eh. Let me go (away), mama
Papa Mbemba, the palabre is in the blood, (so) they have lied to schoolchildren, mama

The deeper meaning of this song was revealed to us by Ntesa Dalienst. You can hear his explanation (in French) here. Translated:
It means this: the elders, when you go to a family meeting (palabre) you have to get the young involved, so that the young listen and see what you are doing. Because that's the way the tradition is learned. You shouldn't say to a child "do this, do that". No, your child, you should invite him to the family meeting. And now, the child sees and listens, and it teaches him, doesn't it. And he grows up with that and he grows up with that maturity. There's no school where you can take children to learn tradition. There isn't one.
That's what Franco wants to say in this song.
So the school of tradition is to involve children, even the youngest, in the family meeting. They listen, they see what happens, and in the long run, they grow up, up, up, - and he too now he can give... Voilà - there is a discussion in the family, and the child, he also can cut in, because he will continue what the elders have done. Because tradition doesn't change. It's all that has been said and all that will continue, like. That's the way it moves on. You shouldn't go to school to go and learn tradition.
The lark can't say to his child: "look, we're going to do this". No, he takes off and says to his child "follow me". The child follows and sees what his mother is doing, how she lands, and he goes "ah...". So, life is like that. So Franco - all that, that's what he was singing.
That's the magic of Franco. Even the tumba, the conga [mimics conga playing] that's tradition. That was the magic of Franco (.... [unintelligible])
Do you know why? Because Franco, he followed his mother. To every family meeting. For example there is this song which was sung.. For example, now you and Stefan have a dispute. And this dispute has taken enormous proportions. And to talk about it you have invited people to sit down and sort it out. Now, when they come there is an old man who wants to give you an advice. And instead of talking to you he wants to sing you a song.
For example, Gerard is wrong and you are right, and instead of only saying to Gerard "you are wrong", I will use a song. "Gerard, you shouldn't give the wrong which you have to Stefan (you shouldn't blame S. for your error). Accept that you're wrong and take it unflinchingly". Instead of sáying that he will sing a song. [sings a line from Kinzonzi Kitata Mbenda] So, Gerard, don't give your wrong to Stefan, accept that you were wrong and the problem will be resolved. So this song existed before this old men was born, before you too would be born. Do you see? Because he went to the family meetings - which gave him this experience - instead of saying "we'll do this, we'll do that. Shut up [? unintelligible]. No not that!" Well-mannered, he only sings one song, and you understand "ah, but yes, this old man is right...."

I have tried to stick to the French, so you can follow Ntesa's words.

The track is in Kikongo, the language of Franco's mother. It can be heard here.
Other tracks in Kikongo by the (TP) OK Jazz:
Nda-ya (by Mpudi Decca - not the whole track is in Kikongo)

* it is very likely that the title was misspelled on the album. According to Congolese sources it should be "Kinzonzi Ki Tata Mbemba" ("the palabre of Papa Mbemba").

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