October 12, 2019

30 Years

It is hard to believe that thirty years have passed since Franco died. Regular visitors of this blog (if there are any) probably recall my earlier posts on the subject of his demise and the sad or even tragic circumstances of his last performance, just twenty days before in the Melkweg in Amsterdam.
Fortunately a lot has been done in the last few years to preserve and/or restore his legacy. And one can only hope that even more can be retrieved before it disappears in the inevitable mist of time.

In this post I would like to share one of the key albums of the Grand Maître's extensive legacy. This double album, "Tonton Franco et le T.P. O.K. Jazz - 6 juin 1956-6 juin 1980 - 24 Ans d'Age", released on the V.I.S.A. 1980 label (FRAN 004-005), contains eight songs, - and only one composed by Franco himself. The album was released in 1981, so in fact almost 25 years after the foundation of the O.K. Jazz.
It is only the fourth album on the V.I.S.A. label, the label which Franco had initiated after the collapse of Fonior/Decca in March 1980 and for which he had negotiated a distribution deal with Daniel Cuxac's Disco Stock in Abidjan in 1980 (an interview with Daniel Cuxac from 1983 can be found on the afrodisc.com website).

Unlike the first of the V.I.S.A. 1980 albums this album is not dominated by Franco himself, but more of an orchestra-wide effort, with compositions from Josky Kiambukuta, Ndombe Opetum, Gerry Dialungana, Lola Djangi (a.k.a. Chécain), Makosso (credited as "Mackos" on the label and "Makos" on the sleeve) and two compositions by Wuta Mayi. Of the two records the first one probably contains the most 'well-known' songs. Songs which were reproduced during concerts in the 1980s and became 'household names' with mélomanes all over Africa.
It looks like this record was intended as a 'theme' record, and perhaps even as a single lp. For the songs "Propriétaire" (owner), "Héritier" (heir), "Locataire" (tenant) and "Ayant Droit" (beneficiary or rightful owner) all refer to ownership and rights. It is doubtful that these songs were composed with this theme in mind though, as the composers later referred to them with other titles. "Héritier" was also referred to as "Machata", "Propriétaire" as "Sambwa Sambwa".

There are many highlights on this classic album. The first of my personal favourites is the start of Josky's "Propriétaire". I just love it when Ntesa Dalienst shines through in the chorus, adding extra swirls like a baroque painter.
Ntesa & Wuta Mayi
After 2'39 the rhythm changes into the trademark 'San Salvador' shuffle, used in more of Josky's compositions. Josky is - as always - in great form, with the typical decline at the end of his lines (which for some strange reason is why I love Josky's singing).
Josky is also great in the chorus in "Héritier", where he is joined by Lukoki Diatho, adding warmth and depth to the song which - as often with Ndombe's compositions - has plenty of drive, but tends to stay a bit two-dimensional.
"Ayant Droit", the first of the two compositions by Wuta Mayi, is in my opinion the star of "24 Ans d'Age". It has everything: great rhythm, great arrangement and - above all - great vocals. The melodious lead vocal by Wuta Mayi, the adornments by Ntesa, Josky providing the solid base: this is why the T.P. O.K. Jazz was top of the league. Ntesa told us in 1991 that Franco did not play on this and the other Wuta Mayi song; so the 'Franco guitar' in "Ayant Droit" is Thierry Mantuika.

Of course this is not the case on "Locataire". This is Tonton Franco himself playing. Once more Ntesa is prominently present, although more restrained than in the Josky and Wuta Mayi compositions. As per usual with the Franco compositions the sébène is intense, with Franco in charge.

"Kufwa Ntangu", composed by guitarist Gerry Dialunga, features Wuta Mayi and Josky alternating on lead vocal, backed by (a once more very prominent) Ntesa and (probably) Lola Djangi. "Probably" as Lola manages to stay well hidden behind Ntesa, but the combination of voices does remind me of his own composition, - which happens to be the next song on the album. "Kufwa Ntangu"" is one of those songs that grows on you after a while, and it is a pity that it is the shortest song on the album.

"Meka Okangama" has that special element which typifies a Lola Djangi composition: there is always something of a "mélodie mélancholique", as he himself described it. Even with the energetic voice of Ntesa besides him Chécain succeeds in radiating a certain sadness in this wonderful song, which is probably the most typical 'old school' O.K. Jazz song on the album. Besides Ntesa Josky is singing and Ndombe was clearly present during the recording (he can be heard animating at 8'30) but I doubt if he was singing.

Wuta Mayi's second composition, "Likambo Ya Moto", is in my opinion not as exciting as "Ayant Droit", but still has some interesting vocal combinations, with Ntesa, Lukoki Diatho and of course Wuta Mayi. Although Franco is not playing there is a lot of guitars battling it out in the sébène...

Djo Mpoyi, who joined the orchestra in 1978, only sings on one song: "Banza", composed by rhythm guitarist Makosso (full name Makonko Kindudi). Like "Héritier" this song does not feature Ntesa Dalienst, but this is amply compensated by Josky, who is backed by Wuta and Djo. Josky is once more in great form and really carries this song.

"24 Ans d'Age" is not so much a showcase of le Grand Maître Franco, but more of his Tout Puissant O.K. Jazz, and particularly of the vocal talents, which in the year before the release of this album had led to a huge hit with Ntesa's "Liyanzi Ekoti Ngai Na Motema". With the album Franco targeted a wide, mainly African, audience. The success of the V.I.S.A. 1980 albums made him realise that an even wider audience was possible, and in the following years he developed a plan to reach out to the world.

Wuta Mayi - Josky - Djo Mpoyi - Franco - Makosso - Papa Noel - Ndombe - Lola Djangi

Live versions of these songs can be seen on Aboubacar Siddikh's YouTube channel:
Propriétaire: Télé-Zaïre 1980
Héritier: Télé-Zaïre 1980
Ayant Droit: Télé-Zaïre 1980 and at 1-2-3
Locataire: Télé-Zaïre 1980 and in Abidjan 1980
Kufwa Ntangu: Télé-Zaïre 1980 and in Abidjan 1980
Meka Okangama: Télé-Zaïre 1980

And for those who can not enjoy music without seeing a picture, Aboubacar has also uploaded the songs of this album: Propriétaire - Héritier - Ayant Droit - Locataire - Kufwa Ntangu - Meka Okangama - Likambo Ya Moto - Banza.

FRAN 004/005 (mp3)
FRAN 004/005 (flac - available until December 31, 2019)


PS: coming up: more music from Mali....


11 comments:

niyi said...

Thanks for the lovely tribute. I always thought Likambo ya Moto was a Diatho Lukoki composition.
RIP Franco

Iroakazi CL said...

Thanks for your dedication to African music and to Africa. What you do here will endure and, probably 50 years from now, future generation of Africans would be thankful that you existed and built this web site. For that, I ask that whatever we are not sure of we get clarity on them now that some of the actors are still alive. In writing this piece, you made some speculations that can't pass the test of history. How about we find out the true information from some of these actors who are still alive -- like Wuta Mayi and Josky Kiambukatu?

This suggestion takes nothing away from your beautiful explanation. Thanks.

Issa said...

Thank you very much for this fantastic post, as usual on this blog!So happy to listen this great album by T.P. O.K. Jazz and "Grand Maître" Franco...
RIP Luambo Makiado and so many great artists from T.P. O.K. Jazz

WrldServ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WrldServ said...

@Iroakazi CL: You are right that we should try and get clarity now that at least a few of the actors are still alive. That is what we have been trying to do. The problem is that for the actors themselves this is often 'ancient history'. When talking about who was singing in what song - for example - there can be quite a lot of confusion, as the recording session were just one single occasion in which the song was performed, and there were far more occasions when the song was performed on stage, - and often with a different set of singers. The live videos to which I linked in this post are evidence of this

Unknown said...

I love this rich history of contemporary African music. Franco & Le TPOK Jazz will forever be remembered by music lovers allover the World.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for the music and stories

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Tagaya Ogosso said...

Thank you for the detailed information.
Franco's 30ē anniversàire!

Unknown said...

It is always great to hear from you Stefan, I've always been on this blog on a weekly or fortnightly basis at worst. Regarding "Ayant Droit", according to AboubacarSiddikh the vocalists were Wuta Mayi, Ntesa Dalienst, Djo Mpoyi & Diatho Lukoki in the studio version. I'm now fairly confused on the composition of the vocalists although I know Josky did sing in several live versions

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot Stefan,
for this particular post, but also the many more you posted thru-out. Enhancing my knowledge of these sounds that were often ubiquitous in the background of my youth.
Peace,
Don Julian

Iroakazi CL said...

Thanks @WrldServ for your further clarification while addressing my concern. Your response makes a lot of sense and we can live with fact that you often try to clarity from any confusion. Great job, bro.