L’ Okanga La Ndju Pene Luambo Lwanzo Makiadi –better known simply as Franco— died 20 years ago, October 12, 1989. Franco and his legendary TP OK Jazz band created some of the most wonderful and far-reaching African music for the latter half of the 20th century. He was (and is still) not just popular around the globe but he is adored all across Africa. Nevertheless, it seems to me the few American folks who are into Franco’s music are for the most part into his early recordings (look at the expansive Francophonic Vol. 1: 1953 – 1980 released by Sterns last year, celebrating the 70th anniversary of his birth.)
His 1980s hits are staples at African dances and celebrations, especially tunes like “Mario” and “Takoma ba camarade pamba” which are still extremely popular particularly among certain nostalgic African expatriates who migrated to Europe and the United States in the mid 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, it was in the mid ’80s that Franco and his band were at their most innovative, the era in which they packed nightclubs and stadiums all across Africa. In the ’80s Franco and TPOK Jazz were also surrounded by newer artists like Kanda Bongo Man and Pepe Kalle with exciting new musical and dance styles like Kwasa-Kwasa and Soukous which were faster with louder drums and and perhaps even sharper guitar melodies, not to mention the solos. Francophonic Vol. 2: 1980 – 1988 was released last week by Sterns. The songs on Francophonic Vol. 2, when listened to chronologically (the way it was intended/compiled for listening) one notices a shift in tempo and rhythmic programming as we move from song to song; the drums and percussive instruments are nudged forward, a bit to the foreground, and they become more restless and clearer/in the center, at times just behind guitar and underneath those sweet vocals, definitely not hiding anymore but creating space for and contributing to the undeniable grooves.
The track featured here is an epic hit and has a story that is all to real; “Mario” is a “song about a gigolo who despite being highly educated has chosen not to apply for jobs but would rather sit at home and live off his rich lover who happens to be a woman twice his age.”