Franco and the TPO Jazz is down in the annals’ of history as one of the finest bands that ever existed in Africa.
The TPO OK Jazz transcended the Ok bar where the group was formed in 1957 and from whence the band got its name to establish itself as Africa’s premier band that dominated the music charts throughout the continent.
The Tout Puissant Jazz ( The All powerful Jazz) at some point was made up of over 20 talented members. Thanks to Franco’s brilliant leadership skills, the string of deflections that hit the group never really weakened the band as Franco was able to weather the storm of deflections.
The TPOK featured renowned household names like Madilu, Vicky Longomba (father of Awilo Longomba), Simaro, Julie Detta,malage De Lugendo, Tabu Ley, and Kwamy Munsi.
Unlike other Congolese music groups whose music targeted the well-to-do in society, Franco’s music was mainly geared toward the masses in its methodical rhythm and subtlety. He carefully handpicked topical issues that touched on the lives of all and sundry.
In the guise of example, Franco and the Ok jazz recorded a song labelled ‘Attention La Sida’ which was meant to sensitize the public about the dangers the Acquired Immune Defficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The song was sung in French ostensibly to reach a wider audience.
In 1974, Franco also released another song titled 12.600 Lettres,(12,600 Letters) which basically was in reference to the letters Franco received from female fans through Africa complaining about the poor treatment wives received from the brothers and sisters-in-laws. The song was a hit in Africa as most women identified themselves with the theme of the that track
However, the song captioned Mario, recorded in 1985 was perhaps Franco’s biggest hit. The soap-like song was about a gigolo who despite being highly educated chosed not to get a job and rather live off his lover, a woman twice his age.
Thanks to his rich collection of songs and shows, Franco became one of the richest citizen in Zaire. He was reportedly heavily involved in real estate business and owned properties in Belgium and France as well.
He also owned Kinshasa’s fourth largest and most popular nightclubs, the biggest of which Un-deux-trois (one two three)
The emergence of other Congolese bands like Zaiko Langa Langa, Kwassa kwassa and Soukous, which were more of a fast tempo dance, helped to dwindled the popularity of Franco and the TPO Jazz.
In 1989, the TP OK Jazz was in serious problems with many of its core members deflecting. Later that year Franco teamed up with Sam Mangwana to release what turned out to be Franco’s last recording.
The label was ‘Forever’ which was an eerie premonition of Franco’s impending demise.. The album sleeve showed an upsetting picture of Franco having lost more than half of his weight and looking wrinkled and sickly.
Listen to Walk Down Memory Lane on Continental Radio Station and get some of Franco’s finest songs.
With notes from Frederique Joseph in Kinshasa and Franco Luambo and TP OK Jazz in the early 70s.
The Continental Radio Station (CRS) is an online radio station run by African media savvies targeting the African and world audience.