The Undying Legend of King of Rumba Music, Luambo Luanzo Makiadi
By: Omwa Ombara
“Mario Nalembi eee…” This is Franco’s expression of the lamentation of a parent over the behaviour of his son, in his song — Mario: Despite spending so much on the son’s education, he continues to depend on him for everything, including food, clothes and accommodation. He complains that Mario should go and look for a job. Many youth, whose parents have sacrificed a lot for, continue frustrating them by refusing to leave home and start their own lives. An artiste never dies but continues to inspire the society in life and in death.Twenty-one years after his death Luambo Luanzo Makiadi’s voice still rings across Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Congo and the rest of the world. In homes, clubs and matatus, it is Franco, soothing hearts and giving humanity hope that the secret to success is not how many times one falls but the spirit to rise up, gather the ashes and plod on.Franco’s commitment to his music career, persistence, devotion, passion, and the knack to survive against all odds makes him a legend only comparable to Beethoven, Don Williams, Socrates, Plato, William Shakespeare, Nelson Mandela, Leo Tolstoy and other world legends. When he visited Kisumu during his second trip to Kenya in 1988, fans, eager to have a glimpse of him, went wild and broke the stadium walls. In Franco, the Kisumu crowd tried to relive some of the community’s legendary figures like Gor Mahia. His legend makes his autobiography one of the most expensive in the world. It costs Sh5,000 — more expensive than Obama’s Dreams From My Father and Nelson Mandela’s No Easy Walk to Freedom.Franco played his guitar to perfection. He did not keep female dancers, like Kanda Bongo Man, Tabu Ley and other Congolese musicians did — but let his audience enjoy themselves.Luambo Luanzo Makiadi was born in 1938 at Sona Bata, about 45km from Kinshasa, to Father Joseph Emongo and Mama Makiesse. Emongo was then employed by Congo Railways Company — Chemin De Congo. He was deployed at Mbanza Ngungu Station on Kinshasa Matadi Railway Line.After Franco was born, the family relocated to Kinshasa where little Franco grew up. His music career began upon meeting musician Paul Ebengo Dewayon, who inspired and trained him. Dewayon was his neighbour. They used to practise the guitar late into the night while in the course of the day Dewayon would be committed to some other jobs.House BandHe later formed a house band known as the Wattim Group where Franco performed remarkably well. Dewayon later introduced him to two Greek investors based in Kinshasa. They were deeply impressed by his performance and decided to give him an opportunity to exploit his talent. They made him the director of Opika Studio in Kinshasa. From there Franco made several recordings in the studio, where his great mentor Dewayon usually accompanied him.In 1956, Franco formed TPOK Jazz, incorporating several musicians from Congo Brazzaville. Also within the group was another influential musician, Vicky Bessenge Longomba. In 1956, the group got a chance to perform and entertain in 4 All Bar in Kinshasa sponsored by a wealthy Kinshasa businessman, Omar Kashama.In 1959, Franco was jailed following a traffic offence and his band remained under the leadership of Vicky Longomba. The band moved to Bandako up the river and Franco later joined them after his release and they returned to Kinshasa.In 1960, Vicky Longomba left TPOK Jazz briefly to join African Jazz on a trip to Europe where he made several recordings. In the same year, on the eve of Congo Brazzaville independence, many of the musicians from Congo Brazzaville left for home. Franco was faced with the task of recruiting new band members to replace them.In 1967, Franco released Matinda, which contributed to his popularity and success in music and made him famous in East Africa. In the same year some of his TPOK Jazz members left to form Orchestra Revolution but Franco was undeterred. Mobutu Sese SekoHe soldiered on and in 1971 released Tolanda Nzela Moko in praise of President Mobutu Sese Seko’s leadership. The song enjoyed massive popularity in East Africa. The musician produced more than 1,000 songs and 50 albums.Franco visited Kenya in 1983 and did live performances in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru and Kisumu. His music career ended with his deteriorating health and subsequent death in Brussels on October 12 1989. He last performed in Amsterdam and collapsed during a stage performance. He died eight days later at a clinic in Brussels. Mobutu honoured him with a state funeral. Though the curtain fell on Franco, his music lives on.
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