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Retrospect
newsletters from the recent past

Newsletters from the recent past

SUMMER 1999




RetroAfric reveals origin of world's greatest band

FRANCO & OK JAZZ, 'Originalité', RETRO2XCD

RetroAfric first released 'Originalité' as a vinyl LP in 1987. The original material has been remastered with CEDAR technology and the album has been brought up to CD length with four previously unavailable tracks, 17-20, which will delight Franco aficionados. A new catalogue number denotes the added value version: the bar code remains the same.

Of all the fabled dance bands in Africa, OK Jazz stand out for the quality of music, the quantity of output and their pan-African influence. The band was pre-eminent in African music for more than 30 years, linking the first generation of Congo rumba with the later exuberance of Zairean soukous.

This great musical institution was founded on June 6,1956 when Franco, 'De la Lune' Daniel Lubelo (rh. gtr), Jean Serge Essous (sax), Bosuma Dessouin (conga), Pandi Saturnin (perc), Landot Philipe 'Rossignol' (vcl) Roitelet Munganya (bass) and some friends played their first dance under the name of OK Jazz in Kinshasa (Leopoldville).

The musicians were all session players at Loningisa studios where they were directed by the guitarist Henri Bowane. As well as playing in the house band, Bana Loningisa (Loningisa Boys), most had released 78rpm records scoring several hits before they started as a gigging band. When they recorded these tracks the singers Vicky Longomba and Edo Nganga had joined. The following year, Antoine Armando Brazzos added his guitar accompaniment.

Franco had joined Loningisa in 1953 at the age of 15, playing with Dewayon's Watam band. "At the time I was skinny, just a kid who played guitar which we called Libaku ya nguma (a hollow-bodied electrified guitar known as a 'lucky break') and the guitar was bigger than me." He made such an impres-sion that he was signed to a 10-year contract. Franco became Congo's first true pop star, sponsored to model clothes, endorsing products and enjoying a huge fan club.

In 1956 the Loningisa boys organised themselves into a working band, sponsored by Oscar Kashama, owner of the OK Bar.

Track 1, 'En Entre OK, On Sort KO', was a slogan for the band and theme song in which the members are introduced. This can be counted as the launch release of Africa's greatest band.

Subsequent releases came regularly evey few weeks, although the band's personnel shifted frequently. On 'Ah Bolingo Pasi' they are joined by visiting Senegalese horn players for a ska-type workout.

A major reshuffle occurred in 1957 but, throughout many up-heavals and power struggles, Franco became established as the accepted leader and OK Jazz evolved into a massive organisation. Until Franco's death nearly 10 years ago it was the yardstick for African dance music.

And this is where it all began.

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  • See also
    'Congo Colossus - The Life and Legacy of Franco & OK Jazz',
    Buku Press 320pp (Distributed by Stern's, ISBN 0-9523655-1-0)

    Henri Bowane, 'Double Take - Tala Kaka' (RetroAfric RETRO6CD)

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