Mose Se 'Fan Fan'
'Belle Epoque' (RETRO7CD)
When the celebrated Zairean guitarist Mose Se Sengo, aka 'Fan Fan', set out from Kinshasa on his travels in 1974, he was given the title 'Intrepid', but even he could not have guessed how far he would journey, and how varied his fortunes would be. It is over 20 years since he left home at a peak moment in his career and, although he became a star in Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya, only now can he truly say he has arrived in the West. The critical success of the 1995 album Hello, Hello, [notably beating Salif Keita in the Beat magazine's Poll of Polls] and the 1999 Congo Acoustic have brought Fan Fan the kind of respect he was used to receiving back in Africa.
On Belle Epoque we hear some of the outstanding tracks recorded in the interim and which were all regional hits in his home continent.
Although Zaire is a wonderland of guitar magicians, surprisingly few guitarists have found success as bandleaders. The legendary Franco was one of those; and he was Fan Fan's boss and inspiration for many years. A native of Kinshasa (then Leopoldville), Fan Fan draws on the rhythms and dances which motivated Franco and the OK Jazz school of music. During the 1950s popular Latin rhythms were combined with roots music - from the maringa, a local equivalent of palm wine music, to the agbwaya, an early version of Congo rock' n' roll pioneered by Franco's mentor, Dewayon. This was rebel, teenage music which provided a springboard for Africa's greatest musical contribution and its most enduring popular art form.
The young delinquents were known as 'Watama', an identity which is at the root of the OK Jazz style. The nickname Fan Fan was taken from the swashbuckling French film character Fan Fan La Tulipe, and referred to Mose's prowess in mock battles with neighborhood kids including Sam Mangwana and Verckys Kiamuangana, both of whom went on to become illustrious members of OK Jazz and solo stars.
Fan Fan was lucky to have access to a guitar at home and he first plied his trade as a teenager during the early 1960s with Rickem Jazz. He later played with The Jazz Barons [an after-hours jamming band with Franco's brother Bavon Marie-Marie on guitar] and Orchestre Revolution [with Kwamy, Mujos and Brazzos leading a breakaway from OK Jazz]. Despite many defections, Franco's OK Jazz were the top band in the country and in 1967 Fan Fan was recruited as second lead guitarist and deputy for Franco, the 'Congo Colossus' whose music informed and excited the newly-independent African countries.
With a finger-picking style that could match the hard, metallic attack of Franco, his main role was as the boss's deputy, filling in during songs when Franco was offstage chatting or doing business, and taking the soloist's role at rehearsals. On some occasions the two soloists would play together, but mostly they alternated. This gave Fan Fan the chance to shine with the full force of the band behind him and, in Franco's absence, he inevitably attracted his own crowd of fans with the fast, unrelenting drive of his compositions and arrangements. Franco acknowledged his importance in 1972 in the song Testament, a paean of praise [and a glorious composition] which was coupled with Fan Fan's own hit song Djemelasi. During a period when Franco appeared to lose interest in the band, Fan Fan became acting bandleader and was tipped to take over the operation. Instead, inspired by the success of the record, he decided to cut out on his own and seek his fortune elsewhere.
Never short of collaborators, Fan Fan released several records under his own name, often with colleagues from OK Jazz, including the Nigerian saxophonist Dele Pedro [see the RetroAfric CD Belle Epoque RETRO7CD]. In due course with ex-OK Jazz musicians Youlou Mabiala (vocal), Francis Bitchoumanu (bass) and Simaro Lutumba (rhythm guitar) he formed the original Somo Somo. The name, which translates roughly as 'Double Dread', was a catchphrase popularised in Djemelasi . The band was popular but short-lived, as the other musicians were tempted back to OK Jazz. Fan Fan was also invited to return, but pride and principles ensured he went his own way. He briefly joined Vicky Longomba's Lovy du Zaire [yet another OK Jazz breakaway] but could not tolerate the leader's hypocrisy and soon quit.
In 1975, against the advice of friends and colleagues, Fan Fan embarked on his worldwide travels. With a passport arranged by Kabasele, the godfather of Zairean music, he took the Somo Somo name, repertoire and inspiration east to Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and, eventually, London and Paris.
He stayed for almost a decade in Tanzania, where he married. In Dar Es
Salaam during the 1970s the most popular bands were formed by Zairean
musicians who sang originally in Lingala, and later modified the music
to fit the inflexion of the Kiswahili language. Orginally perfoming as
a solo artiste at the New Africa Hotel, Fan Fan went on to become bandleader
of Orchestre Makassy, with whom several hits were recorded, and later
Orchestre Maquis - both legendary names in Tanzanian dance band circles.
He then founded Orchestre Matimila, where he was joined by the eventual
leader Remmy Ongala. Moving up to Kenya in the early 1980s, he re-formed
Somo Somo and recorded a series of albums, which reflected his travels
and his response to changing cultures. Several of his compositions from
that era can also be found on Belle Epoque, including the song
Chama Cha Mapinduzi, in praise of the Tanzanian independence party,
with lyrics based on the words of the country's first president, Julius
It is hard to overestimate the popularity of Zairean music throughout Africa, or the ambivalence which often greeted it from jealous patriots in neighbouring countries. Zaireans spread across the continent, forming bands wherever they stayed. For a while, East Africa was particularly fertile ground but as cultural protectionism took hold, it turned into a stagnant backwater. Cut off from his French-speaking roots, Fan Fan was now more used to anglophone cultures, and the natural escape route was via Britain, rather than France where many of his contemporaries were settling.
A collaboration in Nairobi with the English pop star Robin Scott included the crossover attempt Jolie Africa, with vocals by the South African Doreen Webster. Scott gave Fan Fan the opportunity to travel to London in 1983. He arrived just as African music was getting a foothold in pop culture and, reunited with Webster, he recruited the first line-up for the 'multiracial' version of Somo Somo. There was a small, but enthusiastic market and the fledgling London label, Stern's released his first UK album to an interested audience. The band was good, but could never meet the leader' expectations; they just did not have the shared experience necessary, and neither did the English instrumentalists understand the African 'system'. For his second record, he travelled to France for the first time in 1986 and hooked up with several fellow countrymen to record an underrated album Paris, that had high production values, and was also more authentically Zairean.
Although Fan Fan had difficulties finding musicians to meet his requirements, his hard-driving guitar style and whirlwind dance action blazed a solo trail on the British circuit many years ahead of the soukous invasion. But when top line bands started arriving in London from Paris and direct from Zaire, Somo Somo became considered as a 'local group' and the interest waned.
Fan Fan was deeply moved by the death of Franco in 1989. He had visited the Grand Maitre on his death bed in Belgium, touching base after 15 years with a man of whom he said 'even if he wasn't always a nice guy, everybody loved him.' In Belgium he re-established contact with old colleagues and produced an album by Bana OK [the OK Boys]. Following the Grand Maitre's death, a core of musicians had stayed on in Europe, including a horn section led by Rondot Kasongo, guitar accompanists Thierry and Petit Pierre and Franco's female dicovery Baniel Bambou, joined for this album by the vocalist Malage de Lugendo. The veteran guitarist Papa Noel was also recruited and the album paid homage to their late, inspirational leader. As many of the musicians did not have papers to travel, this formation was unable to tour, and after a short time Rondot also sadly died.
In 1993 Sam Mangwana toured England with Les Quatres Etoiles (4 Stars) as his backing band and he invited his old friend to play with them. Surprisingly, it was the first time Sam and Fan Fan had shared a stage, having been members of OK Jazz at different times. This reunion inspired all the musicians to work together again, and the collaboration led eventually to the Paris recording sessions for Hello, Hello.
Fan Fan dedicated the new incarnation of Somo Somo to: 'Those past Congo-Zairean musicians who endured and resisted the colonial mentality and culture - especially Paul Kamba, Francois Bosele, Antoine Mundanda, Adou Elenga, Henri Bowane, Paul Dewayon and Wendo Kalosoy, the last survivor of a generation. Not forgetting the Grand Maitre, Luambo Makiadi 'Franco'. Their past work continues to inspire the future of Congo-Zairean rumba music through the spirit of Somo Somo Ngobila.' Ngobila was a great warrior and player of the ngoma talking drum, a native of Kinshasa whose rhythms were bequeathed to the glory of Zairean music.
In 1995 Fan Fan also renewed his connection with Tanzania when he played with Shikamoo Jazz, recalling the glory days he spent in East Africa. Invited to Dar es Salaam by Ronnie Graham, he was signed up to motivate the band of veterans as a member of the East African Legends tour of Britain with Fundi Konde and Bi Kidude. The mutual respect that flowed between him and the musicians of Shikamoo (which appropriately means 'respect') gave him another morale boost. Also, for the first time since leaving Africa, he was able to play a full three-hour set at the Womad festival. He returned to Womad in the summer of 2000, playing an acoustic set with his fellow guitar legend, Papa Noel.
Se 'Fan Fan'
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