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 [which was to become known as 'l'academie
de la musique congolaise moderne'], 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 had been tutored and directed by the guitarist Henri
Bowane. As well as playing in the house band, Bana Loningisa
(Loningisa Boys), most had released 78rpm records and had already
scored several hits before they started as a gigging band. When
they recorded these tracks later in 1956, the singers Vicky Longomba
and Edo Nganga had joined. The following year, Antoine Armando Brazzo
added his guitar accompaniment.
Franco had joined Loningisa in 1953 at the age of 15, initially
playing with Dewayon and the 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 impression 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. Musicians contracted to the record label were not
supposed to work outside studio time, but in 1956 the Loningisa
boys formally organised themselves into a working band, sponsored
by Oscar Kashama, owner of the OK Bar. They still recorded under
the names of individual members, while accompanists were also credited,
sometimes as 'ensemble OK Jazz'.
Track 1, En Entre OK, On Sort KO, was a theme song and slogan
for the band in which all the members are introduced. Considering
its content, this can be counted as the debut release of Africa's
greatest orchestra. Subsequent releases came regularly every few
weeks, although the band's personnel shifted frequently. On track
19 Ah Bolingo Pasi they are joined by visiting Senegalese
horn players. A major reshuffle occurred in 1957 but, throughout
many upheavals and power struggles, Franco became established as
the accepted leader. Loningisa closed down before Congo's independence
in 1960, but OK Jazz evolved into a massive organisation and Franco'
s personal reputation was never equalled. Throughout the 1960s,
70s and 80s, OK Jazz was the yardstick for African dance music.
And this is where it all started.
Additional notes by Dr Kazadi wa Mukuna
Center for The Study Of World Musics, Kent
State University, Ohio.
|Franco (standing at right)
with OK Jazz. Photo © Depara,
collection Revue Noire
'The introduction of the electric guitar had brought an end to
an era dominated by troubadour-like singer/musicians and brass bands,
and it became a melodic instrument par excellence in the new ensembles
known as 'jazz bands'. These years delineate a period when the newly-defined
style of guitar music known as Musique Congolaise Moderne was struggling
to emerge from under the influence of Latin rhythms, and musicians
were attempting to intrpret dance rhythms derived from their respective
ethnic backgrounds on new instrumentation. This CD contains compositions
which reflect both musical and non-musical characteristics of this
era and showcase the proficiency of Congolese musicians on foreign
This collection contains some songs such as Pasi Ya Boloko
[by Pandi] and Franco's Merengue in which acoustic guitars
are used, but on the majority of tracks electric guitars are heard.
As these songs demonstrate, the electric guitar came as a revelation
to Congolese musicians who were intrigued by its electronic echoing
effect. Among the leading guitar players of the period, Franco used
this technique to its fullest.
The length of these songs is short compared with today's, because
the guitar was being explored by musicians who had not yet mastered
the emulation of traditional melodic instruments, likembe, madimba,
etc, or transplanted the rhythmic intricacies of melorhythmic instruments,
as became practice later between the lead and rhythm guitars. Equally
important is the nature of the dances, most of them Latin, that
were being transformed with domestic steps and rhythms. As both
music and dance were being defined, songs did not include improvisatory
sections, but rather contained relatively extended interlude passages
which explored the melodies of the songs. The 78rpm records of the
1950s also limited songs to three minutes.
As the period progressed, ensembles became identified with specific
Latin rhythms. Orchestre Rock-a-Mambo, whose leader Rossignol features
on many of the songs on this album, continued to prefer the cha-cha-cha,
while OK Jazz excelled in rumba and bolero rhythms. Among the genre
of topical songs composed and interpreted by OK Jazz none has ever
reached the mastery of the genre known in Lingala as 'Mbwakela'.
Track 20, Motindo Na Yo Te, belongs to this category. Some
of the songs are historically pertinent because of their origin.
During the pre-independence years, the West African practice of
social association was already rooted in Kinshasa. Unlike the early
associations which maintained their own brass bands, a number of
Congolese female associations such as La Pause, La Mode collectively
known as 'miziki' (sing. moziki) existed without musical ensembles.
Instead they commissioned famous bands to compose songs for their
annual events. RetroAfric has included two of these compositions
Eponi Banganga and Tondimi La Mode, both by Edo.'
Congo Colossus - The Life and Legacy of Franco & OK Jazz,
by Graeme Ewens, Buku Press, 320pp (Paperback ISBN 0-9523655-1-0
and Hardback ISBN 0-9523655-0-2). Hardback and paperback copies
distributed by Stern's. AVAILABLE SOON ON THIS SITE.
& OK Jazz