In June 1956 , Franco, Jean Serge Essous and De La
Lune , who were all session musicians at the Loningisa Studios, got together to
form a band which they named Ok Jazz. The name originated from the bar in which
they played which was named OK bar. But the name Ok could alsIn
the early 60s when Vicky and Essous left to join Africa Jazz, Franco took over
the leadership of Ok Jazz for good. Africa Jazz whose band leader was Joseph
Kabasselleh a.k.a Le Grande Kalle was the most influential band in the Congo. It
had in its ranks an array of talented musicians including Tabu Ley ,legendary
guitarist Docteur Nico Kasanda and saxophonist Manu Dibango. Most of the band
members were well educated by contemporary standards. Africa jazz leader Le
Grande Kalle considered his band as an aristocaratic band whose music was geared
towards the well to the well educated or well to do members of society. Franco
on the other hand geared his music towards the masses. This he did by singing
about topics that affected regular members of society on a daily basis.
Following the departure of Vicky and Essous along with several other musicians
,Franco recruited vocalists Mujos , Kwamy and guitarist Simmarro. Saxophonist
'Verkys' Kiamanguana Mateta replaced Essous.
Franco now resorted to a slower more methodical rhythm with more finesse and
subtlety. In 1962 Franco embarked on his first ever foreign tour when he visited
Nigeria culminating in the release of Cherie Zozo. Later that year, Vicky
rejoined the group as did vocalist Lola Checain.
By the mid sixties Ok Jazz had now been re-named TPOK Jazz and had expanded to
over 20 musicians. The TP prefix stood for Tout Pouissant( all powerful).It now
boasted an array of talented players and was ready to challenge Africa Jazz for
the position of Congo's and in effect Africa's premier group, a task which was
made easier when Tabu Ley and Docteur Nico left Africa Jazz to form Africa
Fiesta. Franco's music appealed to people mainly because it discussed issues
that affect the common man on a daily basis.
Thanks to a vibrant economy, Congolese bands were now able to utilize the latest
western technology which included electric guitars basses and amplifiers. Franco
lead other Congolese musicians in using this new technology to produce sounds
which of a much higher quality than in any other part of Africa. Congo had now
firmly taken its place as Africa's premier music nation.
Come the late sixties Franco had to deal with a major revolution in his band
when singers Kwamy Munsi and Mujos led nine other musicians in defecting from
the band. Only a few months later it was saxophonist Verkys Kiamanguana turn to
Verkys was an excellent hornsman whose soulful saxophone skills were the perfect
complement to Franco's solo guitar. He was also an excellent showman and added
spice to the band's concerts with his frenzied hornsmanship and unconventional
dress code. When He left the band , He established his own band which He named
Orchestre Veve, which gave Franco a serious run for its money during the 70s.
Veve released several chart topping albums among them Lukani, Se Kizengi,
Nakomitunaka , Zonga Andowe among others. Verkys also owned and managed two
other bands : Orch Kiam and Orch Lipua Lipua. Among the musicians who played for
Verkys in the 70s are Pepe Kalle and Nyboma. Verkys inexplicably quit the music
scene in the early 80s presumably to concentrate on business
These was just some of many such uprisings that Franco had to deal with as he
navigated his band through stormy waters. To replace Verkys, Franco recruited
Rondot Kassongo wa Kassongo who had played in orchestre Negro success alongside
Franco's brother Bavon Marie Marie. Additionally ,franco recruited an immensely
talented solo guitarist in Mose Fan Fan. The arriaval of Fan Fan revitallized
the string section tremendously. Fan Fan injected a new wave of guitar stringing
into the sebene, which was flashy, faster and more danceable. This style came to
be known as Sebene ya ba Yankees Fan Fan also contributed a series of extremely
popular hits among them Djemelasi and Mongando .