Made Franco great was not his guitar wizardry nor his ability as a
composer and it was certainly not his vocal skills. What made him great
was his ability as a bandleader , organizer and recruiter of great
In the 35 plus years of its existence , TPOK Jazz which stands for
Tout Pouissant Orchestre Kinshasa ,produced an array of glittering stars
many of whom later launched successful solo careers. Indeed a list of
TPOK Jazz alumni reads like a musical dream team. More than anything
else , TPOK Jazz was a members band not just for Franco himself but also
for the rest of the band members. Members were given due credit and
recognition for their contributions. They were allowed to cut their own
albums within the Ok Jazz set-up and the more significant band members
often had their names and pictures appear on album sleeves. This is
unlike most other bands where the band leader often appears to hog the
credit while keeping other band members in the background.
Franco respected people with talent and whenever he discovered a
talented musician who would fit in the Ok Jazz mould , he never rested
until the musician was a member of the band.
Franco's exceptional organizational skills enabled him to produce
sophisticated musical arrangements the calibre of which have yet to be
reproduced by any other African band. Organizing a group consisting of
up to 50 musicians is no easy task. Often the band was split into two :
A touring band which travelled across the globe on tour with Franco and
a home based band led by Simmarro Massiya.
While on a recording session or on
tour, the band was manned by a vocal frontline of 4 or 5 singers
supported by a chorus section providing rich harmonies. The string
section usually had 2 solo guitarists , a mi-solo guitarist , a bassist
and up to 4 rhythm guitarists.
The fascinating interweaving and
intertwining of the various guitar sounds is just one of the aspects of
this great bands that has not been matched by any other. The Mi-Solo
guitar is a phenomenon unique to Congolese and African Music. It
provides the interface between the solo guitars and the rythm guitars.
TPOK jazz were the leaders in this phenomenon and made extensive use of
it. The horn section was manned by various trumpets, saxophones and
clarinets. Each time a saxophone provided a solo tune , the trumpets
provided a thunderous refrain. the song Nganga Lopango Batekisa
by Simmaro is a perfect example of this arrangement. Not to be left
behind were the percussions such as drums which often introduced and
punctuated the sebene section.
There were frequent defections but there was always talent available
to fill the gaps. Musicians who had left the band were almost always
welcome to return to the band.
Membership in TPOK Jazz was very fluid as is
the case in virtually all Congolese bands.
Many musicians joined the band and left.
Many came back again to become full time
members after having left previously, Others
came back as guests in concerts or as guest
singers in certain albums.
This section introduces a few of the more significant TPOK Jazz