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 Simmarro 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.
In this section I introduce a few of the more significant TPOK Jazz
- Lutumba Massiya Simaro was Franco's chef de Ochestre. He was an
excellent guitarist and composer earning himself the nickname Le
Grande Poette because of the soulful and spiritual nature of his
songs. In fact His songs are so soulful that they can move listeners
to tears. Just listen to Testament Ya Bowule or Couerr artificiel to
understand what I am talking about. Simmaro was shy and rarely
appeared in concerts or on album sleeves. Simmarro joined the band
in 1963 from Orchestre Micra and later became the bands chef d'
- Josky Kiambukuta Londa : Josky was a talented vocalist and
composer. His voice is the most recognizable among TPOK Jazz
members. He has an uncanny ability to vary his voice from the high
soprano as he does in the hit song missile all the way to a
deep bass as he does in Alerte.. His songs usually feature a
slower introductory section followed by the faster , hip swinging
sebene section. Josky joined the band from Orchestre
Continentale via Africa Fiesta where He played alonside Tabu Ley and
Dr Nico. At continental he played longside Wuta Mayi and Bopal
Mansiamina. Upon joining Ok Jazz , He immediately made an impact
with hits like Monzo and Zenaba
- Zitani Dalienst Ya Ntesa : Yet another talented vocalist and
composer in the Ok jazz arsenal. He composed and sang several great
hits such Bina na Ngai na respect and Mamie Zou. Before joining Ok
Jazz in 76 , Dalienst played in Vox Africa before joining Festival
de Macquisards. At its height , Festival featured an array of
talented among them , Michelino , Sam Mangwana ,Jerry , Dizzy and
Matalanza. It is rumoured that Franco was instrumental in breaking
up the band which posed a serious threat to his dominance. Dalienst
was the perfect compliment for vocalists such as Josky and Mangwana.
His voice was excellent for singing backup ,chorus sections as is
evidenced in songs like Zala Sportiff and Burreau de Couerr.
Dalienst died of a brain tumour in 1996.
- Mavatiku Visi , known to most as Michelino was arguably the best
guitarist to play with the band. He was also an excellent arranger.
Songs featuring Michelino as the rhythm or Mi-solo guitarist have an
irresistible, unique beat. Michelino played briefly with Ok Jazz and
with Afrisa International, but mainly plied his trade as a session
guitarist in Paris.
- Biallu Madilu "System" known also as the man with the golden
voice. Madilu entertained fans throughout the late 80s and early 90s
with a combination of his husky tenor voice and stylish compositions
such as Pesa Position and Boma Ngai. Madilu burst into fame after
performing several duets with Franco all of which were major hits.
Before joining Ok Jazz Madilu pursued a solo career whence He
rleased song like Zunguluke and Nzele. He then joined Tabu Ley's
Afrisa before joining TPOK Jazz.
- Sam Mangwana was nicknamed La pigeon Voyageur because of
his nomadic tendencies.He was also a member of the great Festival
Macquisards group of the ealy 70s. Mangwana had two stints at both
Afrisa and Ok Jazz before launching a solo career in West Africa.
Mangwana's biggest strength is his versatility : he successfully
experimented with West African styles such as Afro-beat and
highlife. He also sang in various African languages. His voice is
suitable for singing love songs or sentimental songs. Zala Sportif
is a classic example of a song where Mangwana's voice pierces deep
into the hearts of listeners.