Antoine Koffi Olomide, who is also known by a plethora of other names such as Large Degaire, Akram Bourge, Gralibane Maji, Le Grande Mopao, Le Shakespeare Du Zaire, Nkolo Lupemba , Mokonzi etc etc, was arguably the most talented African singer , producer and composer of the 1990s.
He has dominated music charts across the continent and abroad with a combination of his deep baritone voice, which barely caresses the microphone , sophisticated arrangements , blending old school rumba and smooth keyboard melodies as well as a searing guitar climax. His compositions are classy and appeal to a wide spectrum of fans worldwide. His songs delve deep into a wide variety of topics including love , politics, technology and even religion. In each song he discusses his feelings about such diverse topics while expressing confused feelings about mythical beasts and dream like fantasies. Names of famous people like Bill Gates , Silvio Berlusconi , Saddam Hussein and even George Weah are mentioned. Indeed He himself said you have to understand the words to fully appreciate his songs. More so, he has a keen sense of fashion and extensive sapeur wardrobe as well as a personality to match, and was more intriguing than most costumes worn by entertainers of that era.
While on tour He is accompanied by his 18 piece band : Quartier Latin which consists of a bevy of talented musicians and his dancers fondly referred to as the Koffiettes. He has wowed fans in Africa , Europe and North America with his stage presence , and his ability to turn heads and create a raucus. Multitudes of fans follow him wherever he performs creating record attendance figures. He is now firmly entrenched as one of the most popular performers ever in South Africa following a brilliant performance there in 1998. More recently ,He performed at the Olympia in Paris. Tabu Ley is the only other African musician to have performed there. A new album and video “Olympia live ” with his live performance at the venue has been released.
Koffi and his Quartier Latin group stride confidently into the new millenium. co
All his success has not been without a downside. He has found himself at odds with he powers that be in Congo. Certain lyrics in his album La Loi were interpreted as a veiled criticism of the Kabila regime. He is also said to have been arrested for hosting the son of the late Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. During a tour in Cameroun a few years ago He is said to have left the country cursing and swearing never to return. Three years ago in Kampala He refused to ride in a Limousine because it had no air conditioning. The fact that he has emerged from all this unscathed is a measure of his immense popularity .
He was born in Kinshasa ,Congo in 1958. His father was Congolese while his mother was West African , which explains his name. He was born into a family where education took precedence above everything else. He has earned a bachelors degree in Economics and a masters in Mathematics from the University of Paris. While pursuing his academic goals he honed his musical talent with a guitar which he borrowed from a neighbour. He commenced his musical career as a songwriter. In the late 1970s he joined Papa Wemba’s band Viva La Musica. Here He learned his vocal and stage techniques. He launched his solo career in the mid 80s and has turned out to be one of the biggest success stories in African music.
Koffi, though well known in Zaire was virtually uknown outside Zaire before the 1990s. Then came albums like Papa Bonheurre and Elle et Moi and Koffi was sudenly a hot commodity all over Africa. The slower types of Rhumba which were in decline since the era of TPOK Jazz and Afrisa ended were now back in fashion thanks to Koffi and his Quartier Latin. Since then His discography has continued to expand. He has continued to release one hit after the next while being faithful to his self proclaimed Tcha Tcho style. Tcha Tcho is a slower , more sensuos kind of Soukous . In the early 90s came albums like Noblese Oblige and Magie and Koffi appeared to be going from strength to strength as his popularity shot straight through the roof. In 1995 He released his most succesful album , V12. The following year He collaborated with one of his mentors Papa Wemba to produce the album Wake Up . Then came the controversial La Loi which sold widely largely due to its controversial nature. In 1998 He collaborated with Bana Ok Legend, Josky kiambukuta to produce the album Ngounda . Just the thought of those two legends collaborating on a CD sent millions of music fans flocking to music stores to buy the album. And they were not dissapointed. The combination of Koffi’s smooth baritone and Josky’s effervescent vocal skills made the CD a worthwhile investement by any account. Towards the late nineties, he changed to the more vigorous and dancable “Ndombolo” dance style which has taken the continent by storm , to the point where He is now referred to in some circles as the King of “Ndombolo “. This brand of music has come under criticism amid charges that it is obscene, and has been banned in Mali and Cameroun among other countries . This did not stopped Koffi who has taken Ndombolo to new heights with albums such as Droit de Veto and Attentat , released at the dawn of the new millenium.
Koffi teamed up with Papa Wemba to release the album Wake up
In late 1999 Koffi faced what proved to be his biggest setback yet : After a concert staged in Paris , He had a disagreement with several members of his band who then decided to quit the band and form their own band which they aptly named Quartier Latin Academia. Among the stalwarts who left the band were Modogo Sam, Lebou Kabuya , and Suzuki. It is rumoured that they were disgruntled at not getting a fair share of the band’s earnings. Koffi has also been at odds with several Zairean musicians many of whom accuse him of being arrogant, while He accuses him of jealousy. The most notable of these is Papa Wemba who launched a scathing attack on Koffi in one of his albums Mzee Fula Ngege . Koffi responded to the attacks in his album Attentat . The biggest question on his fan’s minds is Will he continue his success into the new millenium or will this defection spell the beginning of his decline. However, Koffi once again confounded critics when his album Attentat which he released immediately after the defection was a major success.
In 2001, Koffi and Quartier Latin released two more albums, Force de Frappe and Effrakata . In addition, Koffi embarked on his first ever tour of the US. The tour was however marred by poor organization , leading to fan disencchantment in some cases. Nevertheless Koffi and Quairtier Latin gave some scintillating performances.
Effrakata was a widely succesful album and signalled Koffi’s triumpahnt return to Tcha Tcho. It was a double disc album featuring 8 songs on each disc. The majority of the songs in the album are irresistible ballads, featuring refreshing choruses and excellent vocals from Koffi, Fally Ipupa , Soleil ,Gipson and Bouro Mpela who makes a happy return to the band. Fally in particular is outstanding with his golden tenor voice which is reminiscent of the late Djo Mpoyi of TPOK Jazz. The string section of Binda Bass, Felly Tyson and Ramazani provide excellent rythms and irresistible sebene’s. Indeed This album is a triumph for Koffi Olomide and signalled that the band had finnaly recovered from the 1999 debacle when most of the key band members left.
To further add to his problems, many will recall the humiliation Koffi suffered when his limousine was flagged down in Kinshasa by security personnel in 2001. He defied the order, but they later caught up with him, pulled him out of his Mercedes Compressor and allegedly flogged him in public.
However, Koffi put the setbacks behind and set out to rebuild his career. He recruited new musicians, including General Defao’s long-time associate Montana Kamanga, and went on to eclipse everybody else at last year’s Kora Awards, emerging Africa’s leading musician. At the Kora awards of 2002, he won a record 4 awards including one for Best African artiste. It sent a clear message to many of his detractors who claimed his career was on the decline after being deserted by 12 of his band members.
In 2003 he embarked on yet another tour of Europe. with the highlight being a show at the Zenith Hall in Paris, where he launched his latest album Affaire D’etat on April 12. And classic Koffi style he dubbed himself “Quadra Kora Man”, in reference to the 4 awards he won.
Desparate to make up for the fiasco that was his 2001 tour of North America, Koffi returned to the US in June of 2003. The tour takes in 12 cities. This time the performaces were scintillating and received rave reviews.
Koffi is joined by a delirious fan on stage during his concert at the Congress theatre in Chicago.