Franco Luambo Makiadi

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When Congolese jazz guitarist Franco Makiadi died in 1989, the whole of Zaire (formerly the Belgian Congo) went into mourning; it was a fitting farewell for a musician who, over the course of 40 years,…
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When Congolese jazz guitarist Franco Makiadi died in 1989, the whole of Zaire (formerly the Belgian Congo) went into mourning; it was a fitting farewell for a musician who, over the course of 40 years, issued over 150 albums, containing more than 1000 songs, and who had a decisive influence on the shape of African music.

Franco began his musical ventures with a homemade guitar, recorded his first single, "Bolingo Na Ngai Beatrice," at the age of 13, and by the age of 15 was a regularly contracted recording artist with the Loningisa Studio's house band. Part of Franco's appeal lay in his winning looks and common man accessibility, but as much as this, he was known for his inventive guitar style. In 1956, Franco helped form OK Jazz (later TPOK Jazz), a band that was to define Congolese music for decades. Franco's sound was an easy blend of Cuban rumba and Congolese rhythm. A fruit of the government's drive to promote authentic Congolese culture, Franco's was categorically a music performed to be danced to. Although Franco worked within and through the praise song tradition, he was not above preaching at times, for which he occasionally found himself in jail. Such brushes with the law only served to heighten the kudos that surrounded the man and his music.

A dominant motif in his repertoire was the often uneasy relationship between the sexes, a friction that he deplored and worked hard to alleviate. The distillation of this philosophy can be heard on Mario & Response de Mario. In 1988, Franco released a dire musical warning to his fans to avoid contracting AIDS. His own death, the following year, fuelled rumors that he had himself died from AIDS-related complications, although these were never substantiated. What will remain in people's minds is the incredible legacy bequethed by Franco to both Zaire and to the world.