The Very Best of the Rumba Giant of Zaire

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They called Congo's Franco "The Sorcerer of the Guitar," and this compilation shows exactly what kind of magic he could weave. Whether on electric or acoustic guitar, for more than three decades he was simply the guitarist in Africa. Working with his band O.K. Jazz, he helped developed the Congolese rumba form into something exquisite, and worked to take it to the next step -- soukous. But the starting point of it all can be heard on "On Entre O.K., on Sorte K.O." from the 1950s, where the scintillating lines have a rawness that would become smoother five years later on "Mpata Ezangi Mokengeli." Above all, Franco wrote and played dance music, like "Liberté," where his playing shines to the very fullest, both on the riffs and improvisations, or on the more comic "Koun Koue! Edo Aboyi Ngai," his "tribute" to American funk, with its jokey jive talk. But Franco didn't need electricity to cast his spell -- the acoustic "Nalingaka Yo Yo Te" is a glorious carpet of picking, thoughtful and exquisite. The saddest, however, is saved for last, 1987's "Attention na SIDA," an AIDS awareness tune, and the last thing Franco recorded before succumbing to the disease in 1989. A single disc compilation can't ever do justice to a man who recorded over 150 albums during his lifetime, and employed the top vocal talent ever to emerge from Zaire and the surrounding countries. But this does, at least, offer a start, and cracks open the window to peek into the genius of one of the guitar greats.

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