The Sorcerer of the Guitar – Franco

FrancoArzoni1977AG335“World Music”.  Yuk.  The term puts music in a box and suggests the music is inaccessible.  It implies that you will probably have to work hard to get it – to understand and enjoy it – just because it’s from another part of the world.  DAVID BYRNE once wrote a piece for the NY Times in which he joked “world music” is a bin in the record store for all the stuff that doesn’t belong anywhere else in the store.  As I have written here many times before, I strongly feel music is music.  All genres owe each other for the ingredients that go into them.  It’s absurd that the western music business labeled music from other cultures as “world” to begin with.  So much of Rock n Roll came from the blues, and ethnomusicologists often point to evidence of that genre’s African origins.  So were the STONES and CREAM just covering world music?  I could go on forever but there are countless examples of this cross pollination and there always have been.  To some kid with a guitar in his hands growing up in Africa in the 1990s, JIMI HENDRIX or MARK KNOPFLER were exotic “world music”; and to some kid in Japan learning to play percussion in the 1970’s, BILL BRUFORD or STEWART COPELAND created exotic jazz influenced rhythms unheard in his taiko roots.  Fast forward to African guitarist BOMBINO working with members of BLACK KEYS and Japanese percussionist SHUICHI HIDANO gigging with long tenured L.A. studio musicians.  It’s not so much “world music” but a “world of music.”

I have been meaning to post about FRANCO (born Francois Luambo Luanzo Makiadi 1938-1989) for a few years.  He has been hailed as the “sorcerer of the guitar”, “the master of the Cogolese guitar” and, by some, because of his stature in African music, as the “James Brown of Africa.”  FRANCO was a guitar playing band leader, reluctant singer and genre inventing musician.  His influence on western music is grossly undervalued and overlooked.  With his bands (OK JAZZ and, later, TPOK JAZZ) playing a style called “soukous”, described by music critic Ted Gioia as “African music that came from Cuba”, FRANCO became the most popular African artist of the 1960s and 1970s.  FRANCO was born near Leopoldville in 1938 in what was then called the Belgian Congo.  Cuban music had infiltrated the Congo, likely through trade ports and the cultural mixing pot of the colonial era.  FRANCO spent time as a kid in the ports soaking up the influences and built his first guitar himself when he was 7 years old.  By 15 he had a recording contract and was a popular band leader.  Four decades later, his career had seen him hailed as a hero and cultural icon and had absorbed numerous scandals.  It’s quite a story.  (Google it)

Soukous music is buoyant and irresistible. FRANCO‘s bands from the late 1950s through the 1980s were mostly large ensembles playing these Congolese Rhumbas that were built around incredible guitar lines.  As a counterpoint to all the blues based playing that is so entrenched in rock and pop for the past 50 years, FRANCO and his style are fresh and, in contrast, sound happy and upbeat.  Although usually embedded deep into the songs, FRANCO‘s guitar always helps build the excitement of each song with a beautiful rhythmic “sebene”. The instrumental sebene is a bit like a guitar solo or a bridge that cranks the (already rhythmic, groove heavy) song up a notch to encourage the audience to dance.  Afterwards, the song usually returns to the Rhumba style.  After a crappy week at work, a little FRANCO snaps me right out of it.

I’ve included a few examples here:

FRANCO and Le T.P O.K. JAZZ – “Falaswa”


FRANCO and Le OK JAZZ – “Infidelite Mado”


FRANCO and Le T.P O.K JAZZ – “Alimatou”


For more, check out my FRANCO mix on Spotify too.

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