Album box-set: Franco, Francophonic: Franco & Le TPOK Jazz (Sterns)
Franco Luamba was a giant of African music, whose OK Jazz band – later altered to Le TPOK Jazz, the prefix standing for "le tout puissant", or "almighty" – tracked the course of Congolese music through four decades, adapting his Cuban-influenced rumbas and cha-cha-chas with jazz, funk and soukous elements to fit changing musical fashions.
He made his first guitar when he was seven, was busking to support his family by 11, and recording at 15. By the time he was 19, Luamba had become an accomplished bandleader and arranger, helping create some of the earliest African urban music, a bustling jazz-pop whose songs confronted serious local issues such as civil war and corruption. Not that his own principles were spotless: one of his biggest hits, "AZDA", was effectively an advert praising the Volkswagen dealership that supplied all 24 members of his band with free cars. By the Seventies, his cyclical, staccato guitar style was employed in ever more complex pieces incorporating sudden dynamic shifts between rumba, funk and soukous. Released to mark the 70th anniversary of his birth, this two-CD set will be followed next year by a set commemorating the 20th anniversary of his death.
Pick of the Album: 'Minuit eleki Lezi', 'Marie naboyi', 'Liberté', 'Tika kondima na zolo'