Seeing these images and hearing the news reports, it is easy to imagine that the African people have always lived this way, rolling from one disaster to the next, like children in constant need of parental supervision. Such views obscure Africa's bloody history and Europe's part in it. Brutal colonialism, the scramble for Africa, and years of ruthless economic exploitation have all played a fundamental role in the current desperate situation.
For me, music presents openings to other ways of thinking. The music of the Congo gives us a different view of the country and its people, so today I've posted another fantastic album by Franco et T.P. O.K. Jazz. Franco began recording in the early 1960s and soon became one of Africa's most popular musicians. The newly independent country was entering a period of political turmoil after the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, and Mobutu was consolidating his military power with the help of US and European governments who were worried about the spread of Communism in Africa. Mobutu came to power in 1965, and it is during this dictator's violent reign that Franco, and Congolese music more generally, enjoyed his most fertile period, leading a large orchestra and producing an unprecedented number of records that were hugely successful across the continent. It was during this time that Franco earned himself the title 'Sorcerer of the guitar'. His playing is indeed magical. In 1978 Franco spent time in prison after speaking out against Mobutu's regime. When he came out, the country's declining economic situation meant that the big bands he had been used to leading were no longer viable. The 1980s saw the decline of the Congo's previously vibrant music scene, musicians emigrated and nightspots closed as the country's money dried up.
Currently, 'Congotronics' groups such as Konono No 1 or the Kasai Allstars are enjoying some success with Western listeners:
This is fabulous music, but contrast the scene with this great '70s footage of Franco's band and we get some idea of the distance travelled, of the way the country seems to be sliding backwards, its poverty growing as global demand for its valuable resources increase:
Today's album is from 1982 or '83, and it features a smaller band than those on the other T.P.O.K. Jazz album we posted, its still a stellar listen though with those incredibly intricate duelling guitars snaking their way into the brain.
02 Chacun Pour Soi
04 Adieu Je M'en Vais
05 Tu Es Mechante
06 Laissez Passer
07 Ngai Te
You can get the zip over here.