A decade ago, someone left a CD of Franco at the zine library where I volunteered, shelving and cleaning, and I fell in immediate soul-stirring, body-tingling love with it, the way as a teen I lost it at first listen to Giant Steps, London Calling, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, Country Life, feeling in the physical flow and vibrancy of the music something that fit an exact place in my spirit. Franco, a guitar colossus, declamatory singer, and ace bandleader, led the transition of Congolese music from lilting Cuban-inspired rumba to the punchy, virtuosic, sensual-then-brisk dance music called soukous. He and his rival/pal/fellow continental superstar the sweet-voiced Tabu Ley Rochereau so completely dominated the soukous scene in Kinshasa that they’d absorb nearly every gifted player and singer into their own rotating groups. One of the few exceptions to the creative duopoly was the prickly and independent-minded bandleader and composer Papa Wemba, who roared out of his Zaiko Langa Langa band in the 70s to create hard-edged, funky solo music.
Wemba, who died onstage in Abidjan three days ago at 66, could bark and wail and keen and serenade, sometimes all in the same song; he could quote village chants in a Saturday-night dancefloor tune. “La ville et le village,” he once wrote: “deux visages que j’aime!” I first met his music on the 1977-1997 anthology, then on the Peter Gabriel project Molokai. This tune– from the 90s, long after most soukous giants had fallen silent– is my fave.