Led by influential guitarist and songwriter Franco (born: Francois Luambo Makiadi), TPOK Jazz helped to lay the foundation for the Congolese sound. Combining Cuba’s son and rhumba tradition with Central African influences, the group provided some of the best dance music to come out of Africa in the 1960s, ’70s, and early ’80s. Sam Mangwana and Papa Noel were early bandmembers. Formed in 1955, TPOK Jazz took its name from the OK Bar, where they served as house band. Although they recorded as early as 1956, the group suffered from the unstable political conditions that followed the emancipation of the Congo in 1960 and temporarily moved to Belgium. Returning to their homeland, after Mobutu assumed the country’s presidency, TPOK Jazz rose to the upper echelon of African music. Their records sold well while their concerts sold out well in advance. Their success continued after the band split into two units, one based in Europe and one based in Zaire. TPOK Jazz’s fortunes began to disintegrate in the late ’80s when Franco was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987. He died two years later on October 12, 1989. The group’s popularity, however, has continued to grow. In 2001, the Music Network released The Rough Guide to Franco, featuring many tracks recorded with the band.
How we met:
We were in the Congo recording new songs around the world when we met The TPOK Jazz Band. On our second day of filming, we came across this group of amazing musicians in Kinshasa and within minutes they were playing us some songs and sharing their stories. These musicians truly represent the soul of the Congo and they teach us that even in terrible circumstances the artist and the musician must rise up to bring joy and hope to all those who will listen.