By David Wanjala
Fally Ipupa, one of the present-day Lingala music reigning stars, has done well since quitting Koffi Olomide’s Quartier Latin in 2006. Before his exit after seven years of superb service, Fally had cut himself an enviable niche in the band as the lead arranger, composer, and vocalist.
It has been 17 great years of near unrivalled solo career for the ladies’ blue-eyed boy in contemporary Lingala music, with former Wenge Musica Maison Mere’s Ferre Gola as the only close threat to his dominance.
However, controversy regarding Fally’s relationship with his former boss has persisted as much as his star has shone. Much of it has been about whether the current king of Lingala music is self-made or a creation of Mopao Mokonzi (the big boss), as Koffi is fondly known back in Kinshasa. Fally, to the disgust of many fans of Lingala music, even back in their motherland, the Democratic Republic of Congo, believes he is self-made.
He argues that he did not start his career in Quartier Latin but merely passed through the band. Most Lingala fans would beg to differ.
It all began back in 2006 after Fally’s exit from Koffi’s band when he claimed that the king of Tcha-tcho was a bully as a leader. That, just like his pet name, ‘the General’, suggested, Koffi rained terror on his band members. Fally even alleged that Koffi had begged him, unsuccessfully, to return to Quartier Latin.
Born Antoine Christophe Agbepa Mumba, Koffi Olomide is, in my opinion, the definition of success in Lingala music after the late Grand Maitre, Franco Luambo Luanzo Makiadi of TP OK Jazz. First, Mokonzi Mopao boasts a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Economics from Bordeaux University and a Master’s in Mathematics from the University of Paris. He is one of the best Singers, dancers, producers, lyricists, and composers ever graced the Congolese music scene. He has a stage presence unrivalled in that genre of music for many years.
He is the recipient of many KORA Awards, including the illustrious quartet in the 2002 KORA Awards edition for the Album Effrakata, including the awards for Best Male Artist of Central Africa, Best Video of Africa, Best Arrangement of Africa, and the Jury Special Award.
Like most of those who are good at what they do, Koffi’s music career has, too, been dogged with controversy. His, all through, has been about how he relates with those who work with him and how he treats those who work for him. There’s a lot of literature about the fallout with one of his mentors, Papa Wemba. The troubled relationship trudged from the 70s when Papa Wemba gave young Koffi a stage on which he honed his skills.
Papa gave Koffi the name Olomide, by which he is so famously known to date. When their relationship hit rock bottom, they tragically warned one other never to attend the other’s funeral. When Papa died in 2014, Koffi honored that wish. They had, however, attempted to salvage their relationship through close friends before Papa’s demise when they did a collabo in the hit Wake Up in 1996. That did not also work as Papa, soon after the release of the super hit, accused Koffi of shortchanging him on returns.
Their squabbles roped in a young composer, Felix Wazekwa, in or about 1995. Wazekwa had been working with Koffi. He had featured in the ground-shaking album Noblesse Oblige in 1994. But in about 1995-96, he shifted to Papa’s side and, being talented, helped him to revive his otherwise dwindling career at the time with the production of two albums that had a resounding reception in the market, Foridole towards the end of 1994 and Pole Position in 1996. Mokonzi Mopao and Wazekwa have never seen eye to eye since. Wazekwa has also alleged Koffi was not a good boss, that besides being a bully, he never cared much for the welfare of his crew.
Koffi Olomide formed the group Quartier Latin International in 1986 after featuring as a lyricist for various Congolese music stars through the 70s and 80s. His breakthrough came in the 90s after assembling a talent pool of emerging young vocalists and dancers, including Sam Tshintu, Bouro Mpele, and Modogo Balongana Suzuki Luzubu (4X4).
The single hit, Papa Bohnheur, on the album Haut de Gamme of 1992, thrust Koffi on the international stage. In Kenya, for instance, it played on the radio and in clubhouses like an entrenched folklore.
In 1993, the album Noblisse Oblibe (nobility obligates), a French concept imploring the rich to give back to the less fortunate, formed Koff’s foundation for international recognition. A rich variety in rendition endeared Koffi’s compositions, especially in the album’s cover hit, Noblisse Oblige and Papa Plus.
He produced Magie in 1994, which featured the cover hit Magie, then Julia, and other big hits. In 1995, he produced V12, featuring Andrada, another of his most acclaimed single hits. In 1996, he released the album Ultimatum and then LOI, featuring hits like Micko and Vicky. This was the best decade of Koffi’s music career.
Towards the end of the 90s, decrying the same bullish leadership, there occurred a massive exodus of band members from Quartier Latin, including lead vocalists Sam Tshintu, Suzuki Luzubu, Bouro Mpele, Dolce Somono, and Modogo Balongana. They were to later form a splinter group in 1999. They named it Quartier Latin Academia. One of Academia’s biggest hits in their early days was Ingratitude, featuring Tshintu, Modogo, Mpele, and Somono. Might they have been railing against the alleged ill-treatment in Quartier Latin International?
The gap in Koffi’s band after the troop out of most of his long-standing talented vocalists and dancers in the late 90s was conspicuous. But Mopao Mokonzi swiftly recovered, recruited, and soldiered on to reclaim his dominance in the Lingala music space.
Koffi’s bullish character against his band members is no secret. It was displayed on Kenyan soil at JKIA in July 2016 after he publicly roughed up one of his female dancers on arrival at the airport. This resulted, unfortunately, in the cancellation of his work permit and deportation.
Fally Ipupa’s relationship with Koffi has been blowing hot and cold ever since he went solo, with Koffi playing a father figure and keeping mum. But when Fally eventually went beyond the bullish claim and accused Koffi of not being a mentor and harboring jealous feelings towards any would-be rising star within his ranks, Koffi came out guns blazing.
Fally, Koffi retorted, has never, ever since he went solo, mentored a single soul. Fally’s music style reserves him the sole role of a lead singer in all his songs, with the rest only doing the backup. Koffi argued he deliberately fashioned his music style to share lead vocals with his singers in his compositions. This introduced rendition variety but allowed others to shine and get recognized. That is how other musicians, including the much-loved pool of talent of the 90s in Koffi’s band of Tshintu, Suzuki 4X4, Mpele, Modogo, Somono, and, indeed, even Fally Ipupa came to be recognized.
That, Koffi said, is the best gift a band leader can give to his members. Fally, on the other hand, dominates lead vocals in his compositions. For the 16 years since breaking from Koffi, he has not mentored and propelled a single musician to fame. He has not afforded a youngster or even his contemporaries a stage to prove themselves. Many would be hard-pressed to name just one band member in Fally Ipupa’s troupe. Does anyone even know the name of Fally’s band? If, God forbid, Fally dropped dead tomorrow, wouldn’t that mark the end of his music?
Koffi’s counterargument brings to the fore a hitherto undiscussed concept, which has quietly existed in the music industry from time immemorial, about how music stars’ different personalities and leadership styles impact the industry. While some leadership styles and personalities have mentored, nurtured, and grown talent that outlived them, others, deliberately or inadvertently, nipped in the bud talents of would-be stars.
For example, Franco Luambo Luanzo Makiadi of TP OK Jazz and Orchestre Afrisa International’s Tabu Ley Rochereau were the biggest rivals in the rhumba genre. Franco died in 1989 at 51 years old, having been born in 1938. The talented guitarist with wizardry skill had been in the music scene for hardly 30 years, but the number of rhumba stars both on vocals and instruments he left behind, having honed their music skills under his watch, are countless; vocalists Josky Kiambukta, Dalienst Ntesa, Pepe Ndombe Opetum, Djo Mpoyi, Wuta Mayi, Youlou Mabiala, Lola Checcain, Sam Mangwana, Madilu Bialu System, Jolie Deta, Nana Akumu, Baniel Bosambo, Malage De Lugendo and a lead composer and rhythm guitarist, Le Poet Simaro Lutumba just to mention a few whose stars shined long after Luambo was gone.
“What made Franco great was not his guitar wizardry or his ability as a composer. It was certainly not his vocal skills. His ability as a band leader, organizer, and recruiter of great talent made him great,” a web page, ‘An introduction to Franco Luambo Makiadi, ’ sums it up.
Franco gave his vocalists and instrumentalists the stage on which to shine. Besides, he attributed borrowed works. A song composer would have his name alongside the hit on an album even as the band remained TP OK under Franco. That way, all his band members became household names worldwide, even during Franco’s time. Much after he was gone, many of his band members grew to star status, most in the ‘orphaned’ group formed after his demise, Bana OK Jazz, and others like Madilu, Sam Mangwana, and Prince Youlou as solo artists. His voice, solo guitar, and rhumba style lingered long after he was gone, courtesy of the TP OK Jazz members who survived him.
On the other hand, Tabu Ley (Born Pascal-Emmanuel Sinamoyi Tabu in 1940) is the exact contrast to his contemporary rival, Franco. A near-unrivaled singer and songwriter, Tabu Ley’s legacy is nowhere near Franco’s despite the fact he was on the stage much longer – 24 years to be exact. He boasts some of the most time-enduring rhumba hits, including my favorites Maze (1982), Ibeba (1984), and Sacramento (1993).
Tabu Ley did not leave behind any mentees of note by the time he died in 2013 besides Mbilia Bel and Faya Tess, who were both his mistresses. Unlike Franco, the curtains were drawn on Tabu Ley’s style of music with his death, and with him went the vault of multiple talent in music composition, arrangement, and vocals. He wasn’t a mentor. He did not afford a stage for other talented musicians under him to showcase their abilities and cut themselves a niche as Franco did.
Madilu’s story tells the kind of leader Tabu Ley was. Young Madilu had been with Tabu Ley as a backup singer for a while, and it was common knowledge that he was destined for bigger things. Tabu Ley must have felt threatened. One day, after making Madilu believe that he was on the band’s list that would tour Europe, he abandoned him at the airport in front of his family and friends.
Shortly after this humiliation, Madilu crossed over to TP OK Jazz, where his star rose to everyone’s shock. Most of Luambo’s star band members of the 70s, including guitarist Mavatiku Michelino and vocalists Mangwana and Pepe Ndombe, had trooped from Tabu Ley’s Afrisa International, where they had had no fame.
Fally Ipupa could be a super-talented music artist. His prowess in music composition, vocals, and choreography is not in doubt. He will never, however, match Mopao Mokonzi’s contribution to the music industry’s development not with his domination in production.
He can accuse Koffi of being bullish in his leadership style; that is a given. Koffi’s misogyny is also well-documented. Fally cannot, however, accuse Koffi of stifling talent. Koffi has scouted, recruited, developed, and given the stage to more people to showcase their abilities than Fally will ever do in the remainder of his life.
Koffi’s legacy will live much longer than Fally’s. (