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[Off The Record]
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Until now, it has not been possible to listen to any single CD and get a fair overall impression of Franco, who has a claim to be the greatest African bandleader of the 20th century. Back in 1956, when the upstart session guitarist launched his band, OK Jazz, in Kinshasa (Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo), it was a small guitar-based combo playing Cuban-derived son and rumba with a Central African twist. When Franco died, in 1989, TPOK Jazz, as it was then known, had become an on-stage army, with as many as five guitars and seeming legions of horns, singers, dancers, and percussionists. By then, Francoís songs were more like plays, dramatizing social issues and shifting musical moods, all intensely orchestrated by the master.

These 12 tracks, compiled and (for once on a Franco CD) explained, by Franco biographer Graeme Ewans, amount to a crash course on one of the classiest band catalogues ever. Itís all here, from the saucy twang on Francoís scarcely electrified guitar on the 1956 " Merengue " to the gorgeous melancholy of male vocal harmonies and nimble double-stop guitar picking on the 1971 " Infidelite Mado " to the full-force band assault of Francoís immortal 1985 rant against an indolent gigolo, " Mario. " Anyone with even the faintest interest in African pop music should own this CD.


Issue Date: July 26 - August 2, 2001

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