Goofs all over.
By amos ngaira
During the burial of rhumba great Pepe Ndombe Opetum he had the gumption to jump the VIP queue as respects were paid to the late OK Jazz crooner. He has called himself Pope, a French president and generally broken every rule in the book. Has Congolese tcha tcho star Koffi Olomide hit the road to self-destruction?
He may have got off lightly with a three-month suspended sentence last week on charges of assaulting his producer, but popular Congolese musician Antoine Agbepa Mumba, better known as Koffi Olomide, is going through a rough patch.
Many music commentators generally agree that, Olomide, 56, and one of Democratic Republic of Congo’s most prolific musicians, with a string of hits under his belt, is today a pale shadow of what he was some 10 or so years ago, at the peak of success as a mega African recording artiste.
His famous Quartier Latin International Band that churned out hit after hit in Koffi’s heyday, is also a shell of its former self. But the man, who goes by numerous nicknames and praise aliases, including Grand Mopao, Mokonzi, Tcha Tcho king, Shakespeare of Zaire, Nkolo Lupemba and Sarkozy, after former French President Nicola Sarkozy, never shies away from controversy.
Rubbing Catholics the wrong way
A couple of years ago he blithely stepped on the toes of many Catholics in Kinshasa when he added “Benedict XVI of the Congo” to his names. This was seen as affront on Pope Benedict XVI - the global head of the Catholic church. Worse still he placed banners at various spots in Kinshasa. As Robert Osano a lingala music fan who has lived in Kinshasa recalls: “There was a public outcry over the use of the Pope’s name in his promotional material. This was the vintage Koffi Olomide; ever controversial”.
Koffi made his debut as an excellent songwriter when most of his earlier compositions in the late 70s and 80s were released through Papa Wemba’s Orch Viva La Musica Band. As Nairobi-based Congolese musician Kasongo wa Kanema, of the Super Mazembe fame, noted, Koffi had often out-smarted others by labelling his albums with coded messages. “Most of his songs, though with perfect and unique arrangements, have turned out to hit at certain people often with different meanings from what we know,” says wa-Kanema.
Similarly Kasongo regrets that Koffi whose music is loved by many, now finds himself in the embarrassing situation of being hurled to court. Some of Koffi’s greatest songs include “Papa Plus”, “Futa Djalon”, “Andraa”, Loi, Mbirime, Micko, Attentat and Ngounda.
Koffi’s latest brush with the law arose from a disagreement with his producer Diego Lubaki, over 3,000 Euros (about Shs9.5m). If you drive a spanking Mercedes Benz or the ego-oozing Hummer, some people expect lots of civility from you. Especially when you once won a scholarship to study in Bordeaux, France, where you obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Economics.
According to his Paris-based counterpart Nyboma Mwandido the incident was an unfortunate one for his image. The faux pas, as they are wont to term in DRC, happened at Kinshasa’s Zenith Hotel and was the latest in the series of incidents Koffi has had with promoters. “Koffi confronted the producer demanding his dues thereafter it become physical,” Nyboma told this paper on phone from the DRC capital.
Nyboma, who has recorded with Koffi songs like “Anicet” and sung on Koffi’s “Papa Bonheur”, feels there is still time for Koffi to redeem his image. “Koffi is definitely going through some difficult time and we hope he sails through well,” Nyboma added.
For the past almost three years Koffi has not been able to stage any shows in Europe partly due to a pending court case over harassment of dancers and threats from the radical anti-Kabila “combatants” who are opposed to Kinshasa-based groups performing in Europe.
Koffi, was arrested on Wednesday, August 15, shortly before noon in Kinshasa and charged with assault and battery. He was represented by 10 lawyers. Prosecutor Flory Kabange had a warrant of arrest issued against the flamboyant singer for assaulting his producer Lubaki. According to the prosecutor, hotel property was damaged in the fracas. It was a trying moment for the band leader who was held overnight in Makala Prison and produced in court on Thursday morning. Word of his arrest had spread and the court was packed to the brim with his fans and curious people. His wife Aliane was present. Radio presenter Fred Obachi Machoka, witnessed Koffi’s rough edges in June during an open air funeral service for former -TP Ok singer Pepe Ndombe Opetum in Kinshasa.
“Ndombe’s family and others were incensed by Koffi’s attempt to jump the queue in laying wreaths ahead of senior government officials. Machoka, who had travelled to Kinshasa for the funeral said Koffi was later allowed to lay his wreaths but denied a chance to address the mourners.
The court matter in Kinshasa is the second major legal battle for the musician, who is facing harassment allegations in France that have curtailed his travel to record or perform in Europe. Koffi’s appearances have been mostly centred around Kinshasa since early this year, following unsavoury charges being preferred against him in the Nanterre magistrate’s court, Paris.
During a concert tour of France a dancer accused Koffi of rape but the star has vehemently denied the charge, accusing the young woman of making false allegations against him in order to be allowed to stay on France, reported African Diplomacy. Koffi was in Paris early this year where he hired a lawyer to argue his case and hurriedly returned to Kinshasa.
A few years ago his bodyguard assaulted reporter Marc Tabu at a concert in Paris. As US-based veteran musician and producer Mekanisi Modero recalled, Koffi later apologised to Marc’s father veteran singer Tabu Ley. “The recent incident in Kinshasa illustrates Koffi’s tendency to be emotional and physical,” says Modero.
Koffi, who has over the past two decades or so, distinguished himself as a singer dancer, producer and composer, was born on July 13, 1956, in Kisangani before his family moved to Kinshasa. He was born in a middle-class family that valued education. This probably explains his acumen in band management. He even runs a transport company in Kinshasa and real estate business in Kinshasa.
On returning to Kinshasa from France in the 1970s, he joined Papa Wemba’s Viva la Musica as a composer and song writer and later became a vocalist.
Venturing into the unknown
In 1986, he left Viva la Musica to start Quartier Latin, which at most times was a huge ensemble of instrumentalists, vocalists and dancers, averaging 30 or more. He built a loyal fan base in East, Central, Southern and West Africa with his Tcha Tcho style of soukous.
As a band leader, Koffi is meticulous and a stickler for quality and pushes his musicians hard to get the best out of them. He has as a result won numerous accolades, but he treasures the Kora Award for Best African Artiste of the Decade. During the Kora Awards for 2002, he won the Best African Artiste accolade, having first taken it in 1998.
Many fine Congolese musicians have gone through Koffi’s hands to excel in the field. They include Fally Ipupa, who was with Quartier Latin for nearly 10 years, before launching his solo career. Today, Fally is one of the most promising Congolese artistes, who has taken his prowess to the next level, collaborating with American G-Unit of 50Cent’s Olivia, on a super track “Electric Chaise”.
With Koffi, Fally composed “Ko ko ko” and did the lead vocals on “Pharcien”. Another great to have worked with Koffi is Ferre Gola, after leaving Werra Son’s Wenge Musica Maison Mere. Other Koffi protégés include Montana Kamenga, who had sharpened his skills with General Defao, before teaming up with Koffi.
Others who went through the Quartier Latin school were Fele Mudogo, Sam Tshintu, Suzuki 4x4, Buro Mpela, and Soleil Wanga. In 1998 when he toured Kenya prior to the France tour when the group later split after a concert at the Olympia Hall in Paris. Disgruntled members of the band split to form Orch Quartier Latin Academia.