Congolese music icon Simaro Lutumba dead

Congolese music legend Simaro Masiya Lutumba. COURTESY PHOTO

Paris- Congolese music legend Simaro Masiya Lutumba is dead, his son Salomon Lutumba has confirmed.

The legendary TPOK Jazz deputy leader, composer, arranger and rhythm guitarist passed on at his home in Paris, France, according to Salomon, who did not give the cause of death. Sources close to the family, however, say he had been battling diabetes and hypertension.

Simaro gave 63 of his 81 years of life to music, counting from 1961 when he joined Franco Luambo Makiadi – who was reorganising OK Jazz band after the departure of founding members Vicky Longomba and Jean Serge Essous – to his official retirement on March 19, 2018.
The retirement saw Simaro hand over a guitar to then President Joseph Kabila at the presidential palace in Kinshasa.

“I accomplished my mission. Let others follow in my footsteps and do not borrow immoral ways. I consider myself a music teacher. What I ask young people is to ban insanities in songs and dance.

“We must not blindly mimic the cultures of others. We must be able to teach through music,” Simaro said when retiring from music.

Born Lutumba Domanueno Simaro on March 19, 1938, he started his music career at the age of 17 playing with Orchestra Micra and Congo Jazz of Gerry Madiata before the departures at OK Jazz in 1961 saw Franco recruit more members to fill the void.

Franco reorganised the band and renamed it TPOK (Tout Puissant Orchestra Kinshasa – the All Mighty Kinshasa Band) Jazz with Simaro as his deputy.

While Franco was abrasive with insatiable appetite for success, Simaro was laid back, calm and collected, which blended well with Franco’s character in management of the band members that grew to as many 80 at some point.

By the late 1970s, TPOK Jazz had grown so big that Franco took one arm of the band to Brussels with him leaving Simaro in charge of the remnants in Kinshasa. They toured the continent under his leadership.

Simaro was such an important figure in the band, not just for his rhythm guitar artistry since it was the backbone of rumba that relied solely on guitar sounds, but because he was irreplaceable.

In 1984, for instance, Simaro recorded his album, Maya, outside the TPOK Jazz without Franco’s consent. Franco was in Belgium and only learnt of it after the song had been released in 1985.

It was recorded at the IAD studios in Brazzaville. Franco was said to be livid when he found out about the album. But he could do nothing and the two exchanged eye contact for mutual understanding.

Around the same time, Papa Noel also recorded an album outside the TPOK Jazz system. The album was titled “Bon Samaritan” and was also recorded at IAD.

Unlike Simaro, Franco never reconciled with Papa Noel.
Simaro is credited with hundreds of compositions during his illustrious rumba career but never sang, except once when he chanted a line about his wife.

The last concert he organised took place on March 16 in Kampala. But he could not attend the charity concert for cancer victims that had been postponed twice late last year as organisers tried desperately to fly Simaro to Kampala.

Concept of story-telling

Simaro’s Maya album was a big hit. The lead track, Maya, was widely received. It told of the story of a man with a troublesome wife who keeps running away from home. The man has to woo her back each time. For his exploits in Maya, Simaro was nicknamed ‘Le Poet’ (The Poet). He emphasised the concept of story-telling in Congolese music where each song was themed on a topical issue and was flavoured with stylistic devices with lyrics taking precedence.