Before he died at 51 in 1989, probably of AIDS, the titanic
Congolese guitarist-vocalist-bandleader Franco had recorded some
150 albums, just one of which was ever released by a U.S. company
of any stature. Due to catalogue litigation that caused one label
to cancel plans for a box set, his records have been even harder to
find since then. So The Rough Guide to Franco
(World Music Network) is a
treasure. Compiled by Franco's biographer, Graeme Ewen, the single
CD spans 30 years of recording, from the catchy Latin tinge of the
three-minute Merengue through the gravely danceable Attention Na
SIDA ("Beware of AIDS"). As a tour of the ripplingly grooveful
pan-African soukous style, which Franco ruled, it's incomparable, and
nowhere near as samey as cynics might expect. You don't have to
know Lingala to hear how much tracks featuring soaring vocals and
lilting guitars can differ. Only those who listen to James Brown
for the lyrics have an excuse for ignoring this.
A Zairean who made a musical life for himself in East Africa, Samba Mapangala is a minor figure compared to Franco. You could say that Ujumbe (Stern's/Earthworks)--his third album released Stateside, and his first in a decade--represents no progress. Or you could observe that his sweet, relaxed flow, considerably less stressful than the soukous it translates into Swahili, is miraculously consistent. A pretty beauty, unimposing and full of pleasure.
Anyone conscious in 1962 will know all the songs on Girl Group Greats (Rhino). Anyone conscious will know some of them. But no one will know of a place where legends from the superstar Supremes to the anonymous Jaynetts sound better together. Easily the finest girl-group collection ever released.
Playboy, June 2001