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Franco: Francophonic Vol. 1: 1956-1980

Franco: Francophonic Vol. 1: 1956-1980

Release Date:2008

By Michaelangelo Matos | Posted 12/17/2008

For all of the ear-opening reissues of African rarities that 2008 has seen, the cream of the crop belongs to the most popular-in-Africa musician of his epoch. Franco was the Congolese guitarist, singer, and songwriter whose sinuous, lithe personalization of Cuban rumba rhythms, as well as his shit-hot guitar and skintight orchestra, wrote the blueprint for the next few decades' worth of Congo pop before dying of AIDS-related disease in 1989 at age 51. Franco was a giant every which way, and that includes a humongous recorded backlog that's even harder to parse when you're half the world a way and speak no Lingala, never mind French. (Graeme Ewens' Franco biography, Congo Colossus, lists more than 80 albums.) When four different labels--Manteca, Rough Guides, Sheer Legacy, and now Sterns--attempt to boil down one man's catalog and come up with only 13 duplicated songs between them, that's one hell of a sprawl--and the making of four great collections.

But the newest is also the most expansive. Ignoring the '80s--of which the above-named comps have plenty--and unfolding chronologically over two discs. (Sheer's double African Classics is all out of order.) Francophonic Vol. 1 is both a monument and one hell of a party record. The first disc is one great tune after another, not to mention one great guitar line and/or solo after another (from the thrusting "Tcha tcha tcha de mi amor" to the snaky "Bato ya mabe batondi mboka"), hitting a weird peak with "Marie Naboyi," which stop-starts several times between a handful of segments, all equally mouthwatering. The second disc is the groove bomb, albeit for one of the most lissome grooves ever devised. "AZDA" was rightly one of Franco's biggest-ever hits, a sweepingly confident harmony number that doubled as a plug for a Volkswagon sales lot. As with The Voice of Lightness, Sterns' superlative 2007 compilation of Franco's great Congolese rival Tabu Ley Rochereau, Francophonic Vol. 1 is an immaculate introduction to a man who, once he makes your acquaintance, should require none.

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