The prolific artist Franco, who died in 1989, is still a central figure in Congolese music. The compilation Guitar Hero pays tribute to the rumba giant with an unusual collection of songs remastered with debateable dexterity.
Some CD covers have an eye-catching charm that invites you to take a listen. The sober design and harmonious colours that grace the jacket of Guitar Hero with a retro portrait of Franco open up a tantalising door to step back in time three or four decades.
The flipside of the CD tells us that the nine tracks have been “remastered for the first time since their original vinyl release”. Seductive, though not quite true, since some of the titles have in fact appeared on compilations devoted to the Great Franco over the last fifteen years. Nevertheless, the songs are rare market commodities and it’s refreshing to see a tribute to the standard-bearer of rumba, whose works tend to get lumped in the same place.
Some have been released under the names of those interpreting them, like Ce n’est pas possible, Chouchou sporting the voice of Vicky Longomba, father of the soukouss techno king Awilo Longomba. Ntesa Dalienst was also one of the singers with Franco’s OK Jazz band, which he joined in 1976, recording Tala Ye Na Miso the following year.
Almost everything on Guitar Hero comes from that same era. The reign of the “guitar wizard”, as Franco is often called, was at its height. With his instrument, onto which he transposed some of the likembe (thumb piano) playing, he developed a style that contributed to his fame. What a shame to see this musical aspect of his career strangely absent from the compilation.
Très impoli is a sixteen-minute slice of pleasure, and not this quarter-sized version (only 3'47), with its incandescent solos chopped off. The same goes for Zenaba, which is shrunken and devoid of the second part, which appeared on the B-side of the original single. The most serious charge, though, is that rubbing out the crackling stylus to obtain a “cleaner” sound has caused collateral damage. The instruments have lost their attack, resulting in a less dynamic sound bereft of nuance. Digital technology is an unquestionable ally for raising forgotten disks out of the depths, but only when used with skill.
Franco Guitar Hero (Cantos / Pias) 2011