Celebrities in Focus: Koffi Olomide, the 'Shakespeare'
Tuesday, 03.04.2007, 11:39pm (GMT)
KOFFI Olomide was born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo formerly Zaire in 1958. His father was Congolese while his mother was Nigeria, which explains his name. He was born into a family where education took above everything else. While pursuing his academic goals in both Paris and Switzerland, he honed his musical talent with a guitar which he borrowed from a neighbour. Thus, signalling the start of his musical career as a songwriter and vocalist.
It was in his school days that he released several single albums in the 80s and 90s where he developed his own style based on the synthesizer. The arrangements of his romantic ballads are airy, easily crossing over to the male choir of the backing group, Quartier Latin. With his sophisticated style and spectacular shows, Koffi Olomide became the fashion-leader in Soukous- singing and incredibly popular in Africa.
After the trendsetting album, La Loi, in 1997, he has called his music style Ndombolo, which is the word for buttocks in Lingala. Release of the album was blocked in the Congo DR, but the ban was not especially effective. In the late 1970s he joined Papa Wemba's band, Viva La Musica, as a vocalist. Here, he learned his vocal and stage techniques and launched his solo career in 1985, turning out to be one of the biggest success stories in African music.
Koffi has, since then, systematically striven to get to where he is today, convinced that fate chose him to become a star, and has always been acutely aware of his image and style. He takes his dandy-style to the extreme and denies himself nothing in terms of his self-designed attire. His lyrics are difficult to access for non-Conglese as he sings only in Lingala, interspersed with French words and Kinshasa slang that have their own meaning.
This is not, of course, taking anything away from him, the fact that he has dominated music charts across the continent and abroad with a combination of his deep baritone voice, which barely caresses the microphone, sophisticated arrangements, blending old school rumba and smooth keyboard melodies as well as a searing guitar climax. His compositions are classy and appeal to wide spectrum of fans worldwide. His songs delve deep into a wide variety of topics including love, politics, technology and even religion.
He has vowed fans in Nigeria and the rest of Africa alike, Europe and north America with his stage presence, and his ability to turn heads and create rancour.
He is now firmly entrenched as one of the most popular performers ever in south Africa and Nigeria following brilliant performances there. He once performed at the restigious Olymia in Paris. Tabu Ley is the only other African musician to have performed there.
All his success has not been without a down side. He has found himself at odds with the powers that be in Congo DR as certain lyrics in his album La Loi were interpreted as a veiled criticism of the Kabila regime. He was also said to have been arrested for hosting the son of the late Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. During a tour in Cameroon a few years ago, he was said to have left the country cursing and swearing never to return.
He has continued to release one hit after the next while being faithful to his self proclaimed Tcha Tcho style, which is seen by some as a new direction for a genre growing old and static. Tcha Tcho is a slower, more sensuous kind of Soukous. In the early 90s, came albums like Noblese Oblige and Magie and Koffi appeared to be growing from strength to strength as his popularity shot straight through the roof.
In 1995, he released his most successful album, V12. The following year, he collaborated with one of his mentors, Papa Wemba, to produce the album Wake up. Then came the controversial La Loi which sold widely largely due to its controversial nature having been banned in the Congo DR. In 1998, he collaborated with Bana OK Legend, Josky Kiambukuta to produce the album; Ngounda.
Towards the late nineties, he changed to the more vigorous and danceable Ndombolo dance style which has taken the continent by storm, to the point where he is now referred to in some circles as the King of Ndombolo. This brand of music has come under criticism amid charges that it is obscene, and has subsequently been banned in Mali and Cameroon, among other countries. This did not, however, stop Koffi who has taken Ndombolo to new heights with albums such as Droit de Veto and Attentat, release at the dawn of the new millennium.
In late 1999, Koffi faced what proved to be his biggest setback yet: After a concert staged in Paris, he had a disagreement with several members of his band who then decided to quit the band and form their own band which they aptly named Quartier Latin Academia. It is rumoured that they were disgruntled at not getting a fair share of the band's earnings.
In late 1999, Koffi faced what proved to be his biggest setback yet: After a concert stage in Paris, he had a disagreement with several Congolese musicians, many of whom accuse him of being arrogant, while he accuse him of being arrogant, while he accuses them of jealousy. The most notable of these is Papa Wemba who launched a scathing attack on Koffi in one of his albums Mzee Fula Ngege. Koffi responded to the attacks in his album Attentat released immediately after the defection and which was a major success.
To further add to his problems, was the humiliation Kofi suffered whenhis limousine was flagged down in Kinshasa by security personnel in 2001. He defied the order, but they later caught with him, pulled him out of his Mercedes Compressor and allegedly flogged him in public.
However, Koffi put the setbacks behind and set out to rebuild his career. He recruited new musicians, including General Defao's long-time associate Montana Kamanga, and went on to eclipse everybody else at the 2001 year's Kora Awards, emerging Africa's leading musician. And at the Kora awards of 2002, he won a record 4 awards including one for Best African artiste. It sent a clear message to many of his detractors who believed his career was on the decline after being deserted by 12 of his band members.
Daily Champion (Lagos)
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