rumba on the river

abetiLongomba, "Vicky" (Longomba Besange Lokuli, Victor), outstanding Congolese singer and band leader; born Kinshasa, Dec. 13, 1932; died Kinshasa Mar. 12, 1988.

Vicky began his career in 1953 at the CEFA recording studio in colonial Léopoldville (Kinshasa). Singing tenor, often in combination with other studio singers Roger Izeidi and François Engbondu as Les Trois Caballeros, Vicky recorded songs in the emerging Congolese rumba style. "Chérie Awa" (darling Awa) and "Congo ya Sika" (new Congo) numbered among his early sides.

As CEFA verged on bankruptcy in 1955, Vicky moved to the Loningisa studio. There, in 1956, he joined the guitarist known as Franco and four other session musicians to form the band O.K. Jazz. Vicky and singer Edouard "Edo" Ganga, who joined the band in 1957, formed a duo that set the vocal standard for the O.K. Jazz "school" of the Congolese rumba.

The year 1960 saw Vicky and band mate Brazzos join with Joseph Kabasele and members of O.K. Jazz arch rival African Jazz for performances and recording in Brussels at the round table conference on Congolese independence from Belgium. Vicky contributed backing vocals on Kabasele's "Indépendance Cha Cha," one of the most famous Congolese songs of all time, and wrote several others including "Vive Lumumba Patrice."

Vicky's departure for the round table ruptured his relations with O.K. Jazz. When he returned home he formed a new band called Négro Succès. With Vicky at the mike and Léon "Bholen" Bombolo on lead guitar, the band was indeed a success. So much so that it continued, even prospered, when Vicky departed some two years later and returned to O.K. Jazz. Back beside Franco and Edo, Vicky contributed vocals to most of the group's hits like the great "Ngai Marie Nzoto Ebeba" (I Marie whose body is wearing out), a story about a Kinshasa prostitute. He also wrote many of the band's songs including several, like "Conseil d'Ami" (friend's advice), in a slow, bolero-flavored style that he seemed to prefer.
Vicky and Franco shared leadership of O.K. Jazz for nearly a decade until it became clear to both that one boss was enough. Vicky departed in 1971 to form a new band he called Lovy du Zaire. Lovy boasted a number of young up-and-coming musicians like future Quatre Etoiles guitarist Syran M'Benza. Vicky's deteriorating health brought an end to the band and his performing career in 1974. Surgeons removed what Vicky described as a "cystic tumor" from his head in 1974 and again in 1981. Diabetes nearly cost him a leg. He recovered sufficiently to assume the presidency of the musicians union (UMUZA) in 1986, where he served until his death.

One of Congolese music's best-loved singers, Vicky left a legacy of dozens of compositions and hundreds of recordings. Together with Franco he helped to build O.K. Jazz into one of the finest bands in Africa. His duets with Edo and Edo's successors defined the vocal side of the O.K. Jazz sound for more than two decades. As a measure of his contributions to Congolese culture, Vicky was honored by President Mobutu with induction into the National Order of the Leopard, at the time the nation's highest award.
© 2011 Gary Stewart

With African Jazz: Merveilles du Passé (Sonodisc CD36503) sixties recordings reissued 1991.
With O.K. Jazz: Franco et l'O.K. Jazz (Sonodisc CD36502) fifties recordings reissued 1991; Franco, Vicky et L'OK Jazz (Sonodisc CD 36521) sixties recordings reissued 1992; Franco & Vicky et L'OK Jazz (Sonodisc CD 36533) sixties recordings reissued 1993; La Belle Epoque (Sonodisc 36553) sixties recordings reissued 1996; Franco, Vicky et l'OK Jazz (Sonodisc CD36586) sixties recordings reissued 1998; Originalité (RetroAfric RETRO2XCD) fifties recordings reissued 1999.
With Lovy du Zaire: Vicky & Lovy du Zaire (Sonodisc CD36528) seventies recordings reissued 1993.

M. Lonoh, Essai de commentaire sur la musique congolaise moderne (Kinshasa, 1969); G. Ewens, Congo Colossus (North Walsham, U.K., 1994); G. Stewart, Rumba on the River (London and New York, 2000).