FRANCO: A GREAT STORY IN NEED OF A STORY TELLER
January 4, 1994.
A great story in need of a storyteller...
THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF FRANCO & OK JAZZ
FIrst Edition edition
January 04, 1994
Tells the story of Franco's life from a precocious guitar-playing kid in Kinshasa (Leopoldville) to cultural figurehead of one of the largest countries in Africa.
What a story! Born into abject poverty in a nation at the crossroads of forming its own, new, post-colonial identity, Franco pulled himself up, and over the course of a few decades radicalized the local rhumba into an expansive, intricate, personal melange that influenced generations of musicians. Beyond beloved, Franco was an odd combination of bandleader, businessman, tutti capi, outlaw, and diplomat. He was courted by people in power, and he responded sometimes with indignance and sometimes sycophantically. Heck, one of his most beloved ditties is actually a Volkswagon commercial underwritten by a local dealership. But his story and his short life were never dull...
And yet this book is. Author Ewens apparently had great access to Franco and the people around him, but he is a woefully inept storyteller -- a rather watery writer who fails to impart any moment or intrigue to a life rich with both elements. He paints an exciting portrait of thriving Kinshasa, and many of Franco's playful affronts to authority would be engaging if rendered in pictographs, but still...as an effort this smacks of a missed opportunity. It doesn't help that the Franco saga has many, many players, and Ewen can't tell the story clearly, rendering the supporting roles a blur...
Sadly, too, Ewen can't come to any conclusions about Franco's mysteriously young death, which is widely assumed to be an AIDS casualty...a discography and some lyric translations are a nice touch, but this feels like a first draft. There's still a great book to be written about Franco, but this isn't it. Buy a few of his records (like Stern's great recent Francophonic anthologies) instead.