juillet 2015
Fally Ipupa

Extraordinarily ambitious

Par Jean-Michel DENIS

He has been working on his new album for over a year, and has the international market firmly in his sights! We followed him during the recording sessions in Paris.

Tuesday 7th April, late afternoon in the Davout studios, Paris. On that particular day the main focus of interest of this impressive “sound factory” is on the first floor. There’s no trace of that good-natured shambles that usually accompanies the recording sessions of Congolese singers: the clusters of fanatics huddling in corridors, setting the world to rights, African mamas arriving with pots of the inevitable saka saka... Just the artist’s staff, no one else. Quiet, we’re trying to work here! In a small lounge-shaped room with a low ceiling are a guitarist and a young Ivorian assistant-director called Djibs. In the middle of it all is “Dicap the Marvellous”, aka Fally Ipupa. Quiet, we’remixing up a storm! It’s time to build the melodic bases of two songs. Cool atmosphere.There is, however, a slight feeling of tension in the air, or rather constant attention to what will be played. After one remark (“No, that’s too white!”) addressed to the guitarist, the maestro then says to him: “Do something Franco-style for me, at this point, I want to transport everyone straight to Zaire!” He has the same concern for the mix of West African to-ing and fro-ing when they attack the second song, which promises to get clubbers to their feet: over a Mutuashi beat, this music from the Kasaï region, popularised by the singer Tshala Muana, are Afro-beat guitar loops, a New York bass line and Daft Punk-style Vocoder (computer-based speech synthesis) for the singer. Fally’s conclusion: “French radio stations have never broadcast anything like it! Are they ready for it?”

Yes, there’s definitely a challenge in the air! The Congolese star is currently recording his next album. For someone with a fifteen-year career under his belt, it’s a giant leap, the one the famous singer Franco wanted to try before his death in 1989, the one that Papa Wemba achieved – but didn’t pursue– when he delivered three albums under the leadership of British rock star Peter Gabriel: The Traveller (1992), Emotion (1995) and Molokaï (1998). The one Koffi Olomidé either couldn’t or wouldn’t make. Conquering the international market! “I have nothing left to prove in Africa”, confides Fally. The story of Congolese music has been one of complete wastefulness. My fellow artists Tabu Ley, Kanda Bongo Man, Werrason, JB Mpiana and others never wanted to be exported outside the continent, as they were earning a ton of money. What I want is for people to listen to African music, but tuned to European ears. It’s the third great challenge of my career.’

This is a reference to the essential milestones reached by “El Magnifico”. The first was what was called “the wondrous transfer” in DR Congo, that is, when he joined Koffi Olomidé’s band, Quartier Latin in 1999, at the age of 22, having “dragged” his voice round various small groups since 1992. A voice that had already done “serious damage” to the music-lovers of Bandalungwa, the district of Kinshasa where he was born. The time to establish himself as an exceptional singer, especially his amazing interpretation of a rumba “Ko-Ko-Ko-Ko”, came on Attentat, his patron’s work,’ released in 1999. The second milestone: his first solo album, Droit Chemin, was record of the year, 2006. This was a great success on the continent, a club classic and received a gold disc (thanks to the black community in France). From Ndombolo to new accents, over one million copies, pirated or not, virtual or not, sold in Africa and the diaspora. Arsenal de Belles Mélodies (2009) and Power – Kosa Leka (2013), went on to achieve similar success and was to introduce Fally into the very exclusive private club of African stars.

Finally, the third episode in this success story was signing a contract for three albums with AZ/Capitol/Universal in April 2013. The production was finished, African-style, under the orders of “coupé-décalé” head honcho David Monsoh.

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