The rumbah fraternity is in mourning following the sudden demise of “Pepe” Ndombe Opetum, who died of cardiac arrest in Kinshasa DRC on 25th May, 2012 aged just 67 years. He dies almost five years after the golden voiced Biallu Madilu “System” left us. Pepe as he was popularly known was not your ordinary beat down musician, he was a man who had “gone” to school and had at one time been employed in the Zairean Civil Service. He joined the music powerhouse Orchestra TPOK Jazz (Tout Pouissant Ochestre Kinshasa) from Afrisa International in 1975 after the departure of the talented multi linguist and versatile Sam Mangwana “La Pigeon Voyageur” who went to establish his solo career in Cote’d Ivoire. I have loved and listened to Congolese rumbah with reason and passion because of the societal and political messages it dispenses.
He joined ranks with the likes of the magic guitarist and spiritual composer Lutumba Massiya Simarro “Le Grande Poette” who gave us Testament ya Bowule (which I have noticed over a period of time to be Prezda Bandasson’s of Patrons Musica favourite on the stage), one of the pioneer women rights defenders Ntessa Dalienst Zitani ( who died in 1996 of a brain hemorrhage ) who gave us hits like Bina na ngai na respect (dance with me with respect) which advised men to draw boundaries when dealing with ladies and Lisolo Ya Adamo Na Nzambe (Adam’s conversation with God) in which he accuses men seeing women as being responsible for all their problems and his voice is unmistakable in Zala Sportiff.
Pepe Ndombe was in TPOK Jazz when it was at its zenith, the dream team epoch of the band, the charming and vivacious Mpongo Love gave us the evergreen Ndaya, Mayaula Mayoni composed Nabali Misere (I am married to misery), before he quit to pursue a solo career. Josky Kiambukuta Londa’s phenomenal Propretaire in which the story of a girl’s unrequited love is told was recorded during this era. Many Kenyan rumbah fans confuse have heard and danced to the tune of “Nono”, while believing that it is the name of this poignant song. The correct name of the song is Bon Samaritan (it refers to a tale of spouses become the opposite once they get married) sung by Papa Noel who also gave us Tangawisi. It was during this period that Pepe composed his now famous Mawe.
The message that was transmitted by Pepe and his comrades will span the ages, they defy time and culture, they live on past the composers. Simarro sang about how money wrought problems and misery in the family and society in general, Franco and Madilu sang of the problems that faced families in songs like Matata ya Mwasi na Mobali and Makambo ezali Burreau. Madilu is dead but for those of us born while Franco our parents were the ones who were of an age to listen to music can still tap our feet, sway our heads and move to the sound of Pesa Position. We live in an instant coffee generation, where some of the young men want pedicure and manicure but without incurring costs, they rely on women to provide for their luxuries and day to day needs. They should take heart, for it seems nothing is new or peculiar, in the song Mario, Franco sings of an educated youngster who will not work but live off the earnings of a sugar mummy.
The once all powerful Orchestra TPOK Jazz which at one time had in excess of fifty musicians nowadays can only bask in its former glory. After the death of Franco October 12, 1989, an album featuring Pepe’s two songs Anjela and Tawaba was released. The seminal Eau Benite by Simarro was released around this time. From the information I gather, Simarro whose hit Maya is one of my all time classics is sickly but fairing on in Kinshasa, the silken voiced Malage De Lugendo is rarely heard of, it may be termed that the life of man is short on this world, but I know that the life of artists on this world is immeasurable. Life is by God’s grace, but death is definite to come at a certain point in one’s life. As Pepe embarks on Voyage ya Mwisho, I pray that God gives his family, friends and the music fraternity in Congo peace and tranquility during and after his funeral and subsequent burial.
In the meantime, La vie des Hommes will just do me justice.