Is Koffi Olomide still king?

Koffi olomide, General Mopao on stage at the Koroga Festival at Arboretum Gardens, Nairobi on 13th March 2016. [PHOTO: FELIX KAVII]

Set to host his East Africa fans to a mega concert at Bomas of Kenya, Koffi Olomide, the king of rumba has made a big comeback with his new single that is in praise of his late friend and fellow music star, Papa Wemba, a hit that has reignited the old debate as to who between him and Werrason writes Valentine Mbuthia.

Among Koffi Olominde's big hits is Wake Up, a 2008 track in which he featured his fallen friend Papa Wemba. The YouTube version of the video attracted hundreds views after Papa Wemba dramatically died during a concert in April.
Now, Koffi has released a new single, a new talk-about Lingala hit that is dedicated to the late Papa Wemba.

It is this song that Koffi Olominde will be breaking the ground with when he arrives in Kenya for his much-anticipated concert in two week's time. Since the announcement of his concert was made hundreds of fans have been buying tickets to avoid the last minute disappointment.

In fact, the demand for Koffi Olominde across the region is so huge that after the Kenyan show, another concert has been arranged for Juba, Southern Sudan where the event organiser has negotiated for another show.

It is no doubt that with age, like wine, Koffi, who many credit at the father of West and Central Africa rumba as we know it today, has been becoming a better star. The veteran has most of the current Lingala stars crediting him for his inspiration and mentorship. However, critics still argue that even Koffi rules in his reign, one man still stands on his way to greatness; Werrason.

If there was ever to be a battle of the giants, it would be between Koffi Olomide and Werrason. Their relationship has been one fraught with complications, from being best friends (Koffi is the Godfather to Werrason's daughter, Exaucee) to hardly standing to be in the same room with each other.

Famous for founding and fronting the African music band Wenge Maison Mère (WMM), the artiste known as Werrason recorded more than a dozen albums between 1997 and 2013. These include the French Golden Record-winning Solola Bien (1999) and the 2001 solo album Kibuisa Mpimpa. In 2003, Werrason's musical career took a major blow when he lost a large number of key band members. These were his deputy and composer Ferre Gola, his chief animator Bill Kalondji, and singer JDT Mulopwe. These members left a few months after other key members among them Baby Ndombe, Serge Mabiala and Japonaise Maladi also left for varied reasons. These former members grouped together and formed a rival musical band called Les Marquis de Maison Mere.

When Werrra was deprived of the most of the main Wenge members, instruments, and some donors and wanted to move to Canada, Koffi was among the very first to encourage a then depressed Werra to regroup and quickly form what would become MM. However, he did that without anticipating how fast Werra would get big.

Werrason signed a deal with lucrative sponsorship deal with Bralima, producers of beer 'Primus'. In 2004, he finally released Alerte Generale a single with four tracks with new talents, and then proceeded on a European tour to promote the album. In 2005 in the midst of performances in Africa and Europe and as he reorganised his band Wenge Musica Maison Mère, Werrason continued work on his second solo album Temoignage de Miracle a 14-track double CD, which he released early 2005. It was evident that Werrason had bounced back in a big way and by this time had regained his position as the musician with the highest number of fans in Central Africa. That year (2005) Werrason won a Kora award for the best artiste in Central Africa beating off a strong field of contenders including his close friend Koffi Olomide.

To crown his comeback, Werrason visited his province of birth, Kikwit, and did a concert attended by over 200,000 people, and this remains one of the biggest music concerts ever in the African continent.

The fallout came when rumour reached Werrason that Koffi was threatened by his success and was badmouthing him. Further reports also state that Koffi had struck a friendship with Werrason's former bandmate and longtime rival JB Mpiana, at a time when this JB and Werrason were publicly feuding. JB and Werroason were members of the band Wenge Musica 4x4 B.C.B.G Tout-Terrain that launched Werrason's music career in the 80's. The band split up in 1997, leading to a very public rivalry between the two frontrunners. After the split of Wenge Musica 4x4 BCBG Tout-Terrain, JB Mpiana took with him most band members. Some key members whom Werrason had recruited into the band and therefore assumed would join him, instead chose JB Mpiana. This was a very testing time for Werrason and at this time he even contemplated leaving music altogether. After much reflection he decided to soldier on and begun massive recruitment drive of new talent and formed the original Wenge Musica Maison Mère.

Attempts by Koffi to poach member of the revamped Wenge Musica Maison Mère further deepened that rift. The story goes that Koffi would attend Werra's shows with one or two of his administrators to the left of the stage, seemingly scouting, taking mental notes of instrumentalists and the younger singers by the way he watched.
Koffi's band, Quartier Latin International, now 30 years old, has helped him achieve international fame and numerous awards, but he still envied Werrason's band. Koffi was rumored to have confessed in private and even once on TV without realising it that if he had a team like the Wenge Musica Maison Mère, it would be hard for any other artiste to even exist.

Whereas music rivalry is not a new thing, the musical rivalry between Werrason and JB Mpiana, and later with Koffi Olomide has served to shape Werrason's approach to music. It has inspired him to always try to produce very high quality albums and better live shows so as to remain at the top musically.

Whatever might have happened between these two musical giants that led to their falling out, one thing is obvious. They have a deep respect for each other. Koffi and Werra may not be on close terms like in the past, but if you look back to every significant event over the years, funerals or something pertaining to presidential administration, you'll see the both of them together, even chatting.

Koffi OlomidePapa WembaBomas of Kenya