Koffi Olomide, was born on 13 August 1956 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (the former Zaire). His parents were staying in the North East of the country at the time, in a town called Stanleyville (now Kisangani). In fact, Koffi's father was on a business trip to Stanleyville at the time of his son's birth, and the family moved back to their current home in the capital, Léopoldville (now Kinshasa), shortly afterwards.
"Antoine Bad Blood"
The 13th of August 1956 happened to be a Friday, so, according to the tradition of Sierra Leone (Antoine's father's homeland), his mother called him Koffi (Friday). Unfortunately for Koffi, his birthday not only fell on a Friday, but on a Friday 13th. And this was not the only bad omen hanging over Koffi's birth! When baby Koffi came out of his mother's womb, the midwife discovered that his hand was stuck to the side of his face - a sign, according to African legend, of suffering and melancholy.
Bad omens aside, Koffi's birth was bathed in a general aura of unhappiness. Having gone into labour hundreds of miles from home, his mother felt depressed and isolated, a sensation which was accentuated by the absence of her husband. (In fact, Koffi would find out later in life that his father was seeing another woman at the time, and thinking of abandoning his wife and child to live with her). Given her general state of depression, Koffi's mother was unable to breast-feed her child, so baby Koffi was carted off to a neighbour's. On top of all this, Koffi appeared to be such a weak, sickly baby that nobody actually believed he would live very long.
Koffi was nicknamed "Antoine Malika Mabe" ("Antoine Bad Blood"), but, in spite of his bad health and his childhood traumas, Koffi proved to be a survivor. (Indeed, the tenacity with which Koffi hung onto life in his early years would stay with him, giving him with the determination and vital energy to persevere with his music career). However, Koffi's difficult start in life continued to haunt him and his childhood traumas continued to hang over much of his work, infusing his songs with an air of sadness and melancholy. But, given the pain and suffering of his early childhood, it was hardly surprising that many of the singer's lyrics revolved around the theme of heartbreak and unrequited love.
"Soso Ameli Ngando"
However, Koffi's childhood was not all about pain and suffering. In fact, Koffi grew up in Kinshasa in relatively comfortable, well-off surroundings. Although nothing in his immediate background appeared to predestine him for a music career. "I don't know why, but somehow music must have been in my blood," says Koffi, " My aunt - my father's younger sister - likes to tell this story about how when I was very young, around 6 or 7 years old, I used to go round singing this weird little song all the time : "the cock has swallowed the crocodile!" ("soso ameli ngando"). Apparently, I used to walk around singing this all the time and it soon became my nickname - "soso ameli ngando". I've no idea where the song came from. Maybe I just made it up, maybe it was my own peculiar way of looking at the world at the time".
Later in life Koffi would go on to transform the songs he heard on the radio, adding his own words and even inventing extra melodies. To begin with, Koffi played this game with the work of Tabu Ley Rochereau (a singer whom young Koffi particularly admired). But Koffi would soon go on to look to other artists for inspiration, inventing his own adaptations of songs by Mongali and Zato de Los Nickelos. Koffi's budding songwriting talent and his fascination with the guitar impressed family and friends alike, and one of the family's neighbours soon offered to teach the talented young teenager to play the six-string guitar.
Meanwhile, Koffi proved to be an extremely bright and talented pupil at school. And, after excelling at his grammar school in Kinshasa, Koffi went on to pass his scientific 'baccalauréat' with flying colours. Impressed by his son's academic prowess, Koffi's father agreed to give his son permission to pursue his education overseas and Koffi soon left home to study for a business degree at Bordeaux university in France. (The gifted young student would graduate from the university in 1980).
Yet, in spite of his obvious talent for his studies, Koffi was increasingly attracted to the idea of pursuing a musical career. Around the age of 18 to 20, he began to envisage the possibility of becoming a professional musician. There was only one major problem, however: "My father had been brought up to think that singers and musicians were not 'respectable' people'," recalls Koffi, "Believe me, I had to overcome a lot of hurdles to get where I am today!" Luckily, Koffi's brother was a firm believer in his talent. Indeed, Koffi's brother not only helped him win their father round, he also encouraged his brother to launch a professional career.
"The Most Famous Student in Zaire"
Taking his brother's advice, Koffi did go on to launch a singing career and by the late 70's he had started to make a name for himself on the local Zairean music scene. Koffi was extremely proud of one of his first songs, "Onia", but unfortunately the song did not enjoy any great success at the time. (Koffi would set matters to right more that 15 years later, however, using the melody from the song on his hit single, "Tsiane", taken from the album "Pas de Faux Pas").
Koffi's brother continued to support and encourage him and in 1977 when Koffi returned to Zaire during his university vacation, his brother persuaded him to go into the Veve Studio in Kinshasa and record his first songs, "Asso" and "Princesse Ya Senza" (a song which exalted the virtues of womankind). "It was around this period," Koffi recalls, "that people began referring to me as 'the most famous student in Zaire'. At the time I was writing a lot of material for various African music stars. I didn't actually have my own group back then, but I by that time I'd started working with a lot of singers who had theirs."
It was around this period that Koffi began working with Zaïko Langa Langa, but the thing which would really make Koffi's name on the Zairean music scene was his collaboration with the legendary 'sapeur' Papa Wemba. Wemba invited young Koffi to play guitar with his group Viva La Musica, and the pair went on to perform a duet together on their famous joint single "Anibo". (This song would certainly help launch Koffi's career in style, earning the young singer the award for "Best Zairean Singing Star" in 1978).
Although Koffi's collaboration with Papa Wemba certainly helped Koffi get his career off the ground, it has also proved to be a major source of misunderstanding as far as the music press are concerned. All too often, critics have lumped Koffi Olomide in the same musical category as Papa Wemba, portraying the younger singer as little more than a pale copy of Papa Wemba. This has been a constant source of annoyance for Koffi, who has frequently spoken out on this subject, complaining that while he may have written a lot of material for Papa Wemba and his group, he was never, at any point, a paid-up member of Viva la Musica. While Koffi continues to express his admiration and respect for Papa Wemba, he is adamant that Wemba profited more from his songwriting than he did from Wemba's helping hand at the beginning of his career. However, it would be very wrong to portray Koffi and Papa Wemba's relationship as one of rivalry and enmity. Indeed, in 1996, the pair staged a major reunion to prove their friendship and mutual respect, going into the studio together (more than 20 years after their first collaboration in Kinshasa!) to record a joint album entitled "Wake Up".
1983 marked a major turning-point in Koffi's career, as this was the year that the singer went into the studio to record his debut solo album, "Ngounda" (The Exile). Koffi flew out to Belgium on this occasion to work with producer Roland Leclerc, who initiated the rising young star into the mysteries of modern studio technology. "That was my very first experience in a professional studio," Koffi recalls fondly. At the age of 27, Koffi was more determined than ever to make a name for himself on the African music scene. The singer faced an uphill battle, however. The only way to record or perform regularly in Kinshasa was to team up with established groups and artists and make collective albums. So this is precisely what Koffi did, going into the studio to record two joint albums, "Olomide et Yakini Kiesse" and "Olomide et Fafa de Molokoi". However, the ambitious young singer felt deeply frustrated by this situation. The only solution, it appeared, was to branch out and form his own group.
So, in 1986, Koffi set about forming Quartier Latin, a multi-talented collective of singers and dancers with whom he went on to forge an excellent reputation for their exuberant live shows. Following Papa Wemba's example, Koffi could now double his output, alternately recording a solo album under his own name and a collective album with Quartier Latin. This set-up gave Koffi three major advantages. Firstly, he could supply his group of young musicians with regular performing and recording work. Secondly, he could give the musicians of Quartier Latin the chance to try their hand at singing and songwriting. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly of all, Koffi was constantly in the media spotlight, either as a solo act or performing with Quartier Latin.
In close collaboration with Quartier Latin, Koffi began to forge a new style which he hoped would appeal to international audiences as well as Zairean music fans. (This evolution was perhaps inevitable, given that the artist regularly divided his time between his homes in Paris and Kinshasa). Koffi had been particularly impressed by the success of the Antillais zouk group Kassav. Under the leadership of their charismatic frontman, Jacob Desvarieux, the group had rocketed to international fame by fusing modern dance rhythms with traditional sources. Kassav's approach opened Koffi's eyes to a whole new range of musical possibilities. (Indeed, the African star willingly cites Kassav as one of the most important influences on his work).
After ten years of experimenting with different musical styles on the Zairean music scene, Koffi decided the time was ripe to launch a concerted attack on the international market. Koffi threw himself into his new project body and soul, and those who had hitherto considered Koffi Olomide to be an artist 'with potential' were able to watch the singer blossom into an extraordinarily prolific star. In 1987 Koffi returned to the studio to record two new singles ("Kiki Ewing" and "Ngobila"), which both appeared on small independent labels based in Kinshasa. (These songs would hit the international music scene five years later when Koffi re-recorded them on his famous album "Diva").
Koffi's international career really got off the ground in 1988, however, with the release of the single "Henriquet". (The song, which paid tribute to Miss Congo, was the title track from Koffi's new album released on the Kaluila/Gefraco label). Riding the wave of success generated by this album, Koffi returned to the studio the following year to record another album on Kaluila/Gefraco. The album, which was entitled "Golden Star dans Stephie", soon scored another huge success with the public, leading fans to give Koffi a new nickname - "Golden Star"! One of the most outstanding tracks on Koffi's new album was the song "Elle et Moi" (Her and Me), which was dedicated to his only daughter, Minou. Minou's birth caused a major change in Koffi's life and the singer expressed his overwhelming sense of joy in the lyrics of "Elle et Moi":
"Enfin elle est là, plus belle que toutes les femmes, que toutes mes illusions ! Minou, Minou comme un fruit mûr, sucré jusqu'au noyau, chaque nuit elle et moi c'est le carnaval. Qui donc viendra nous prendre en photo ? Minou dans mon coeur et dans mon âme comme le lait dans du café. Tu me recrées, fillette !"
("She's here at last, more beautiful than any woman I've ever known, more beautiful than the sweetest of my illusions! Minou, Minou, like a ripe fruit, sweet to the core, you and I, every evening it's carnival time together. Oh, who'll come and take a picture of the pair of us? Minou, in my heart and in my soul, inseparable as milk in coffee. Oh, little daughter, you renew me!")
Koffi's new album also revealed the singer's multi-instrumental talents on bass and guitar. Koffi was also responsible for co-writing the album's musical arrangements with Manu Lima (a keyboard wizard renowned as one of the most talented musicians on Paris's thriving world music scene). Manu Lima also co-produced "Golden Star dans Stephie" with Koffi. By this stage of his career, Koffi was working with the very best that studio technology had to offer, as he strove to create the perfect fusion of modern and traditional sounds. Ironically Koffi, who was renowned for performing on stage with a collective of at least 15 musicians and a 'torrid' dance troupe, cut back human input on his albums, preferring to surround himself with machines in the studio (row upon row of digital keyboards and the very latest computer technology).
In 1989 Koffi had experimented with releasing the single "Petit Frère Ya Jésus" on his own label Tchatcho. Released on a small independent label, the song was not exactly destined for international success (and Koffi would later re-record the song on his 1991 album "Golden Star dans Stephie"). It was this venture that made Koffi realise that if he wanted to make a name for himself on the international scene, he would have to sign to a bigger label. In 1990 the singer returned to the studio to record a new album entitled "Les Prisonniers Dorment", which was released on KS Production in January 1991. (When Koffi went on to sign a new recording contract with the legendary Sonodisc label, the song was re-named "L'Orfèvre"). Koffi's fans were disappointed by the singer's new single, however. They had been expecting a follow-up to "Elle et Moi" - and what they got was a return to 70's-style soukouss!
Meanwhile, Sonodisc became extremely interested in adding Koffi Olomide to their prestigious stable of Zairean artists. Koffi was only too willing to sign a recording contract with the legendary label, and the result was that both his career and his creativity received an extraordinary boost. (Koffi has remained loyal to Sonodisc ever since).
The artist was now in an ideal position to relaunch a concerted attack on the international music scene in the 90's - and this is exactly what Koffi did, developing a distinctive style of "soukouss-love" known as "Tcha-tcho". Koffi described his new musical style as "the school of good taste, chic and charm", adding that it allowed listeners to re-discover the pleasures of dance, sensual rhythms and a touch of romance. (In fact, Koffi's "Tcha-tcho" was not a million miles removed from Papa Wemba's famous 'S.A.P.E.' movement which was characterised by sensual dance rhythms and a totally flamboyant style of dress).
With the backing of Sonodisc, Koffi's career suddenly took off in style and between 1990 and 1994, the singer enjoyed a lightning rise to fame. Indeed, Koffi Olomide soon began to usurp even the most famous stars in the Zairean charts - earning himself a new nickname, "Rambo". Koffi was incredibly prolific during this period, rushing in and out of the studio and alternating recording sessions with Quartier Latin and his solo work. In the space of just four years, Koffi recorded no less than seven albums! "Golden Star dans Stephie" appeared in 1991. 1992 saw the release of "Diva", a Quartier Latin album entitled "Pas de Faux Pas" and Koffi's solo album "Haut de Gamme". "Noblesse Oblige" was released in 1993, and the following year saw the release of another Quartier Latin album, "Magie", and a new solo album entitled "V12".
There was no doubt about it, Koffi was by now at the height of his fame. Indeed, when he appeared on a famous Zairean television show at the start of 1992, the presenter Lukunku Sampu introduced him as "the greatest living star on the modern Zairean music scene". Judging by the success of Koffi's 1993 album, "Noblesse Oblige" (which rapidly went on to sell over 100,000 copies, earning the singer his first gold disc!), this description was just about right. Koffi Olomide was well on the way to mega-star status, and if anyone doubted it, they just had to take a look at the legions of "Koffiettes" and "Koffiphiles" queuing up outside the singer's concerts and clamouring for his autograph at the end of each show.
On 31 October 1994 Koffi scored his first triumph in Paris when he performed at the Parc des Expositions at La Porte de Versailles. French music fans went wild for Koffi's "Tcha-tcho" sound and, by the end of November, Koffi and his group Quartier Latin found themselves had rocketed to the N°6 spot in the French record chain FNAC's best-selling charts (beating rock idols Nirvana and French rap king MC Solaar!)
It came as no surprise to anyone when, on 10 December 1994, Koffi Olomide was honoured at the "African Music Awards". At the ceremony, held at the Palais des Congrès in l'Hôtel Ivoire in Abidjan, Koffi leapt up on stage to carry off the awards for Best Male Artist and Best Video of the Year. Koffi finished the year on an absolute high, bringing the house down in Paris when he performed at Aquaboulevard on Christmas Eve. At the end of the year, Koffi released a video featuring eleven songs from "V12".
However, as many artists have discovered to their cost, a lightning rise to fame is often followed by petty jealousies and media backlash. And this is exactly what happened to Koffi Olomide in 1995. The Zairean press had uncovered several 'dubious stories' about Koffi, accusing him of having summarily sacked Scola, one of his famous dancing girls, and abandoned Babia, one of his musicians, when the latter found himself in difficulty with the French authorities over a visa problem. Beevens, the frontman of Quartier Latin was also accused of having plagiarised the leader of Wenge Musica (one of the other most famous backing bands of the day).
On 17 February 1995 Koffi called a press conference in Kinshasa to defend himself against these accusations. Zairean journalists gave the singer a hard time at the press conference, but Koffi, ever the showman, put up a passionate defence. Koffi managed to quash much of the malicious gossip about himself, but rumours continued to fly about a supposed enmity between Koffi and his former mentor, Papa Wemba. The two artists soon quashed these rumours for once and all, however, going into the studio the following year to record a joint album entitled "Wake Up". (Needless to say, the CD album was hailed as one of the world music highlights of 96!)
Following in Brel's Hallowed Footsteps
In 1997 two new "Tcha-tcho" bombs exploded onto the international music scene: Koffi's brilliant album "Loi" and the supremely catchy "Ultimatum", which Koffi recorded with his group Quartier Latin. These albums, which featured a series of famous world music hits such as "Papito charme" and "S.O.S.", soon had critics hailing Koffi as the "African Julio Iglesias". Koffi's seductive velvet tones, which sent his (80% female!) audience into raptures, were also compared to the legendary Barry White!
The "Koffiettes" - most of them dressed up to the nines - were certainly out in force on 29 August 1998, when Koffi Olomide performed at the legendary Olympia music-hall in Paris. Koffi's concert at the Olympia was an emotional moment in the singer's career. And, just before stepping out onto the famous stage, Koffi shared his excitement in a frank and revealing interview: "Performing at the Olympia is a really incredible experience," Koffi declared, "I've dreamt of performing here for the past five or six years, and up until a few months ago, I still couldn't believe this was actually going to happen. I mean, the idea that I'm going to go out there and sing on the same stage where Jacques Brel once performed - it just blows me away! Brel is like a god for me, you know. "Ne me quitte pas" inspired at least two dozen of my own songs … I've been really nervous about tonight's performance, I can tell you. I've taken the preparations for my first Olympia very seriously indeed and I've put a lot of effort and judgement into getting the show just right tonight!"
Koffi's five children certainly didn't need to be embarrassed by their father's performance that night. Far from it, Koffi's show at the Olympia was hailed as an absolute triumph! You only have to experience the frenetic atmosphere on Koffi's live album and video recorded that night (and released just two months later under the title "Live à l'Olympia"), to confirm that this was one of the greatest moments of Koffi Olomide's career.
1,800 "Koffiettes" and "Koffiphiles" heated the Olympia to fever pitch, dancing the night away in a kaleidoscopic whirl of colourful African costumes. And hundreds of other disappointed fans queued in vain for tickets at the door (needless to say, the Olympia was packed out to bursting point!) Those who missed Koffi's exceptional performance at the Olympia will be given a second chance to see their idol in Paris when Koffi performs at Le Zénith on 7 November 1998. This promises to be another evening of wild dancing as Koffi's group Quartier Latin are due to share the stage with the Haitian ensemble Tabou Combo. Meanwhile, "Koffiettes" and "Koffiphiles" have another special treat in store for them - Koffi Olomide has announced that his new album, "Droit de Veto", should arrive in record stores by the end of this year!
Koffi Olomide's album "Droit de veto" went on to prove a huge hit with the French public. Indeed, just six months after its release on 12 April 1999, "Droit de veto" earned the singer a much-deserved gold disc, selling 100,000 copies! Shortly after this triumph, Koffi Olomide returned to the stage as a special guest star, performing at Le Zénith in Paris with Passi and his Congolese rap outfit Bisso na Bisso.
The indefatigable star returned to the forefront of the French music scene in 2000 with an explosive new album entitled "Attentat". "Attentat" received an unheard-of amount of advertising and media coverage for an African album and, in February of this year, Koffi went on to make music history when he became the first African artist to perform a solo show at Bercy stadium (the biggest music venue in Paris).
Acclaimed by his faithful fans, Koffi Olomide walked back on the Zenith stage on July 14th 2001, before taking off to the States where he was to tour with his band Quartier Latin. They performed a successful gig for the Africa Out Loud Festival at the Lincoln Center in New York on July 16th, which the New York Times echoed by a very complimentary review.
In December 2001 the Congolese star brought out a new album entitled "Effrakata" (which means "burglary" in Lingala). This double CD album featuring 16 tracks in all included a guest contribution from Antillais band Zouk Machine. Koffi embarked upon a major tour following the release of the album, bringing the house down when he played in Abidjan on 14 February 2002.
On May 3, 2001, Koffi Olomide's concert at the stade de l’Amitié in Cotonou, Benin, ended in tragedy when 15 people were killed in a crush. Shortly afterward, he kicked off a new North American tour that took in Houston, Boston, Dallas and Los Angeles among other U.S. cities, plus several dates across the border in Canada. In 2004 he toured Africa, visiting Kenya, Burkina Faso, Gabon, and Congo-Brazzaville. In July, during a concert in Brussels a Congolese journalist – the son of the singer Tabu Ley Rochereau – was assaulted by the security detail. As a reprisal, the Kinshasa media decided to boycott the artist for a 45-day period. The same year, Olomide was invited by French rapper Rohff to duet on the album "La Fierté des nôtres", and by the Ivorian singer Meiway for his album "Golgotha". He also participated along with 17 other African artists to the charity single “Nous sommes les tam-tams”, recorded to raise money for the fight against AIDS and poverty in Africa.
Although originally slated for release in December 2003, his album "Monde arabe" finally came out a year later. The record company he had been signed to for almost fifteen years went out of business, so Koffi Olomide was forced to self-produce the album, recording most of the 18 tracks of this double CD in Paris. The rise of "libanga", a practice where an artist is paid to use someone's name on a song, was one method Koffi used to fund the recording of the album, although it got him into hot water when he sang the praises of Ivorian rebel leader Guillaume Soro in the song "Riziki". In March 2005, he played the Royal Festival Hall in London. Then in April he performed at the Festival Music Ebène in Dakar, as well as the fifth panAfrican Fespam festival, which was held in July on the two banks of the Congo river.
In 2005, Koffi Olomidé, true to his usual polemical self, stirred up yet more controversy by adopting the pseudonym Benoît XVI, just as the real Benoît XVI was made Pope. The National Episcopal Conference in Congo strongly condemned the singer's action, claiming it showed a lack of respect for the head of the Catholic church. Koffi - considered as a megalomaniac by his critics and slightly crazy even by fans’ standards - later changed his name, reinventing himself as "Décakoraman" (a reference to his triumph at the Kora Awards in 2005 where he was named African Artist of the Decade).
2006: "Danger de mort"
At the end of 2005, Koffi & Le Quartier Latin embarked upon a mini-tour of Europe. On 29 April 2006 Koffi and his group returned to Paris to perform at L'Elysée-Montmartre. In October of that year, Koffi went on to bring out a new album, "Danger de mort". In December 2006, Le Quartier Latin celebrated the 20th anniversary of their career, performing concerts with Koffi "the boss" in Kinshasa and Brazzaville.
Always posing as a star, Koffi Olomide might turn off some of the public. But those who believe he takes himself too seriously are definitely outnumbered by his real fans, most of them ladies who find him the true image of the perfect lover.