Koffi Olomide: In the footsteps of “Le Grand Mopao”

Photo: Susan Wong / Capital Group

By Chao Tolle


Some 1,300 miles from the mouth of the Congo River, lies the “City on The Island” – Congo’s most important inland port after Kinshasa. Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the birthplace of Congolese National Hero Patrice Lumumba, internationally celebrated comic writer and artist Barly Baruti, and the Legendary soukous singer, dancer, producer, and composer Koffi Olomide.

Born Antoine Christophe Agbepa Mumba, Koffi founded the Quartier Latin International Orchestra with many notable artists including Fally Ipupa and Ferré Gola having passed through his hands. He is also noted for having won four trophies in one night including Artist of the Decade at the prestigious Kora All Africa Music Awards Ceremony in 2002.

The Congolese maestro who put his people and culture on the global map through his music was the headline act for the 11th Edition of The Koroga Festival, a bi-monthly music, arts and fashion event hosted by Capital FM in Kenya.

Behind-The-Scenes: Koffi  Olomide in Nairobi

Koffi’s arrival to Kenya, 10 years in the making, was an emotional yet poignant moment. While patiently waiting for the customs and luggage process to be completed, he took the time to take pictures with fellow travelers and fans angling to get a photo with the star; all the while telling Kenyan custom officials and his security team that he was very happy to be back in Kenya following a 10 year absence for the 11th edition of the Koroga Festival. A sentiment he echoed while addressing the press ahead of his sold-out show before being whisked away to his Hotel.

“Mopao means Boss, Le Chef and Grand Mopao means the Big Boss”, Koffi explained.

It’s his second day in Nairobi and his schedule is packed with press who’ve been waiting to interview him on Kenyan soil for the past 10 years. From the overwhelming requests, the numbers are whittled down to a select few upon the Management’s request.

Speaking in English, Koffi reveals his deep longing and love for Kenya and her people; the various meanings of his nicknames and also addressed the origins of his name “Olumide”, which is Yoruba for someone who comes out from the river – from his half Nigerian/ half Sierra Leonean mother who named him after her people, due to the fact that his father’s absence meant that she was a single mother at the time of his birth. Koffi’s first name was also named as a form of gratitude to those that took care of him.

“My mother’s neighbor breastfed me because she wasn’t able to lactate and Antoine – first name – is the name of my mother’s neighbor’s husband who stepped-in to ensure we were taken care of during my father’s absence.”

The difficult circumstances during his birth didn’t seem to deter the young Koffi who has since risen to be one of the most educated and celebrated musicians having earned a Masters Degree in Mathematics from the University of Paris.

koffi olomide with autistic fan from kenya

His success, he divulges, is a miracle of God – much like his own life. Yet, despite his accomplishments, his tender and human side is clearly evident whenever he meets his fans. En route back to his suite, following his marathon press junket, Mopao stops to meet a special young man. 25-year-old Jeff is autistic and the only intelligible word he can say is “Koffi”. His family members, upon reading that Koffi Olomide was coming into town, contacted the Festival Organizers requesting for a private meeting citing the large crowds as being unhealthy for his condition. Their interaction, though brief, was emotional. Not realizing that he was in the presence of the star, Koffi gingerly took Jeffs’ hands and placed it into his while mouthing his name. In an instant, Jack’s features relaxed into a warm smile and with visible excitement when he realized who he was in the presence of. After the private photo session, Koffi is silent and visibly moved.

“That was very moving, thank you for organizing it,” Koffi said quietly. “To see him come alive in the manner that he did was very moving and I will never forget it.”

Show Time

It’s the day of the Festival and Nairobi revelers are in a jovial mood with the energy of a prize boxing match ahead of Koffi’s grand return to the Kenyan stage. His Quartier Latin Orchestre ; a multi-talented collective of singers and dancers with an excellent reputation for their exuberant live shows, are in full regalia and ready to entertain the crowd having had a 2-hour sound check the day before – the jokes, laughter and easy camaraderie flow easily in their tent ahead of their highly anticipated set. Meanwhile, Koffi, his lead female vocalist Cindy Le Coeur, and “Les Danseuses” are calm and somewhat contemplative as they make their way to the venue well ahead of the performance.

Following a warm-up set from the DJ and a mention from the MC, the stage was all set for Qaudra KoraMan (4-time Kora Award Winner) to take the stage. Quartier Latin Orchestre warm-up the already excited crowd with an intro, followed by the skillful yet seductive movement of the dancers alerting revelers to the fact that Le Grand Mopao’s entrance was coming next. Suddenly, his trademark voice and the roar of the crowd signaled Koffi’s arrival on stage – “Mopao Mokonzi”, “Rambo du Congo”, “Le Grand Patron” is back like he never left.

His two hour set elicited ecstatic reactions from the swollen crowd as he unleashed raw, primal energy whilst performing and recreating memories past with hits such “Effrakata”, “Micko”, “Andrada”,” Loi” and “Skol,” amongst others numerous hits. There was a moment, when he was illuminated by flashes on stage and before introducing his hit song “Effrakata”, where he told the crowd of the pain he felt at having been separated from Kenya for the past 10 years and not only missed the people but found it difficult to live without her “beautiful women.” His highly energetic set was only made complete with an extended version of his latest global hit “Selfie,” which included a dance sequence from Bouro Mpela an original member of Orchestre Quartier Latin and a respected musician in his own right who led the crowd in a “Dombolo” dance sequence. The highly anticipated vocals from Cindy Le Coeur mesmerized the crowd with her angelic vocals.

The Megastar, who only left the stage once the fans were satiated, captured the hearts and minds of revelers, inviting them to the stage during his set while encouraging them as they danced along to his songs.  His seductive velvet tones enamored the beautifully clad female revelers across all ages and sent them into rapture as he crooned through some of his slower love songs.

The indefatigable star left the venue immediately after his set to meet with a set of International friends, who had traveled from far and wide to see his performance. A performance, which saw him tell his story and that of the Congolese culture through music before a crowd drawn from all walks of life; including senior diplomats, highly placed government officials, noted business people and lovers of great music.

Koffi’s career has been dogged by controversy speaks of jealousy as being one of the biggest obstacles he’s had to face in his quest for success; and yet, his style of music has sparked a movement that has marched relentlessly from then Zaire now Democratic Republic of Congo, to far flung corners of the world and in front of huge audiences worldwide. His music has opened up contacts between countries, which hitherto had more differences than similarities in culture and for all of that – he remains surprisingly humble and appreciative of the genuine love and warm hospitality he receives wherever he performs.  He promises to come back to Kenya as he departs and one can only imagine that the people of Kenya will welcome their long lost brother back with open arms.

The 11th Edition of The Koroga Festival was held at The Arboretum in Nairobi, Kenya on 13th of March, 2016 and featured The Gogosimo Band, Makadem, and Democratic Republic of Congo’s Koffi Olomide.

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