Death of The Poet: Lutumba Simaro, 1938-2019

Last month, we lost yet another Congolese music legend: composer, guitarist, and bandleader, Lutumba Simaro. As a daughter of OK Jazz, my heart is heavy—motema na ngai elelaka.

Simaro was practically the right-hand man of OK Jazz for decades, even leading the band after the death of Franco. He composed some of my favorite OK Jazz songs, including “Nganda Lopango Batekisa,” “Mbanzi ya Kamundele,” “Vaccination,” and “Mamba.”

My Lingala may be elementary-school conversational, but I know enough to appreciate and savor the way Simaro strung together syllables and vowels, such that in the music world, he came to be known as Le Poète—the poet.

I always dreamed that when I finally made it to Congo, I would pay a visit to this man and gush and sing for him, as I’ve had the miraculous fortune of doing in the past few months with legends Nyboma Mwan’dido and Zaiko Langa Langa’s N’Yoka Longo (a post to come on that soon!). Singing to Simaro will unfortunately never happen, but I will continue to pay homage, and I hope his legacy will continue, especially in the country he called home.

I read an interview from several years ago where Simaro lamented how younger Congolese musicians are forgetting their musical forbears more and more. With that, I pose the question from The Poet’s own lyrics: nani na motema remplacer yo?

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