The name Pablo Lubadika Porthos should be familiar to anyone with a couple of Paris-produced soukous album in their collection. His session guitar has animated some of the best Zairean dance albums of the mid-eighties (notably solo albums from Pamelo Mounka, Master Mwana Congo and Assi Kapela) and it is his unmistakeable playing style which helped to forge that Paris soukous sound.
The man was more than a good free-lance professional. He was also a singer-composer, whose skills were sharpened by playing with Kinshasa bands like Kin Bantous, Lovy du Zaire, Groupe Celi Bitshu and Orchestra Kara in the 70s, before going on to work with Sam Mangwana and his African All Stars on their recording of the classic ‘Georgette Eckins, followed by regular work with the Quatre Etoiles.
He then concentrated on a career as a session musician, helping a number of fellow musicians to record their solo albums – including Pamelo Mounka, Master Mwana Congo and Asi Kapelo. But Pablo was not content to persue a successful session career and maintained his distinctive personal guitar style with his first solo album entitled Ma Coco.
The album did very well in the African discotheques of Paris and drew the attention of Chris Blackwell, owner of Island Records, the label with the lock on Jamaican reggae. Island’s executives, with an eye to expanding their label’s reach, struck a deal with Pablo’s producer Richard Dick, to license some of his African music productions. Their first release was a 12-inch single of Pablo’s Bo Mbanda (rivalry), one of the hottest tracks from his first solo album Ma Coco. Congolese and Zaïrean musicians and their fans were ecstatic. After nearly a quarter-century reign as the king of African pop, Congo music would get the worldwide exposure that only major labels could provide. And not just any label, but the label of Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Toots and the Maytals. As 1981 wound to a close, Island released Madeleine a second 12-inch single from Ma Coco, and two album compilations of Richard Dicks’s artists, entitled Sound d’Afrique I & II. It was his contributions to these excellent compilations which made him a household name to a new market of international music lovers.
Ma Coco was followed by several more outstanding solo albums and in 1985 Pablo released his first British LP on the Globestyle label. It made Pablo in the mid 80’s the leading exponent of contemporary Soukous. Unfortunately, Pablo could not hold this role for a long time and a period of silence followed. In 1993 he came back with his first (and only) CD Okominiokolo for the London based Sterns Music label. With the help of several old fellows such as Wuta Mayi, Lea Lignanzi, Diblo Dibala and Dally Kimoko among others, Pablo managed to revive his old success one more time, but after that his career was over. Since the mid 90's nothing has been heard from Pablo, until the message of his death reached us in 2010. Looking back, however, he will always be remembered as a great musician and ambassador of Congolese music.
Ronnie Grahams – Stern’s guide to contemporary African music – 1988.
Gary Stewart – Rumba on the river: a history of the popular music of the two Congo’s – 2000.
Liner notes Okominiokolo – 1993.