Maybe it’s proper to address the man appropriately. You can call him Fally Ipupa, but you can also call him Dicap La Merveille, or El Pibe De Oro or El Maravilloso, of Hustler or El Rey Mago, or Champions Love. Your pick. What would life be without choices?
You might know of his numerous awards and that he sang under Koffi Olomide of the Quartier Latin International music band for eight years before breaking off to start his own label called F-Victeam.
We met at the Stanley Hotel’s poolside when he was in town for a Coke Studio engagement.
First, let’s get this out of the way and say I’m a big fan! You are probably to me what Franco was to my father. As a toddler, I was raised on milk, porridge and Franco.
[Laughs] Franco was big big!
Yes, but as a child you think that rhumba is shady and boring, until you grow up and you find yourself singing to all of them. We all eventually become our fathers, I guess.
[Laughs] Very very true. I don’t have parents though, they both died.
Sorry. Did you grow up around music, though?
Of course. Music is very big in Kinshasa where I was born. As a young person I admired musicians like Papa Wemba, Koffi, and Wenge Musica because we come from the same area. I sang in a church choir for a long time before singing in small bands then later joined Koffi Olomide’s band.
Of all the songs you’ve sung, which is the one you most hold dear?
It’s hard to say that I love one particular song or album more. If you have 20 children it’s hard to say you love this one more.
What is your favourite song that I have sung?
Oh, that’s a difficult one, but I would say “Cadenas” and “Une Minute”...those are excellent songs.
[Excitedly] “Une Minute” is a very good song, one of my favourite songs! In the song I’m saying that if you meet some girl, just tell her “baby I just need one minute, I can show you what I can do.” But if you ask for 10 minutes she’ll say, “I don’t have time I have to go see my boyfriend…” Just ask her for one minute.
I follow you on Instagram, I saw a boy there who looks 18 years, is that you son?
Yes. My boys like football and music. He wants to play soccer professionally so I have enrolled him in a soccer academy. Nowadays children do what they want to do, he doesn’t want to be a musician like his daddy. [Laughs]. Our generation of fathers we can’t push children to do what we want like our parents pushed us. But I’m happy he has chosen football, music is too complicated.
What is complicated about music?
You know in Congo we have 80 million people but we have less than 20 artists playing music professionally. It’s very complicated. The pressure is too much, too much…You’re supposed to sleep in the studio, work and travel every time. It’s crazier than football so I prefer my son plays football.
How come when Congolese stars start making it they always go to France? What is it with you guys and France?
Same way all Kenyan people go to England. [Laughs] We are a French speaking, we’re supposed to go to Belgium. The past generation used to go to Belgium but not my generation, us we go to France.
Are you married?
That is off-record. [Laughs] But I have somebody and kids too. Four kids!
Yes. Three boys and one girl. I have tattooed all of them on my body, look. [Shows me tattoos of his kids].
It must be tough being a musician and be a father, do you struggle?
Yes. Very hard. Because I never see them much when I travel for concerts. Sometimes that makes me sad but I know I want to give them a good life. You know, the first time I went to Paris I was 19 years old, but my son went to Paris when he was very young, so he’s getting a better life than I did because of my music.
Are our women throwing themselves at you? Be honest. Do they scream, “Fally take me to Congo, I give you many beautiful babies!”
[Laughs hard] You are crazy. I have 10 years of this life of a musician, as an artiste. We know how to handle it but we also like it when the girls come and are crazy about us, but I’m a serious man. I’m faithful. [Smiles].
Of course you are.
Do you truly believe in love or this is about making money?
I believe in love. Love for me is the realest thing to exist because even a president can feel love. Even a president can feel heartbroken. In my new album I have a song that says, “If I’m rich I can have CIA to protect me from pickpockets, from bad men, from everything. You can get big security firms from Nigeria, Kenya or Congo, but when love comes, it comes, no security can stop it. You get hurt and you can die for it.
I have always wanted to know, all those guys who we see hanging around you, those singers, do you pay all of them or do they just like to be seen in your videos?
They are like 60 people. Those guys are mostly my childhood friends. We grew up together and so when I make it in music, I can’t leave them behind, you understand? I travel with 24 people.
What have you learnt about managing people?
I learnt about managing people when I was in Koffi’s band. Be an example and choose good people. Be a real leader.
Talking of Koffi, were you surprised of what happened here recently?
Very surprised because nobody is supposed to do that. But you see, we are human. When I saw that thing for the first time I thought he would go on TV and apologise immediately. He didn’t and that was wrong. I think this experience is going to make him realise to never do anything like that. But for me, he’s like my father, so I apologise for him to all people who saw the video. I apologise to all Kenyan people, all African people, and to appeal to them to give him another chance. I don’t think he will do that again.
How was your experience singing in Koffi’s band?
Koffi gave me my first chance. He’s like my father. So if your father is crazy, if he does bad crazy things you cannot say anything bad about your father. He made me the man I am. But we are human.
When you left his band to form your own, how did it take it?
He didn’t take it well but now we are good. It took some time for him to be okay with me leaving. You know when that video happened I called him on the phone but he didn’t pick my phone, I wanted to tell him, “This thing is crazy. You’re not supposed to do this because you’re supposed to respect women.” Koffi sings for ladies. Koffi loves ladies. I always sing for ladies. I’m a ladies’ man. So no man is supposed to touch ladies. Even though sometimes ladies make men crazy and you want to hit them, but just walk away.
Do you think you are a romantic guy because you sing about love or do you sing about love because you are a romantic guy?
I’m a romantic guy. I’m very very romantic. Love is the only thing that is true. I am the living proof of love. I’m a slave for the ladies. I can kneel for a lady.
How does one make sure they don’t get big headed when they become a big star?
It’s your education first, then your experiences. Everything in this life is vanity. Being an artist, musician or superstar is not important, we’re just men. But music has given me everything, I have a nice house, I have nice cars; two Bentleys, one Lamborghini Gallardo, one Rolls Royce, a G-Wagon and a Range Rover Evoque, but I’m still a man.
Do you drink alcohol?
No, and I don’t smoke. My music is my first wife. I’m coming to play in December here in Nairobi, you should come.
I will, just try and not kick anyone before the concert.
[Laughs] No, no. Crazy guy!