“When Frank Paco’s uncle asked him and his siblings to help stretch his truck’s wheel inner tube that was cut to fit oil canisters, he probably witnessed that his nephew used the canisters as drums but did not predict what would happen in the future. Having a father who was an avid collector of vinyl records added to the love for music the youngster and his siblings had”
Drummer Frank Paco and his percussionist brothers Tony and Celso would start jamming together to some traditional dance rhythms as youngsters. Later the siblings would emulate the drumming they had from their father’s records. “I was drawn to the music of the Beetles, Bread, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Uriah Heep, Rod Stewart, Manu Dibango, Harari, Letta Mbulu and Miriam Makeba to name a few”, he told Jazz It Out.
All this happened at a very difficult period when his country of birth Mozambique was going through a devastating war which led to the loss of many lives. “Growing up in that era was tough. We missed the pleasures of enjoying a descent sleep and acquiring all we needed”, he recalls. They had to wake up at the crack of dawn to queue for basic food supply, which was rationed per family. “So, the music did play an important role in healing our souls and of those around us. That took the pleasure in celebrating life despite the difficulties that we endured”, he added.
While at school, Frank developed a strong passion for sports. He did swimming, gymnastics and the sports arena in his neighbourhood could be converted into volleyball, basketball, football and hockey pitches. He never formed strong bonds with his schoolmates and part of the reason in that he constantly changed schools. But he did form a band with some school mates. “Our first performance was nerve wracking as none of us had performed for an audience before”, he said with a chuckle.
Music took centre stage in Frank’s life, from waking up in the morning till going to sleep at night. “I always dreamt of being on big stages performing with very famous artists”, he told Jazz It Out. That dream would turn into reality later in life. After completing high school, he headed to the Mother City where he enrolled for a degree in Jazz Performance at the University of Cape Town (UCT). In 1998 he graduated with an honours degree cum laude in Jazz Performance at the institution.
“I was privileged to have Kevin Gibson as my drum instructor at UCT”, he said. Frank enjoyed performing and hanging out with Buddy Wells, Amanda Tiffin, Musa Manzini, Marcus Wyatt, Judith Sephuma, Selaelo Selota and Jimmy Dludlu. His break into the music scene as a professional came when a Johannesburg based producer saw him performing at a club in Swaziland. The producer asked this young UCT graduate to accompany his newly produced girl trio. Thereafter Frank found himself performing with various artists that were topping the charts in the golden city at the time.
Frank’s debut album “Buyanini” was released in 2014. He already had the experience of leading a band in studio recording with Tucan Tucan which he was its co-founder. In “Buyanini”, he worked with Buddy Wells, Andy Narell, Heinrich Frans, Zoe Modiga, Minel Melendez, Valter Mabas, Jaco Maria, his brother Tony, Stewart Sukuma, Lee-Anne Fortuin, Allou April, Mark Goliath, Helder Gonzaga, Peter Ndlala, Graham Bayer, Angelo Syster, Muriel Marco, Shaun Johannes, Nathan Carolus, Filo Cambula, Sheila Jesuita, Amanda Tiffin and Simao Nhacule.
Sensational vocalist Zoë Modiga does a brilliant lyrical performance in the tune “Msukungibambezela”. Part of “Buyanini” was recorded at Little River Studio and the other part at his own studio. It was to a large extent made possible by the funding Frank received from Concerts SA. “I found myself working round the clock”, he told Jazz It Out. He also had to reduce the number of tracks as he was concerned about the quality than the quantity of the production. He had so much to do in a very short period. In the end, the album was without a doubt a great production.
His second album “New Horizons” came out in 2016. By this time Frank had gathered more experience in the recording studio and knew exactly what he wanted. The amazing sound engineer and great musicians he worked with made it a memorable experience. “The atmosphere all round was magical”, he added. Aki Khan of Eastern Acoustics covered a large part of the recording budget which was at Pennylane Studio.
He has also performed at several prestigious festivals including International Opus Pocus Festival, Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Klosters Music Festival with Virtual Jazz Reality, New Orleans Jazz Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival, Lugano Jazz Fest, Nantes World Music Festival, and Wörsburg Africa Day World Music Festival. In also these festivals, Frank is always interested in workshops given by prominent artists, including some legends he admires. He is always looking for inspiration and most importantly is that they provide a great platform for networking with fellow individuals in the industry that he is part of.
The versatile drummer has been featured in more than 60 albums of which 10 received awards. One of those is the recent recording where he was featured by Ugandan born and New York based artist Samite Mulondo which won an award this year. He was part of McCoy Mrubata’s albums “Phosa Ngesemva”, “Hoelykit” and “Face the Music” which won the 2003 South African Music Award (SAMA) in the Traditional Jazz category.
In 2002 he was invited to join Sheer All Stars which included McCoy Mrubata, Paul Hanmer, Sipho Gumede, and Errol Dyers. Later Paul and Errol were replaced by Wessel Van Rensburg and Louis Mhlanga. The outfit won the SAMA for Best Traditional Jazz. Frank was part of the recording of Jimmy Dludlu’s debut album “Echoes from the Past”, a 1998 release which won the SAMA for Best Male Jazz Artist. He was also part of Dludlu’s 2005 release “Corners of my soul” which won the Best Jazz Album.
Moreira Chonguica ‘s album “Citizen of the world” where Frank was featured won the SAMA award for best produced album in 2009. His list of albums where he is featured include the album “Maganda” by Ivan Mazuze which won the SAMA award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album in 2010 as well as Best Afro Jazz Album in Mozambican Awards MMA in the same year. In addition, Dino Miranda’s MMA awards for “Baby eu te quero” in 1998 and “Marabenta” in 2009 also included Frank on drums.
Frank’s long list of favourite drummers include Ian Paice, John Bonham, Omar Hakim, Alex Acunã, Peter Erskine, Steve Gadd, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Buddy Rich, Jack De Johnette, Kevin Gibson, Ayanda Sikade, Jono Sweetman, Mzi Lomanyano and Chanté Phillips. He always advises youngsters that have a passion for drumming to get a teacher and supplement their lessons with learning material on YouTube. “They must also practice at least for 4 hours a day. Discipline is fundamental to achieving greatness”, he emphasized.
Video of Frank Paco and his career highlights
One of his concerns is the lack of exposure for jazz. “Many commercial radio stations think they know what their listeners want to hear, which leaves no room nurturing the listeners for creative jazz music”, he told Jazz It Out. Unfortunately, that makes the development for jazz and African music poor, which explains poor attendance at live events for creative art forms. He went further to state that audience development starts at grass roots level by taking jazz to schools, have sponsored events in community halls and play jazz daily on radio stations.
Frank’s schedule as one of the most sought – after drummers in the music industry is quite hectic. To take his mind off from rehearsing, recording and performing, he takes walks, loves swimming, yoga and meditation and is currently reading a Portuguese book on poetry. His individual Facebook account is Frank.Paco.Drummer.Sin. He also has a Facebook Page @frankpacoensemble. On Twitter and Instagram, you can follow him @frankpaco_ and his website is www.frankpaco.com