The “real treasure” of the Congo finally on the Unesco list

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Music

The “real treasure” of the Congo finally on the Unesco list


Congolese rumba legends Papa Bikunda and Paul Mwanga. PHOTO | BOWL

Summary

  • Peruvian-American director and journalist Alan Brain began researching the subject in 2012 while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) working for the United Nations peacekeeping mission as a filmmaker.
  • Brain describes a huge wall behind which the cultural hegemony of the West hides the musical treasures of the African continent, recently classified under the generic label of World Music.

2021 was the year that Congolese rumba was officially added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. It is also the year of the release of a definitive film on the roots and influence of this musical genre.

The documentary film “The Rumba Kings” chronicles the music of Congolese rumba, the rhythm that helped the Congo to fight against colonial oppression, the music that became the soundtrack of the country’s independence and took hold. storm Africa with its spellbinding guitar sounds.

Through the voices of Congolese historians, music experts and a cast of legendary musicians like Papa Wemba, Simaro Lutumba of TP OK Jazz and Cameroonian Manu Dibango, it is such a comprehensive story of rumba in cinema as Gary Stewart’s seminal 2004 publication “Rumba on the River”.

Peruvian-American director and journalist Alan Brain began researching the subject in 2012 while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) working for the United Nations peacekeeping mission as a filmmaker. The actual shooting began a year later and the film was completed in early 2021.

When he arrived in the DRC in 2007, Brain had no idea of ​​the country’s great musical tradition. “I didn’t know that Congolese rumba stars like Franco and his TPOK Jazz were as important in Africa as the Beatles were in the West,” he says.

Brain describes a huge wall behind which the cultural hegemony of the West hides the musical treasures of the African continent, recently classified under the generic label of World Music.

His interest in Congolese music was sparked by the discovery that rumba had served as a space of resistance and freedom against the colonial oppression that the Congo faced as a colony, and that music became a true symbol. national identity.

In the 1950s, a generation of musicians from what was then called the Belgian Congo used the power of popular music to fight colonial oppression. They merged traditional African rhythms with Afro-Cuban music to create a genre known as Congolese rumba.

The electrifying rhythm of the rumba carried the country in its quest for independence, producing the popular pan-African liberation anthem “Independence Cha Cha” recorded in 1960 by Joseph Kabasele (Le Grand Kalle).

It was the first Congolese rumba song the film’s director listened to and he immediately fell in love with the song’s groove and freedom story. “It’s incredible that in 1960, a dream team of Congolese rumba musicians accompanied the country’s politicians during the independence negotiations,” says Brain.

He refers to the Congo Independence Roundtable talks when a group of musicians, led by Kabasele, gave concerts every night for politicians to dance and they eventually composed a song about the event which became the soundtrack not only of Congo’s independence. but for most of French-speaking Africa.

The upbeat, upbeat lyrics that are a call for unity in post-independence Congo, were performed by Vicky Longomba of TPOK Jazz and Kabasele played guitar.

Manu Dibango’s association with rumba dates back to his meeting with the Congolese conductor Joseph Kabasele in Brussels in 1960, who was among the musicians participating in the round tables. Kabasele hired Dibango to play in his group African Jazz and they recorded the iconic Pan-African anthem “Independence Cha Cha” and another single called “Table Ronde”

Earlier in 2021, Angélique Kidjo celebrated song’s influential role in liberating African countries, recording her version of the classic with a shout out to the 17 African countries, including her own Benin, which became independent over the course of the year. Year of Africa “in 1960.

The “Kings of Rumba” is an amazing story about how Congolese rumba developed and conquered Africa. Through interviews, musical recordings, archival footage and never-before-seen live performances, the film is the journey of sound that shaped a nation and gave African music heavyweights like Grand Kalle, Dr Nico and the ‘African Jazz Orchestra, Franco and TPOK Jazz, and Tabu Ley with its Afrisa International.

The refreshing aspect of the film is that it allows fans to enjoy long, uninterrupted sequences of archival musical performances that have never been made public before.

As the director of the film Alan Brain puts it: “Everyone knows the immense mineral resources of the Congo and the wars that these minerals have fueled, but few people know the real treasure of the country: the rumba”

His wish is that “Then Rumba Kings” allows music lovers who do not already know African music to break the “wall” and enjoy the vibrant rhythm of Congolese rumba.


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