THE PRESIDENT OF THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO BUILDING BRIDGES ACROSS THE WORLD
By DR. PICK KEOBANDITHK
Recently I was curious to read again about the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi who wanted, amongst other things, to be assured of the promotion of the Congolese rumba during the World Expo Dubai 2020, which has just ended. In mid-December 2021, he expressed his delight on social media that UNESCO (the United Nations for Education, Science and Culture) had added rumba to its intangible heritage list. What is it about rumba, this musical, cultural and social phenomenon that makes him want to celebrate it quite so much?
To find the answers I spoke with friends from both Belgium and the Congo such as Chantal Yelu Mulop, Special Advisor to the DRC Head of State, went to museums specialising in Africa, researched in archives and watched the documentary film “Rumba Kings” by Alan Brain* shown in Brussels this March. Everything became clear. Rumba is deeply entrenched in the heart of the Congo, has influenced all African music and has subsequently conquered the world. It is their cultural jewel on a level with diamonds, gold and coltan…
Congolese rumba is an urban music that makes you want to move. People dance and listen to it usually in bars and at various festivals. It brings cultures together. It is lively, joyful and intergenerational. Rumba began in the ancient kingdom of Kongo where people danced “Nkumba” (tummy button) navel to navel. It reached America during the slave trade, then returned to Africa and has undergone many changes between then and now. Today’s modern hybrid version that also comes from Cuban music was born in Leopoldville, now Kinshasa, about a hundred years ago. The dance grew and developed in Brazzaville and Kinshasa, the two Congolese capitals. Through the two Congos it was listed on 14th December 2021 at UNESCO.
A typical Congolese rumba is notable for its rhythm based on repeated phrases. The polyrhythmic structure extends from drums and percussion to the two main instruments – the guitar and bass guitar.
Today, people in the Congo and in Belgium still remember the song Independence Cha Cha from Brussels in 1960 during the famous Round Table Conference for the independence of the Belgian Congo. The Congolese delegations and Thomas Kanza – who founded and ran La Congo newspaper in Belgium – had invited the band “Le Grand Kallé et l’African Jazz” to perform. And so it came to be that this important moment in history was celebrated with the Congolese rumba. It is a hymn to liberty composed by Grand Kallé, sung by Vicky Longomba and accompanied by Nico Kasanda on the guitar. The music tells the story in detail of the negotiations of the Independence of the Belgian Congo. Ever since then, the Independence Cha-Cha, which is in the pure traditional style of the popular rumba, has been a number 1 Pan-African hit.
Thus the Congolese rumba is a passion shared by millions, including the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi. It is a physical and spiritual means of building bridges between us all. It is an essential element of social cohesion and makes the whole world dance. It is the Congo’s real treasure and the pride of a great Africa, inventive, creative and free. A powerful symbol of Peace.
*The Rumba Kings, the documentary film (August 2021) by the Americano-Peruvian director Alan Brain.
Synopsis: The Rumba Kings celebrates the epic quest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an African nation that fought colonial oppression, found freedom, and forged a new identity through music. In the 1950s, when the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a Belgian colony, a generation of Congolese musicians fused traditional African rhythms with Afro-Cuban music to create the electrifying beat of Congolese rumba. A beat that would carry Congo through its independence and conquer the entire African continent with its infectious groove, captivating guitar licks, and smooth vocals.