My country (population: 6 million, surface area: 2,345,409 square kilometres) has – so I am told – such geological, mining, etc. riches that it is scandalous! However, in this article I would like to share my human experience, my experience of ordinary people and their sensitivity, of everyday words, of my most cherished souvenirs.
Today the blatant reality is that the Democratic Republic of Congo – DRC is torn by war and its gold and diamonds are no longer worth very much at all. The economy is failing but artistic creation is booming, to the point that it is becoming a « cultural scandal ».
Despite the political prevarications of the moment, in a country as poor as the night is dark, where absurdity stalks everyone at any moment, Kinshasa – the capital – has become a veritable showground – a living stage – in order to escape the follies of a society out to leach you at every opportunity.
Here, anyone can become an artist without effort! You do not have to be a fine arts graduate… Paint is slapped onto canvas by thousands and the same goes for comic book artists and caricaturists. Music is omnipresent in « Kin » and musicians are the stuff of young people’s dreams. Dozens of bands come together or break up every day. And new dance styles are the born with the latest trend. Papa Wemba’s Nouvel’Ecrita, Kofi Olomidé’s Quartier latin, Zaïko Langa Langa, Wenge BCBG, Wenge Maison Mère, and the many renegades sprouting from these groups, are having trouble recruiting because of increasingly high demand. Everyone sings, everyone dances from the shégués (street kids) and the phaseurs (delinquents), to the shayeurs (street peddlers), crazy people, university and school students. Theatre groups almost all have their own cultural space and develop projects that get them travelling. Fashion designers produce stunning « tropical creations ».
Every time the DRC gets positive press abroad it is thanks to its artists who are single-handedly responsible for keeping the economy that was once fed by diamonds, gold and copper afloat.
Kinshasa is a city of contrasts – a showground. Religious sects proliferate, all deft at one-upmanship and vote-catching gimmicks. This is the kingdom of the sape, the mouve, of ambiance. Here a town like Bandal (Bandalungwa), which, for some time now, has got the better of Matonge thanks to its « block », a sort of Ivoirian underground offering up food and booming music in its « Maisafs » (nightclubs where you can get in free but pay for everything else). Most importantly, Bandal is a brimming reservoir of young talent. It was here that Congo’s best-known young music group, the Wenge Musica Bcbg Maison Mère Tout Terrain 4×4, was born. And at one time, it was home to Koffi. These days, the Ecurie Maloba theatre group resides here.
« Kin » is also home to the radio-trottoir [radio live from the street]buzzing with anecdotes. In this urban civilisation sharing and conviviality are simple, sincere, without false devotion or spectres. Here youths take part in extortion, they express their quest – their restlessness – whether violent or good-natured, through music and dance forms that are deliberately hyped up with the sole aim of beating the crisis. Above all, Kinshasa is the ligala, or rather, the indou-bill the city’s slang that adds a poetic touch recognised by all and that is only found in Congolese songs. Kinshasa is also marked by the invasion of mobile phones, of private television, of Mercedes 600s belonging to musicians and preachers who frequent the same fashion designers. Lastly, Kinshasa has so much to say, to show, to share! In this dossier we barely have room to scratch the surface. On numerous occasions the same point of view or issue comes up in different articles, despite differences in the leanings of the artists, teachers, journalists, women or youths. And I am convinced that we do not make art for a limited group of people. Art is only ever really whole when it succeeds in breaking the boundaries set by the elite and the specialists. It must relate to every aspect of humanity, it’s primary virtue being to successfully attain universality.
Bibish Mumbu is a young cultural journalist in Kinshasa. She is a regular contributor to Africultures and is the journal’s correspondent in Kinshasa. She is also the manager of the Faustin Linyekula contemporary dance company. ///Article N° : 5653