The tempo starts slowly then accelerates, the step is swaying and the clothes elegant: the Congolese rumba makes “sapeurs” and “ambianceurs” dance in Brazzaville and Kinshasa, united by the love of this music. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) will say in a few days, the week of December 13, if it is admitted, like the Cuban rumba five years ago, to the Cultural Heritage immaterial of humanity.
“It’s a moment that we look forward to. The rumba registered in the intangible heritage, it is absolute happiness, immortality ”, enthuses Jean-Claude Faignond, manager of the first bar-dancing in Brazzaville, Espace Faignond, in the district of Poto-Poto, where the Bantous orchestra of the capital was created in 1959.
Kinshasa, for its part, has no doubts, to such an extent that the Council of Ministers welcomed this registration on November 26, “Outcome of a candidacy brought by the two Congos”, the Democratic Republic of Congo (whose capital is Kinshasa) and the Republic of Congo (whose capital is Brazzaville).
“Rumba is a passion shared by all Congolese… It is sprawling, in all areas of national life ”, assures Pr André Yoka Lye, director in Kinshasa of the National Institute of the Arts (INA) and president of the “mixed commission for the promotion of the Congolese rumba with a view to its inscription in the patrimony of humanity”. For him, this rumba is “A unifying element of social cohesion, but also of the past and the present”.
On both banks of the Congo River, its origins are located in the ancient Kongo kingdom, where a dance called I dig (a word which means “navel”) because it made man and woman dance “tight-tight”, navel against navel.
During the slave trade, Africans torn from their continent took with them an intangible baggage, their culture and their music. In America, they made the instruments they used at home. “Mainly percussion instruments, membranophones, idiophones and also our African piano, the xylophone”, explains to the DRC National Museum Gabriel Kele, head of the musicology department.
“The instruments have evolved”, he said; the style too, towards jazz in North America, rumba in South America. And this music came back to Africa, with the traders and the 78-rpm recorders.
In the musicologist’s office, a weathered instrument sits on a shelf. “This is Wendo’s first guitar”, says Mr. Kele proudly. Wendo Kolosoy (1925-2008), author in 1948 of the title Marie Louise, is one of the fathers of Kinshasa rumba.
Rumba in its modern version is a hundred years old. It is a music of towns and bars, of meeting cultures and nostalgia, of “Resistance and resilience”, from “Sharing pleasure too”, with its lifestyle and dress codes (” leave on “), describes Prof. Yoka.
“Back to basics”
The texts, mainly in Lingala – the language most spoken in the two capitals -, most often sing love, he says, but they are to be heard in the second degree, because the messages are also critical and political. The monument in terms of political interpellation was, in 1960, Cha-cha independence, title of Joseph Kabasele (1930-1983), known as “Grand Kallé”, and of his African Jazz orchestra, which has become a kind of hymn of African independence.
Certainly, times have been less glorious, some artists have given in the « dithyrambe » of the power in place, which used rumba as a means of propaganda. “There were sometimes deviations”, recognizes Professor Yoka.
The director of the INA also regrets a lack of “Professionalism” in the promotion, management and protection of intellectual property, which harms the « performance » Congolese music.
But, he assures, the rumba is very much alive and the pioneers have worthy heirs. Papa Wemba died in 2016, but “Koffi Olomide is rumba, Fally Ipupa is rumba… Even those who are more restless, like Werrason and JB Mpiana, are nostalgic for a homecoming “. Roga-Roga’s talent is also appreciated on both shores. For the teacher, “The history of rumba is an eternal return”.
On the floor of her restaurant in Kinshasa, Maman Beki, 65, in a long yellow dress with gold embroidery, is dancing. The steps are assured, the movement natural and effortless. Kinshasa’s famous nightlife is restricted these days by the anti-Covid curfew, set at 11 p.m., but every Friday and Saturday an orchestra livens up the evening. If Maman Beki’s husband, a great music lover, is no longer there, the tradition remains. ” I love to dance “, she said, adding to take this passion from her father, “Who won all the dance competitions” : “It’s in the blood… »
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In Kinshasa as in Brazzaville, the rumba in the skin