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Kinshasa’s Symphony Orchestra

July 3, 2009

I was so excited to see this today on Wronging Rights, who got it via Congo Resources. There was a really nice guy who ironed guests’ laundry at the hotel where I stayed in Kinshasa. As we waited for him to finish up the last shirt, he said to my friend, “You remind me of my music teacher.” I have a star-crossed-lover’s relationship with my own music education, so I immediately felt squishy and nostalgic and asked for more information. He played oboe, he said. In the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra.

The Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra?

My fellow traveler told me later that he was sure he didn’t look anything like this guy’s music teacher. “Why do you say that?” He’d noticed that in Congo, more than anywhere he’d been in Africa (like 6 countries or something), “People are eager to make you understand that there’s more to them than what you see them doing right now.” It perfectly summarized the pulse and pride of Kinshasa to me–everyone has to put in their sweat equity, as they do everywhere in whatever form, and everyone had hidden talents that had nothing to do with their day job, as they do everywhere. It’s just that in Kinshasa, the people we met wanted to make us understand that in a way most other people (including people in NYC) ever bother trying. A la, “You look like my music teacher.”

So when I saw this video on WR today of the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra, I got excited. No sign of my oboe friend, alas.

By the way, I asked myself, apropos all these debates about poverty tourism, which are about the bigger question of how we look at each other, “Why an entire documentary about the Kinshasa Symphony? There has to be something surprising in it to warrant such treatment. Is it that we think Africans don’t (or, to be very uncharitable about it, can’t) play Bach? Is it a neo-neo colonial thing?” I don’t know what inspired the filmmakers, but what I find fascinating is that this musical tradition, so stuffy compared to the rhythms Congo has unleashed into the world (and our own pop music), has so many fans. 170 people play in this orchestra–and at the end, people sit in plastic chairs and listen. Not your typical musical encounter in that part of the world.

With that:

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more about "Kinshasa’s Symphony Orchestra", posted with vodpod

Per WR, I hear CR is helping raise $$ to finish this doc. Hop on over and find out how to help.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 3, 2009 10:52 pm

    MJPC blames the Congolese Government for the Deteriorating Situation in East Congo(DRC)

    “There is no excuse for missing to pay salaries to soldiers in lawless eastern Congo for six months”

    Following the deteriorating situation in east Congo, the MJPC called today for the Congolese Government to urgently pay the salaries to thousands of soldiers who have not been paid for over six months in eastern Congo, take swift action to enforce the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) warrant against Bosco Ntaganda and to hold accountable perpetrators of sexual violence against women for their acts.

    “Failing to hold accountable individuals who commit war crimes and crimes against humunity continues to be the leading cause of widespread and systematic sexual violence acts against girls and women in the easten Congo” said Makuba Sekombo, Community Affairs Director of the Mobilization for Justice and Peace in the DR Congo (MJPC).

    Mr. Sekombo again criticized the government of Congo for not only the continuing failure to protect women and young girls from sexual violence, but also for “encouraging conditions that create opportunities for sexual violence to occur”. “There is no excuse for missing to pay salaries to soldiers in the lawless eastern Congo for six months” said Sekombo. The MJPC has also renewed its call for the Congolese government to take urgent needed action to end human rights abuses in east Congo, hold perpetrators accountable and ensure reparation for the victims of sexual violence.

    The MJPC has been urging the Congolese government to compensate the victims of sexual violence in order to also help combat impunity in eastern part of Congo where sexual violence against women and children has been widely used as weapon of war for more than decade. The MJPC online petition calling for help to put pressure on Congolese Government to compensate victims of sexual siolence in Eastern DRC can be signed at

    About MJPC

    MJPC works to add a voice in advocating for justice and peace in the DRC particulary in the east of DRC where thousands innocent civilian including children and women continue to suffer massive human rights violations while armed groups responsible for these crimes go unpunished

    For more information about the MJPC and its activities, visit or call Makuba Sekombo @ 1-408-8063-644 or e-mail: The online petition calling on the Congolese Government to put urgently in place a comprehensive program of compensation for the victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo can be signed at

  2. July 3, 2009 11:11 pm

    That is SO wonderful to hear the Kinshasa Orchestra! Please see if others like this idea : as US cities adopt “sister cities” in other countries for other reasons.., might we in the USA present a similar concept: adopt an orchestra….eg: Wheeling Symphony , adopts Kinshasa Orchestra- to see how we could help them with mentoring those in that city that need to continue in their orchestral support: music, instruments, even rosin! – we here in the USA may assist their needs in so many ways. If we can get the two ideas to mesh, to MAKE MUSIC Partners, what a wonderful plan could be for both “sister cities” .
    Additionally, how much our local schools orchestra/choral/band programs might add to the idea, that would grow in their “opus” from the partnership!
    That is a thought for EVERY great school system that supports solid music programs in America, to find a partner in music somewhere in the world that would benefit like we do here…and learn how we can grow together.

  3. September 25, 2009 9:26 am

    I am very pleased to see that you like the short trailer we filmed in Kinshasa. In the meantime the orchestra had its first open air performance in its neighborhood, Ngiri-Ngiri. A great success with thousands of Kinois attending a three hour concert.
    That event will be featured in the documentary film about the orchestra. Please take a look at the website

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