Kinshasa Symphony



Jason Hollinger, via Flickr

Liz Waid and Marina Santee tell the story of the Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra. This musical group is bringing a new look to an old musical style.

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Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Marina Santee. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

It is evening in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Noise fills Armand Diangienda’s house. There are people in every room in the house. Even the small spaces have people in them. They are playing beautiful music. People stand and sit to play instruments. Other people are singing. These are the members of Central Africa’s only symphony orchestra. How did they learn to play so well in a country full of conflict? Today’s Spotlight is on the Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra of Kinshasa.

Voice 2 

The Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC, has had a very difficult history. There has been conflict here for more than 60 years. In the 1990s, that conflict became a civil war. It killed millions of people, and damaged the roads and buildings. It left the DRC with very few resources. It is now the poorest country in the world. The war is officially over, but conflict continues in many parts of the DRC.

Voice 1 

But even in destructive situations people can create hope. Armand Diangienda from Kinshasa worked as a pilot. When that job ended, he decided to try something new. He wanted to gather people who played different musical instruments into one group. He wanted them to play music together. He wanted to create a symphony orchestra in the DRC.

Voice 2 

Diangienda had many problems. He had no teachers and no instruments. He did not know anyone who knew how to read music. Classical music and the instruments played by an orchestra are not traditional to Central Africa. For example: the violin. The violin looks like a wooden box with a stick on one side. It has four strings, very thin ropes of metal. The violinist holds the violin under her chin. She puts one hand on the strings that cover the stick. The other hand holds a long thin bow which she pulls over the strings. This makes high and beautiful music.

Voice 1 

Diangienda began by buying some violins and other instruments. Then he taught himself to play many of them. He asked other people to learn too. This was not easy. Diangienda explained to the TV program 60 Minutes:

Voice 3 

“In the beginning people made fun of us. They said, ‘Here in the Congo, classical music puts people to sleep.’”       

Voice 2 

But soon other people in Kinshasa became interested in orchestra music. Many people wanted to learn to play the instruments. They did not get paid any money to play in the orchestra. But they loved the music. Then they had another problem. There were not enough instruments for all the musicians! Armand Diangienda told 60 Minutes:

Voice 3 

“We only had five or six violins. And there were 12 people who wanted to learn to play the violin. So they took turns. One would play for 15 or 20 minutes at a time. That was very difficult”

Voice 1 

It was also difficult to keep the instruments in good condition. Albert Nlandu Matubanza is the orchestra's manager. He makes some of the orchestra's instruments. He often has to fix broken instruments as well. Many of the parts are difficult to replace. But Matubanza uses the resources he has. For example, one day a violin string broke. Matubanza did not have any strings to replace it. But he did not give up. He saw a bicycle with a long, strong wire that helped the rider to stop. Matubanza took this wire and attached it to the violin. And the violinist continued playing her music.

Voice 2 

There are many other difficulties for the members of the orchestra. The DRC does not have many developed roads. It takes a long time and a lot of energy to travel. And yet, people come to Armand Diangienda’s house to practice. Karim and Valvy Alolo are brothers. They both sing in the orchestra. They live 16 kilometres from Diangienda’s house. But they walk there and back six days a week. This takes them one and half hours each way. But Alolo says it is worth the trip. He tells 60 Minutes:

Voice 4 

“We started with the symphony on the eighth of November in 2003. It is like a birth for us in this symphony orchestra. So it is a date we cannot forget.”

Voice 1 

Soon there were over 200 people in the orchestra. Diangienda named them the Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra. In 2010 some German filmmakers made a documentary film about them. People from other countries began to help them with new instruments. Musicians also came from Germany to help teach.

Voice 2 

Some people criticized this European influence. They thought that it was better for African people to play traditional African instruments and music.  In the past Europeans often brought their cultures to Africa. Those Europeans did not value African culture. They tried to replace African culture with European culture. Some people thought of this when they saw the Kinshasa symphony. To them, playing music that came from Europe did not show pride in being African. But many people said that the music was the most important thing. One person shared a helpful opinion on the 60 Minutes website:

Voice 5 

“I hope that each of these musicians can now use those skills toward finding their own "voice." I hope they can use what they have learned to express the amazing and rich, and at times tragic, history of their country. We can choose to look for beauty instead of looking for all the "wrongs" and the ugliness. No matter where this happened - the music was amazing and encouraging.”

Voice 1 

The orchestra members produce beautiful music with their community. This brings them great happiness. They still have difficulties. The electricity often goes off. Instruments are sometimes stolen. The city of Kinshasa is very busy, noisy and often dirty. But music can make these things seem small. Heritier Mayimbi Mbuangi told a German film-maker:

Voice 6 

"When we are working on the music, there are no limits. It is like a set of steps: You go up, and up."

Voice 2 

The writer and producer of this program was Rena Dam. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Kinshasa Symphony’.

Voice 1 

You can also leave your comments on our website. Or you can email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also find us on Facebook - just search for spotlightradio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Do you play an instrument? Would you like to play an instrument?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
georgino
said on October 03, 2012

Great I like the this symphony because bring me peace to my senses most of all the violin
I would like to play the violin or guitar to be part of a group the musicians or orchestra
go ahead Kimbanguist Symphony Orchesta.

blessings

Avatar Spotlight
paulo86nirisco
said on November 15, 2013

very beautifull topic, I alread listend a documentery about this orcherstra in portuguese here in Brazil it is very famous, God bless Kinshasa Simphony and Spotlight Radio.

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Dela
said on November 15, 2013

The members of African Symphony Orchestra have been doing the creditable, useful work playing the different classic instruments in spite of the bad, difficult conditions. All kinds of music are beautiful, the music always influences the humans’ mind, sense, emotions and gives them happiness. I guess the music should become an essential part of our lives.
Thanks for a great article!

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Hangcoi
said on August 14, 2017

Thank you Spotlight gave us this topic. It is very meaningful. At first, I feel sad because many place in the world have no peace. Many people have to live in bad conditions and do not know how their future are. And I also feel admire these people because they still optimistic and love the life and try to make a better life.