Kinshasa is considered by many to be the home base of African music. But the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo is also home to an underground scene of politically conscious musicians who denounce the damaging effects of local politics and add their voices to the call for democracy.
By Patou Nsimba, Kinshasa
Bruits Kin is where that scene thrives. Comprising Barumbu and Kinshasa communes, the area is crowded, noisy, full of street vendors. Since the 1990s, these two localities have produced most of the country's greatest rap activists. They are commonly known as the Generation of Politically Conscious Congolese Musicians.
But Bruits Kin also has another face, a grimmer one reflecting the fact that people die of hunger almost every day. All the residents want is the instauration of a system mangercratique (one that would feed them daily). “Kinshasa is a big village,” says a member of the Generation of Politically Conscious Congolese Musicians. “We must denounce the ills that plague it.”
The Villagers, also known as Bawuta Kin (referring to those who migrated and settled in the capital), are a prominent group in the underground movement. According to Maestro Rocky B, leader of the rap group bearing the same name: “Politics in the DRC suffers from malaria. The country urgently needs to be put on a quinine drip.”
Youth in revolt
Change of scenery: a group of lanky-looking young men in baggy pants walk towards the residence of Bebson De La Rue, the famous reggae man of Ngwaka – a neighbourhood renowned for its drug lords, cannabis smokers and a breeding ground for underground artists in the Congolese capital.
Many famous names in the Congolese music scene are here: Staff Benda Bilili, Rachel Mwanza, Mega Mingiedi, Youssoupha and the rap band KMS, which is short for Kin Mafia Style.
A KMS member named Paschiphik has a clear opinion on this. “What kind of politics are they talking about on TV? There are many lies going around in this city. They constantly feed us on hope but nothing changes. Come on! It’s a witch hunt in Kinshasa,” he says. “So, we use rap to better express ourselves and denounce!”
The so-called “posse de Bandal”, from the Bandalungwa commune, is renowned for his zealous militant lyrics. He is famous and popular among the youth in Kinshasa. However, this often comes with a price. In 2010, his song ‘Tokowa pona Congo’ ('We will die for Congo') was banned by the National Censorship Commission in Kinshasa. The government simply decided to do so. That's another reason driving the Conscious Generation to carry on its struggle for a just and democratic society. Their call is simple: good governance now!
Alex Ndende, AKA Lexxus Légal, is another emblematic figure in Congolese rap. Whether in his work or in interviews, he is not scared to use harsh words to denounce the ills tearing his country apart.
“All the artists are engaged in their own way. The only difference is that there are musicians, our elders, who are solely focused on love and money while the Kinshasa underground movement is engaged in social issues. The people need to be defended somehow,” says the artist.
This is definitely the cry of a generation of musicians striving not only for the recognition of rap in the country of ndombolo (a popular musical genre in the DRC), but also for political change and better living conditions.
And they want to differentiate themselves from some of the older generation of Congolese musicians who, for some free publicity on TV and radio, will accept invitations by politicians and other government officials.
“We are well aware of the deals between the older generation and the politicians in power. Meanwhile, those artists will claim on TV that they are not involved in politics. We have seen it during the presidential election campaign in 2011 where artists went singing for the incumbent Joseph Kabila,” says De La Rue, leader of the band Trionyx in Ngwaka.
“Koffi Olomide, Werrason, Papa Wemba, JB Mpiana and all our elders are involved in the political lies of the regime," says Docta Kash-Mamouth of the Villagers in a severe tone. "We are choking in misery in this country. Kids are becoming homeless because their parents are not paid. And to survive, the hungry populations resort to article 15."
Kash-Mamouth's reference comes from the era of President Mobutu, when a supposed article in the constitution urged Congolese to resort to theft to make ends meet. It still gets a laugh on the streets today. This famous article translates the Congolese reality into two words: make do.