Mista Poa has seen a lot of pain and sorrow growing up in eastern Congo. Hailing from the heart of North Kivu, Kasereka Maliro – as his family knows the 26-year-old singer – has seen much of the conflicts from up close. It’s hardly a surprise that the eyewitness accounts compelled him to write a protest of what he sees as the root of the problem.
“In Congo, we have a lot of problems with discrimination,” says Mista Poa. “That’s why I wrote my song ‘Jembe’.”
The title of the track means ‘hoe’ in Kiswahili, which he finds an apt metaphor.
“It’s something we use for agricultural purposes,” he explains, adding that it’s also “a symbol of development and working together”.
Simple though it might sound, the idea of a shared humanity – together in spite of diversity – is something Mista Poa values.
“In ‘Jembe’, I call people to unite and let them know that we are the same,” he says.
The young singer’s hometown of Butembo has been dubbed the rape capital of the world for the high number of people who were sexually abused during the different conflicts. For Mista Poa, it’s hard to grasp how people whose grandparents used to be friends now rape and kill each other.
He describes how he, with his own eyes, has seen people killed: “They take you and the put you in a big hole and bury you alive. I’ve seen that, especially in my town! Many of my friends they’ve been killed like that.”
Remembering this makes him choke up.
“It cannot pass, please,” he utters
"We are killing ourselves"
Mista Poa’s own personal experience with discrimination started at a young age. At school, he saw how the more privileged kids in his class were treated differently.
“The teacher would ask the richer students questions that were more easy to answer,” he cites as an example, recalling how these children would more easily pass to the next grade.
Although the practice frustrated him, and even made him a bit jealous, he tried hard to befriend his more privileged peers in an effort to show he was no different from them. And that’s when the seed of ‘Jembe’ was planted here.
Control over the DRC’s vast mineral wealth is often cited as the main cause of conflicts in the east of the country. Mista Poa, however, sees discrimination as causing as much, if not more, grief.
“We are killing ourselves,” he says, getting visibly emotional. “There are no white people who come and kill us, because the people who have the gun, they are Congolese. And the people who are fighting? They are the Congolese!”
A new generation
Although the DRC’s problems are grave and not quick fixes, Mista Poa hopes his song will contribute to a positive change, at least on the part of the ethnic conflicts.
“As a singer I have to participate to stop the discrimination. This is my mission as a musician to call people to love each other,” he says.
Speaking about his track, he adds: “‘Jembe’ will change something, especially in our generation. Because if we change this generation, we change the future.”