“It’s not just Kinshasa”: in eastern DRC, we also celebrate rumba


The audience of the Rumba Parade festival, in Bukavu (DRC), in October 2021.

As soon as the first notes of Dear Asha sound, the whole room is standing. The saxophone trains the bodies on the dance floor. Knees bent, hands level with lower abdomen, spectators’ hips undulate from right to left. The song by the Congolese group Grand Mike Jazz has been a classic since the late 1990s.

In October, it was performed by the orchestra on stage at the Rumba Parade festival, held for the first time in Bukavu, one of the main cities in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). « Cit is here that we all discovered our passion for rumba ”, remembers the singer Déo Kanoziré. As a teenager, he never missed a concert of the stars of the region. They were all playing at La Pirogue, a legendary bar in the capital of South Kivu province. The future viola met his idol, Rachid King, there in the 1970s.

The scenic successes of this composer quickly crossed the borders of Maniema, his region of origin, located in the center-east of the country. In 1968, the governor of Bukavu asked him to settle in his town and set up a musical training there. Rachid King creates the Great Mike Jazz, whose name is inspired by the Mikelenge river, which crossed his native village. « At the time, everyone had their eyes on the capital, Kinshasa, considered the cradle of rumba. Yet here, more than 2,500 kilometers away, the group has appropriated this musical style. He mixed modern and traditional rhythms and sang in dialects ”, continues Déo Kanoziré.

The Congolese group Grand Mike Jazz, on stage at the Rumba Parade festival, in Bukavu (DRC), in October 2021.
A car in the colors of the Grand Mike Jazz group, parked in front of the Kwetu Art cultural space in Bukavu (DRC), in October 2021.

Society of Ambianceurs and Elegant People

Suffice to say that the classification of Congolese rumba in the Intangible Heritage of Unesco, announced Tuesday, December 14, is a source of pride for the whole country, and not only in “Kin”. Today, the group Grand Mike Jazz still has eight members, who bring the repertoire to life in all venues in eastern DRC. Some are proud to be on stage with the founding star, like Djomalie Kabugi, one of the deans of the group. At almost 70 years old, he continues to sing vigorously in Kiswahili, the predominant language spoken in the area.

Dressed in tailor-made tweed hats and jackets, these “Old dads”, as they call themselves, take care of their look with each performance. They don’t say to each other “Sapologists”, but were certainly influenced by the Society of Ambianceurs and Elegant People (SAPE), a dress style born in the capital and popularized by the “Roi de la rumba”, Papa Wemba. Corn “It’s not just Kinshasa! “ replies Frédéric Kalumuna, president of Grand Mike Jazz. « There, the orchestras die with their founder. But in the east of the country, we are still there, despite the death of Rachid King, in 2013. And our goal is for Great Mike Jazz to survive us ”, continues the percussionist.

At the Kwetu Art cultural space, where the Rumba Parade festival was held, in Bukavu (DRC), in October 2021.
Read also Abidjan shocked by the death of Papa Wemba, the “king of Congolese rumba”

In the group’s hometown, all you have to do is turn on the television or enter a restaurant to hear the Congolese rhythms resonate. On days of celebration, marriage or even victory for the regional football team, the “toumbas” (drums) and maracas set the speakers on fire. « I first suffered rumba before knowing it », quips Joyeux Bin Kabodjo, director of the Kwetu Art cultural space in Bukavu. Throughout his childhood, he listened to the tunes his father liked, broadcast by the only radio station in the house, « without having the choice ». Gradually, they imposed themselves in his daily life without his noticing it. “Until one day, I love them. I even used the lyrics of the song Holy water [du chanteur de rumba congolais Simaro Lutumba] to flirt with my first girlfriend! “, continues the young comedian of 25 years.

Both sensual dance and folk music

The rumba has become a « element very representative of the identity of the Congolese people ”, according to the Minister of Culture, Catherine Kathungu Furaha, who pleaded for the inclusion of this music on the Unesco list. A dossier carried by the DRC and Congo-Brazzaville, while, according to tradition, rumba was born in the former Kongo kingdom, where we danced the “Nkumba” navel against navel. With the slave trade, this rhythm was exported to Cuba, the West Indies and America, before re-establishing itself on the African continent from the 1940s.

At the Rumba Parade festival in Bukavu (DRC), in October 2021.

These melodies are above all a story of heritage. « Even current artists use the techniques of the old “, explains Petit Wendo, humming Marie Louise, his favorite song, composed in 1948 by Wendo Kolosoy, known as “Papa Wendo”, considered the father of Congolese rumba. Petit Wendo has established himself on the Kinshasa scene by resuming the hits of his mentor and is a hit when he performs in the east of the country. Today the young singers “Cannot ignore this style », he says.

Read also In Kinshasa as in Brazzaville, the rumba in the skin

Both sensual dance and folk music, this complete art infuses everywhere and is exported all over the world. In concert halls, with the popular Ferré Gola or Fally Ipupa, but also in museums: the “Beauté Congo” exhibition, mounted in 2015 at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, makes rumba a source of inspiration for all. a generation of Congolese artists.

The audience of the Rumba Parade festival, in Bukavu (DRC), in October 2021.

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“It’s not just Kinshasa”: in eastern DRC, we also celebrate rumba

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