Despite many years of war and poverty, the Democratic Republic of Congo has produced a symphony orchestra that has grown from a small group with home-made instruments to a respected international ensemble.
Kinshasa is the home of Central Africa’s one and only symphony orchestra
Kinshasa is the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the third-largest city in Africa. Almost ten million people live there and they number among the poorest inhabitants on the planet. Kinshasa is the home of Central Africa’s one and only symphony orchestra
The Kinshasa Orchestra’s musical journey is long and heart-warming
Back in 2010 two German film-makers released "Kinshasa Symphony", a documentary about the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste, an ensemble founded in the Congolese capital in 1994. By concentrating on eight of the musicians as they juggled the demands of their daily lives with those of the only symphony orchestra in central Africa, it showed the effect that classical music could have on people in one of the world’s poorest countries.
What has been achieved in the most unpromising circumstances is remarkable. The orchestra’s founder and conductor, Armand Diangienda, was given honorary membership of Britain’s Royal Philharmonic Society in recognition of his work to bring music to the heart of some of the most challenged communities in the world.
initially, a few dozen enthusiasts shared the few instruments the orchestra had at its disposal
Armand Diangienda is the conductor and founder of the orchestra. The trained pilot is the grandson of Simon Kimbangu, a martyr much revered in the Congo for his spirited opposition to the Belgian colonists and for the establishment of the Kimbanguist religion named after him. Armand’s grandfather entrusted him with the mission of founding an orchestra. Initially, a few dozen enthusiasts shared the few instruments the orchestra had at its disposal. To ensure that everyone had a turn, the rehearsals took place in several shifts.
The orchestra is a triumph of passion and ingenuity over adversity
According to a report from the BBC, when the orchestra began, 12 violinists had to share five instruments, each person practising for 20 minutes before handing the instrument on to someone else.
Some instruments were built from scratch, while others were bought second-hand from China.
The orchestra has grown despite a ravaging war in DRC that involved five neighbouring countries and claimed an estimated three million lives before it ended in 2003.
The country now regularly comes near – or at – the bottom of international lists for life expectancy, income, health and education.
While most news reaching the West from DRC is bad, the orchestra is a triumph of passion and ingenuity over adversity.
It gained international attention through an acclaimed German documentary in 2010, and in 2013 the UK’s Royal Philharmonic Society made Diangienda an honorary member, a rare accolade previously bestowed upon the likes of Mendelssohn, Wagner and Brahms.
A bridge between the African and Western worlds
Thrice-weekly rehearsals take place when everyone has finished work, often going on late into the evening – but, then, for many players, the OSK represents a nurturing family. “My grandfather used to say that to sing was to pray twice. But what inspires me even more is that my grandfather’s message was universal, a message of peace and love, of reaching out to others and bringing people together. And not just in Kinshasa. We want to be a bridge between the African and Western worlds.” – Armand Diangienda
Support the ORCHESTRE SYMPHONIQUE KIMBANGUISTE: all types of contribution welcome!
Armand Diangienda and the OSK are building a music school in Kinshasa. The school will create an environment for experienced members of the Kinshasa Orchestra to host classes. 120.000 $US will be needed to realise this project, from acquiring the grounds to building the school.<br /> They need help to achieve this goal!