S. Waziri Hassan

The Congolese Music Back in the European Arenas.

Fally Ipupa's Europe tour in November and December 2023.

The Congolese rumba king Fally Ipupa, stage name Dicaprio, performed in Paris at ‘Paris la Defense Arena’ in Nanterre last Saturday on 25th after a long break from performing in Europe. Other concerts are scheduled on the 8th of December at Wembley’s  OVO Arena in the United Kingdom, and on the 16th December at ING Arena, Brussels in Belgium.

For the past years, African musicians have been setting their mark on the world stage, selling out tickets in some of Europe’s biggest stadiums and arenas. The renaissance of Afro-beats from West African countries added a different vibe to African music, a kind of new identity to African communities in the diaspora. This rebirth of our music has greatly played a bigger role in the way non-African descendants perceive our continent and the Diaspora communities in Europe and in the rest of the world. But the pioneers of these arena sellouts

‘ Congolese’ in the last decade have not been performing in Europe and America (The biggest consumers of African music).

The grand maestros of rumba such as Tabuley, Papa Wemba, Kofi Olomide, and the Congo-musica group ‘Werrason & JB Mpiana’ are some of the few Congolese musicians who raced performing in Europe's biggest arenas like Zenith, Olympia, Bercy, ING more than two decades ago. But 20 years of absence in the game is almost antique in this age of dare competition. What went wrong?

Les Combattants and the origin of chaos.

Most people have not heard of ‘Les Combattants’, a sensational group of young Congolese in Europe who have vowed to fight any politician or their supporters plundering their home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The group is headed by Boketshu, who calls himself ‘le prophète de la nation’ (the prophet of the nation) a musician specialised in the traditional music genre called Mbonda. A member of the Congolese diaspora community in Belgium, Boketshu has been vocal about the injustices back home and he has been dealing with regime sympathizers on European soil.

To respond to the question of what went wrong, which I paused earlier, we must know the role of music in Congolese politics. The ideology of Music and politics in the DRC, then known as Zaire, was founded by the former president Joseph Desire Mobutu, who through his Mobutism propaganda financed the music industry under the Zairianization banner. The books, titled ‘The Congo Colossus’, and ‘Rumba on the River’, explain in detail how the music industry backed the executive, legislature, and judiciary (Which were basically one arm of governance controlled by Mobutu).

Zairianization, also known as Authenticité, was an official state ideology of the regime of Mobutu that originated in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The authenticity campaign was an effort to rid the country of the lingering vestiges of colonialism and the continuing influence of Western culture and to create a more centralized and singular national identity. Under this policy Mobutu changed the country’s name from Congo to Zaire, and his own name from Joseph Desire to Mobutu Sese Seko. After his death, the country was again renamed the DRC.

This has been the tradition in Congolese politics even after the ousting of Mobutu. But the tradition was cut short by the diaspora movement Les Combattants in defiance of the then President Joseph Kabila’s authoritative rule.

The group started by vocally campaigning against the regime, followed by riots and damaging politicians' properties owned in Europe.

During the campaigns of the 2011 elections, the ruling party financed Congolese musicians to compose songs praising the regime, and that was the last time any of these musicians were to perform in Europe. Les Combattants rioted and caused chaos at the venues of any Congolese singer in Europe after Kabila was re-elected in the 2011 polls. Similar to Ugandans’ boycott of musicians who had campaigned for President Museveni’s re-election in the 2016 polls. But for Uganda’s case, the boycott did not last long. Ugandans forgive quickly not like our Congolese neighbors.

The boycott of performing in Europe has really affected the Congolese music industry financially, but the general public in support of Les Combattants believes it’s a solidarity move taken in support of their brothers and sisters suffering at the hands of politicians back home.

The effects of this boycott are not only financial.  It has also changed the face of politics in the DRC whereby the music industry is no longer bribed to praise politicians. A lesson learned.

The Congolese Rumba king Fally Ipupa, whose dance moves are loved by his fans especially when wiggling his ‘boneless’ waist has made a bold move to break the dry spell of Congolese music in the European concert halls. He is ready to quench this thirst with his melodic voice and sapology. But so do Les Combattants warn. The failure of Les Combattants to block the Nanterre Concert last weekend has shown a weakness in the organisation but they vow to disrupt the next one in Brussels.

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