“The soul of the Congolese”: the Rumba registered on the UNESCO heritage list | Music news

UNESCO has added Congolese rumba to its list of intangible heritage, sparking enthusiasm among music and dance fans in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Republic of the Congo.

Recognition of the musical genre and dance – often referred to as the soundtrack of Congolese history, used for both celebration and mourning – came after a joint application for the United Nations cultural agency by countries neighbors.

The rumba “allows the transmission of the social and cultural values ​​of the region, but also the promotion of social, intergenerational and solidarity cohesion”, one can read in a press release published Tuesday by UNESCO.

In a Twitter post, the office of DRC President Félix Tshisekedi expressed “its joy and pride” at the inclusion of Congolese rumba on the list.

“This cultural gem specific to the two Congos (Kinshasa & Brazzaville) is recognized for its universal value”, he added.

Congolese rumba has now joined the same roster as Cuban rumba, Jamaican reggae music, and Zaouli – the popular music and dance of Guro communities in Côte d’Ivoire – among others.

Intangible heritage are traditions or living expressions inherited from ancestors and passed on to descendants. Their importance “is not the cultural manifestation itself, but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills which are passed on from one generation to the next”, according to UNESCO.

“Rumba for the Congolese represents their entire life and the history of the Congo, because all of its greatest historical developments were accompanied by this music,” said Paul Le Perc Ngoie, percussionist and artist based in Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC. .

“There have been various changes, but there is still an inner element that remains and keeps the souls of the Congolese in custody,” Ngoie said.

Common origins

The origins of rumba can be traced back to Central Africa, but it crossed the Atlantic Ocean during the slave trade from the 16th to the 19th century. This is where the slaves of the region, seeking to connect and keep their traditions alive, would gather among themselves dancing on the NKumba, the word for navel.

“Thanks to this oral tradition, they have been able to preserve their history,” said Maika Munan, a famous Congolese composer and expert in rumba.

Five Congolese rumba tunes to sing and dance on:

  • Marie Louise by Wendo Kolosoy
  • African Jazz Mokili Mobimba by Le Grand Kallé
  • Adios Tété by Tabu Ley Rochereau
  • Mario by Franco Luambo
  • Independence Cha Cha by Le Grand Kallé

Over time, the NKumba became a major influence on Cuban music, which was introduced to Africa in the late 1930s with the spread of radio and phonographic records – what would later be known as vinyl records. . Congolese musicians recognized their own rhythm in Latin American melodies and began to mix them with their local traditional music, leading to the creation of modern Congolese rumba.

A new flourishing scene had formed in the early 1940s, with Paul Kamba in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo founding Victoria Brazza, a pioneering rumba group, while in Kinshasa, musicians such as Wendo Kolosoy and Henri Bowane were among the early heroes.

But it was the following decades that represented “the consecration” of Congolese rumba, Munan said.

As the DRC moved towards independence from Belgian rule in 1960, the music of African Jazz, a popular Congolese rumba group founded by Joseph Kabasele, also known as Le Grand Kallé, became an expression of national self-awareness.

The quintessence of the group came with Independence Cha Cha, which was first performed in 1960 in Brussels.

“It was Africa’s anthem,” Manuan said of the song, noting that it was a smash hit across the continent commemorating “the year of Africa” when 17 nations gained independence.

The theme of love is central to rumba music, but it is often used as a metaphor for discussing political and social issues. Today, modern versions of rumba are sung and danced in bars in Congolese towns. And although each generation makes their own version of it, Manuan explained, its basic rhythmic pattern – known as the clave – remains the same.

“The fact that it is recognized by the world as intangible cultural heritage is good news, because [the recognition] will allow this music to be maintained, but above all transmitted to future generations, ”he added.

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