17 September 2012

Congo-Kinshasa: 'Generation Conscious' Rappers

Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is considered by many to be the home base of African music. But it is also home to an underground scene for a generation of politically conscious musicians who denounce the damaging effects of politics in their country, adding their voices to the call for democracy.

"Bruits Kin" (Kinshasa noise), an area consisting of Barumbu and Kinshasa communes, is where that scene thrives. It is crowded, noisy, full of street vendors. Since the 1990s, these two localities have produced most of the greatest rap activists commonly known as the "Generation of Politically Conscious Congolese Musicians".

But "Bruits Kin" also has another face, a grimmer one where people die of hunger almost every day. All the residents want is the instauration of a "mangercratique" regime (one that would feed them everyday). "Kinshasa is a big village," says a member of the Generation of Politically Conscious Congolese Musicians. "We must denounce the ills that plague it," he adds.

Youth in revolt

The "Villagers" or "Bawuta Kin" (those who migrated and settled in the capital), one of the prominent groups of the Congolese underground movement, is regarded as the quinine of the capital. Maestro Rocky B, leader of the rap group bearing the same name, wonders: "Politics in the DRC suffers from malaria. The country urgently needs to be put on a quinine drip."

Change of scenery: a group of lanky looking young men in baggy pants walk towards the residence of Bebson De la Rue, the famous reggae man of Ngwaka - a neighbourhood renowned for its drug lords, cannabis smokers and a breeding ground for underground artists in the Congolese capital.

Many famous names of the congolese music scene are here: Staff Benda Bilili, Rachel Mwanza, Mega Mingiedi, Youssoupha and the rap band KMS (Kin Mafia Style).

One of its members, Paschiphik: "What kind of politics are they talking about on TV? There are many lies going around in this city. They constantly feed us on hope but nothing changes. Come on! It's a witch hunt in Kinshasa. So, we use rap to better express ourselves and denounce!" The "Posse de Bandal", from the Bandalungwa commune, is renowned for his zealous militant lyrics. He is famous and popular among the youth in Kinshasa.

However, this often comes with a price. In 2010, his song 'Tokowa pona Congo' (we will die for Congo) was banned by the National Censorship Commission in Kinshasa. The government simply decided so. Another reason driving the "Conscious Generation" to carry on its denunciation struggle for a just and democratic society. Their call is simple: "We want good governance now!"

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Differently engaged

Alex Ndende, aka "Lexxus légal", is another emblematic figure of Congolese rap. Whether in his work or in interviews, he is never scared to use harsh words to denounce the ills tearing his country apart.

"All the artists are engaged in their own way. The only difference is that there are musicians, our elders, who are solely focused on love and money while the Kinshasa underground movement is engaged in social issues. The people need to be defended somehow," denounces the artist.

There is a definitely a cry of a generation of musicians striving for not only the recognition of rap in the country of "ndombolo" (a popular musical genre in the DRC), but also calling for political change and better living conditions for the people.

And they want to differentiate themselves from some of the older generation of Congolese musicians who, for some free publicity on TV and radio, will accept invitations by politicians and other government officials.

"We are well aware of the deals between the older generation and the politicians in power. Meanwhile, those artists will claim on TV that they are not involved in politics. We have seen it during the presidential election campaign in 2011 where artists went singing for the incumbent Joseph Kabila," says Bebson De la Rue, leader of the band Trionyx in Ngwaka.

"Koffi Olomide, Werrason, Papa Wemba, JbMpiana and all our elders are involved in the political lies of the regime," says Docta Kash-Mamouth, from the Villagers of Kinshasa, in a severe tone.

"We are choking in misery in this country. Kids are becoming homeless because their parents are not paid. And to survive, the hungry populations resort to article 15." - a joke in the era of President Mobutu about a supposed article of the constitution urging Congolese to resort to theft to make ends meet. It still gets a laugh on the streets today. This famous article translates the Congolese reality into two words: "make do".

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