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Congo Kinshasa: Congo Kinshasa Art / Culture Profile




The culture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo reflects the diversity of its hundreds of ethnic groups and their differing ways of life throughout the country — from the mouth of the River Congo on the coast, upriver through the rainforest and savanna in its centre, to the more densely populated mountains in the far east. Since the late 19th century, traditional ways of life have undergone changes brought about by colonialism, the struggle for independence, the stagnation of the Mobutu era, and most recently, the First and Second Congo Wars. Despite these pressures, the customs and cultures of the Congo have retained much of their individuality. The country's 60 million inhabitants are mainly rural. The 30 percent who live in urban areas have been the most open to Western influences.

Another notable feature in Congo culture is its sui generis music. The DROC has blended its ethnic musical sources with Cuban Rumba, and Merengue to give birth to Soukous. Influential figures of Soukous and its offshoots (N'dombolo, Rumba rock...) are Franco Luambo, Tabu Ley, Lutumba Simaro, Papa Wemba, Koffi Olomide, Kanda Bongo, Ray Lema, Mpongo Love, Abeti Masikini, Reddy Amisi,[Pasnas] Pepe Kalle and Nyoka Longo. Africa produces music genres which are direct derivatives of Congolese soukous. Some of the African bands even sing in Lingala, the main language in the DRC. The same Congolese Soukous, under the guidance of "le sapeur", Papa Wemba, has set up the tone for a generation of young guys always dressed up in expensive designer's clothes.

The Congo is also known for his art. Traditional art includes masks and wooden statues. Notable contemporary artists and Fashion designer are Chéri Samba and Odette Krempin.

Portuguese missionaries arrived many centuries ago in the region – see History & Politics – and the Catholic Church remains strong today; around half the population are Roman Catholics.

A religious nation

Other Christian denominations have been growing in popularity. For example, the local Kimbanguist Church now has around 6 million followers. Though the churches have a strong presence, many Congolese combine Christianity with traditional animist practices, which include a belief in the spirits of ancestors.

Islam in the east

Down the eastern side of the country, slave routes of Arab traders spread Islam. Areas in the east therefore have significant Muslim populations and many mosques.

Musique Zaïroise

Music and dance are of huge importance to Congolese people. The region’s music is sometimes referred to as ‘musique Zaïroise’ (from Zaire, the old name of the country).

A unique style arose in the region from the jazz and rumba bands of the 1940s and 1950s. Today, this popular style of African music is known as soukous.

Many instruments are handmade and bands frequently form on the streets of towns and cities. In Goma, an annual Skiff arts festival is held as a showcase for the region’s music, poetry and films.
The recent award-winning film ‘Benda Bilili’ documents the rise of a Kinshasa street band – Staff Bend Bilili. Their tale of international success is made even more remarkable because the band members are disabled (the name of the band means ‘beyond appearances’).