Never mind the propaganda, let’s dance!

Sometimes the medium does transcend the message. My friend Koranteng notes that the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko stands out among evil regimes for having produced a body of self-serving propaganda that people actually liked, even outside the country and after the fact: lots of very excellent sokous tunes. From the dispatch below, it sounds like the national tradition of ignoring the lyrics is alive and well.

A French aid worker in Congo, Cabiau admits that he has trouble telling Werrason apart from Wazekwa, but that he’s “developed a taste for this joyous cacaphony.”

Lorsque les décibels s’affolent, impossible de rester assis. Si l’on se donne la peine de s’aventurer sur la piste, au milieu des miroirs et des déhanchements endiablés, on ne peut que succomber. On est alors entraîné dans des chorégraphies délirantes que tout bon kinois connaît sur le bout des doigts. C’est le feu. De la folie furieuse. C’est Kinshasa.

When the decibels reach a panic, it’s impossible to stay seated.  If make the effort to get out there on the dance floor, among the mirrors and the frenzy of swaying hips, you cannot help but give in.  You are led out into wild dance moves that every good kinois knows at the edge of his fingertips.  It’s on fire.  It’s madness.  It’s Kinshasa.

Cabiau also writes about the phenomenon of “libanga.”  Libanga is to Congolese music what product placement is to American film and television.  For a few thousand dollars, “a company, a brand of beer, a politicians, or an officer in the army” can see his name placed in a song.  Several dozen such paid shoutouts might be in a single song.  “Curiously, that doesn’t seem to bother many people,” Cabiau writes.


from “Kinshasa’s ‘baroque’ style, by Jennifer Brea, Global Voices Online, 27 July 2008

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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