Daily Bow: Checking in with the Kinshasa Symphony

Daily Bow LogoOver a year ago, we introduced some of you to the Kinshasa Symphony, an extraordinary group of 200-some musicians forging a classical scene in the heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The symphony was founded some 20 years ago by self-taught musician Armand Diangienda after he lost his job as an airline pilot. Diangienda took his passion for music and sought out kindred spirits. Those kindred spirits form the Kinshasa Symphony and are united by passion, despite the difficulties of running of symphony orchestra in the hustle and bustle of the DRC’s busiest city. Although rehearsals often need to be late at night to accommodate the work schedules of most members–and although rehearsals can be interrupted by rolling blackouts–the symphony has soldiered on in its work to provide its members with a place to explore their passion for music and to inspire their audiences.

The Kinshasa Symphony was the subject of a 2010 German documentary, and their story has been a source of inspiration for both their own community and the global community. Says Diangienda, the founder and conductor of the group, “It is only after our concert in December of 1994 that people understood what we wanted to do, because then the orchestra was there in front of them. What was extraordinary was that after the concert there were lots of people that came to register to be trained in music and to start playing in the orchestra. People were blown away — it was something new in our community.” The African tradition is not one that intersects often with the classical tradition, and the unique nature of the Kinshasa Symphony has caught the attention of the world, so much so that CNN just recently published a piece about them on their website, complete with beautiful pictures and video.

The story of the Kinshasa Symphony is intriguing enough with just the bare facts: scrappy classical ensemble beats the odds in the heart of a decidedly non-classical nation. But the symphony itself has no intention of resting on its international fame as an inspiring story–it is taking its passion for music and building it into ever-bigger dreams. The Symphony now holds occasional free concerts with an eye to spreading the concept of classical music further into its community. “Up to now, this style of music is still foreign to people here,” explains Diangienda. “Some people feel it’s Western music but we say it’s not — it’s an expression for us of our own culture. Here in our country, music is listened to so that you can dance. It is very rare that it is listened to just for meditation but I think classical music takes you really far. It allows you to meditate and express certain things that you might not be able to express with other style of music.”

The ultimate big-dreaming ensemble has set its sights on one day opening a music school in Kinshasa to make a real and lasting contribution to the musical culture in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Africa as a whole. Says Diangienda, “I believe that kids growing up with this music and their Congolese culture will be able to express themselves better than us tomorrow. They’ll do symphonies or sonatas which will be classical but completely African. That is my biggest dream, to create a music school where kids will learn how to play instruments and adults will be able to learn as well.”

20 years after their inception and one documentary later, the group is showing no signs of flagging. Today, CNN–tomorrow, the world. Keep your eye on the Kinshasa Symphony, because we may be hearing from them next year with more inspiring news.


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