Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Music, Religion, and Politics

Congolese music and religion tend to shy away from overt political expression. This article by Ed Rackley on Bundu dia Kongo and this review of Bob White's book, Rumba Rules, review the possibilities and dangers of dissent in popular culture.

Money quotes:
[White's] analysis of four recent love lyrics as encoded cries of social uncertainty and isolation -- the kind of interpretive leap that leaves many popular culture scholars flat on their ass with a twisted ankle -- isn't just convincing, it's wrenching. Also illuminated are the Mobutuist complicities of Luambo Franco, the compulsory daily animation politique in which workers at every level were required to sing and dance Mobutu's praises, the evolution and devolution of Wenge Musica, how hard it is to play simple Congolese chords or shake an insecticide-can maraca, the cassette trade, equatorial chieftancy, and the rise of libanga, the prepurchased shout-outs now integral to bandleaders' cash flow.

Rackley: Recent BDK experience marks a clear break with how religious groups of all stripes have historically responded to Congo’s long succession of repressive and brutal regimes. The trajectory of BDK spiritual leader and founder, Ne Muanda Nsemi, from academic lecturer and part-time minister in the late 1960s to gubernatorial candidate in the lead opposition party in 2006, to jailed and excoriated head of a ‘terrorist organization’ in 2008, reveals much about the spectacular failures of Congo’s body politic. Despite the massive loss of life, BDK is also a sign of enormous hope. The BDK challenge to a corrupt and predatory government—to the point of mortal sacrifice—is a long overdue sign of ‘politicization’ among Congo’s destitute and illiterate masses.

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