In Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a remarkable and wholly improbable cultural entity exists amid the poverty and chaos of this troubled Third World nation. That entity is the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste (Kinshasa Orchestra) - Central Africa's one and only symphony orchestra.
The orchestra grew out of the efforts of founder and conductor, Armand Diangienda. Diangienda who is a cellist and also a composer, began fifteen years ago to bring the gift of music to his community with a few instruments which were shared amongst beginner musicians. Some of the instruments were donated, others rescued from the trash and repaired.
These self-taught musicians had to practice in shifts when there weren't enough instruments. The dedication and discipline demonstrated by the members of the Kinshasa Orchestra was evident from the beginning as many came to rehearsals after long workdays, and often had to make long treks into Kinshasa on foot or by taxi. Orchestra rehearsals were challenging but Diangienda proved to be a man with much patience and a deep love of music. Such perseverance has paid off. The Kinshasa Orchestra has performed the music of many composers including Beethoven, Handel and Orloff.
If the orchestra's conductor impresses, so too do the orchestra's two hundred musicians and vocalists, many of whom have risen above difficult personal and social circumstances to learn classical music well enough to perform in an orchestra or to sing in a choir. Their music not only overwhelms and impassions the listener, but the participants themselves.
For many involved in the Kinshasa Orchestra, it is a sanctuary, a reprieve from a world filled with tragedy, war and poverty. As one woman put it, "When I play music, I become myself."
The documentary, Kinshasa Symphony, directed by Claus Wischmann and Martin Baer explores this unique orchestra from three perspectives; the people, the city, and the music. All three have influenced the orchestra's development and its current musical direction.
CBS has done a wonderful segment on the orchestra in its show "60 Minutes". The video may be watched below:
In conjunction with the WDR Symphony Orchestra and Choir from Cologne, Germany, the OSK is working towards the establishment of a classical music school in Kinshasa. It will be fascinating to watch how this cultural force will influence further development of the arts in the Congo, and throughout sub-Saharan Africa.