9 April 2012

The Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra (or their real name, l'Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste)

What's an advantage of being up sick at 3am? I'm not competing for bandwidth and can stream this story that aired on 60 Minutes. Well, it's loading at record speed of about 7 seconds at a time.

Adam and I were a little worried Mike Wallace's death would preemt this much anticipated story, but thank goodness this orchestra got some American press. There's a semi-well known documentary that came out a few years ago about them, Kinshasa Symphony. But it's in German. The most fascinating parts of the film show the musicians repairing already crummy instruments with things like pieces of a bicycle and old tire parts.

What the film skimmed over and the 60 Minutes piece left out entirely, is that this orchestra is made up of Kimbanguistes. Kimbanguism is pretty bizarre branch of Christianity founded by their prophet, a Congolese man, Simon Kimbangu. Its official name is L'Église de Jésus Christ sur la Terre par son envoyé spécial Simon Kimbangu, or The Church of Christ on Earth by His Special Envoy Simon Kimbangu. Has there ever been a better title?

May 25th is their Christmas. Last year I happened to be driving (okay, riding I'm not that brave) to the airport on that day. Along the entire route Kimbanguistes were marching, dressed in green (notice all the green in the 60 Minutes piece?), playing instruments. Traditionally they walk between two points, which are probably at least 30 miles apart. They sing and dance and play music all day carrying banners with Kimbangu's face on them. I tried to interview my driver about their beliefs, but he gave me the French equivalent of, "I have no idea why they do that. They're weird."

Our neighbor and teacher at TASOK practices with the symphony every Friday. We see him cramming his enormous cello into a tiny Jimmy and rattling down the road to practice. He says they're very welcoming, but he isn't allowed to officially perform. They've gotta keep up their claim to fame of being the "only entirely black orchestra in the world." I think that's awesome.

In two weeks they happen to be playing at TASOK for a fundraiser. I'm not sure we can afford the tickets. We'll probably just sit on our porch and listen.

P.S. Can 60 Minutes please win an Emmy for making perhaps the ugliest, fluorescently-lit, Congolese warehouse look beautiful? Those are some amazing cameras.

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