Ageing DR Congo artists keep music of the miners alive - GulfToday

Ageing DR Congo artists keep music of the miners alive

Minning music 1

Congolese musician and former Gécamines worker Marcel Tshibanda. AFP

In Lubumbashi, southeast Congo lies the cone-shaped slag heap, a symbol of the booming days of copper.

In that era, a vibrant and distinctive culture of music and dancing sprouted among miners who worked for DR Congo's state giant, Gecamines.

Decades later, just a few of performers are still around to play the songs and do the dances.

Marcel Tshibanda used to be a guitarist with a Jecoke group -- a troupe of employees who were paid by Gecamines' social club to sing and dance for mining communities in their spare time. 

Minning music 2The Gécamines new headquarters in Lubumbashi. AFP

Their music had a distinctive, calypso-y beat and the dancers dressed in smart long-tailed suits, wowing the crowds with snappy trademark moves.

According to Tshibanda, the sounds were inspired by musicians in neighbouring Zambia, previously a British colony.

Tshibanda said the rhythm of English was like tapping out a snazzy two-beat signature on his hand-made guitar.

For decades, right until the 1980s, Gecamines was "a state within a state," recalled Pierre Katamba, a former member of the troupe.

"We used to call it 'mum and dad.' You would get free medical treatment and the children got free education." 

Minning music

Dancer Jean-Marie Manga and guitarist-singer Marcel Tshibanda perform in front of the Gécamines industrial plant in Lubumbashi. AFP

Things are tough

The halcyon era started to crumble in the 1990s, when globalisation began to hit the mining industry, followed by political upheaval in distant Kinshasa and then two regional wars.

In 2003, the World Bank funded a redundancy programme to cut 10,655 workers from Gecamines' payroll of 36,000, although a chunk of the money has gone missing in a country notorious for corruption.

"Everyone abandoned Jecoke music to get into rumba," said Tshibanda.

"To put it in a nutshell, things are tough," said fellow 74-year-old Laurent Ilunga Kazadi, still resplendent in his suit.

Agence-France Presse

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