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Celebrated Congolese Symphony Orchestra Stages Performance Fit For Royals

posted 11 Jun 2013, 07:48 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 11 Jun 2013, 07:48 ]

The Congolese Kimbanguiste Symphony Orchestra of self taught musicians staged a performance at the first edition of the 'The Spring of the Arts Festival' - a celebration that originated from Monte Carlo and was held in Kinshasa this year under the tutelage of Princess Caroline of Monaco.

 KINSHASA, DR CONGO (RECENT) (REUTERS) -  Congo's sweltering riverside capital is more accustomed to the pulsating rhythms of some of Africa's most famous musicians than the altogether more genteel strains of Italian classical composer Guiseppe Verdi.

But increasingly one of Congo's strangest musical oddities - a symphony orchestra of self taught musicians, some of whom even had to make their own instruments - is becoming one of its most well known exports, even attracting royal patronage.

Formed almost 20 years ago by a handful of music enthusiasts, the Kimbanguiste Symphony Orchestra has grown steadily in numbers, proficiency and stature, culminating in a trip to Monaco earlier this year and Saturday (June 08), a return visit by Princess Caroline of Monaco, to watch a concert amidst the dilapidated sprawl of Kinshasa.

Armand Diangienda is the orchestra's founder, a man with no musical background who taught himself to play the cello, and later to conduct.

"We always said we'd make it far, but we didn't expect it to turn out like this," he says, with a broad smile.

The orchestra is named after Diangienda's grandfather Simon Kimbangu, a Christian martyr who stood up to Belgian colonists and established his own church.

It has brought together around 80 musicians and 100 singers from acrossKinshasa, a crumbling metropolis of 10 million people, where daily survival leaves little room for the luxuries of classical music.

More than 50 years of dictatorship, corruption and two devastating wars - the last officially ending in 2003 - have left Congo in ruins.

Amidst all this, Diangienda embarked on building central Africa's only symphony orchestra.

"The biggest challenges were finding the instruments, and also we had no teachers so we had to learn from scratch. Then we had to get the Congolese to like the music," Diangienda says of a nation which holds its own musical stars in almost god-like esteem.

Although the orchestra has largely captured international imagination, the outdoor auditorium where they performed their concert was filled with a mixture of Congolese and foreigners.

Nicole Curau, a professional violinist from Monaco who travelled to Kinshasa to play alongside the Kimbanguistes, says the orchestra offers hope to classical music.

"It's true that today classical music is seen to be part of old Europe. The number of orchestras is going down, and there are smaller and smaller audiences often filled with very old people. But this is a real renewal, and (there's) an incredible love for the music which you get from everyone here," she said.

The orchestra has ambitions to set up a musical school in Kinshasa, but for the time being hopefuls will have to take the same difficult path Tresor Wamba, who taught himself the Viola.

"My friends would ask me what I'm doing with this orchestra of ancient arts, telling me it would bring me nothing and that I should drop it. But I told myself that I should remain hopeful. We tried for so many years and here we are today, these are the fruits of all our labour," said the 26-year-old student.

For some in the Congolese capital, who had the opportunity to witness the orchestra perform for the first time, there was a sense of pride for the home grown musicians who have managed to capture international attention.

"I think that this is not something we see often and to tell you the truth, it is the first time that I see an African orchestra, and mainly made up of black people, playing classical music, it is really impressive and the orchestra deserves a lot of applause and support for doing this well," said Kinshasa resident, Jean Freddy Massouloussi.

Last month, it was announced that Diangienda would become an honorary member of the Royal Philharmonic Society, an award previously given to such famous musicians as German composer Richard Wagner and Russian composerIgor Stravinsky.