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  • The Kinshasa Symphonic Orchestra must be one of the most surprising phenomenon in the world.

    The Congo is a war-torn country, in the sense that it has not really known peace in the last 50 years. How people feed and clothe themselves must be a mystery.

    Even in the seventies when I was last there, when it was relatively quiet, Kinshasa was chaotic.
    Why were the people so serene, why were they always smiling, is another mystery.

    When I heard about the Kinshasa Symphonic Orchestra, I was bemused, but when I watched a documentary my indulgent smile turned to gaping wonder.

    The orchestra started with a small group of people who played music for fun, none of whom could read sheet music, but they played by ear.The Kinshasa Symphonic Orchestra must be one of the most surprising phenomenon in the world.

    The Congo is a war-torn country, in the sense that it has not really known peace in the last 50 years. How people feed and clothe themselves must be a mystery.

    Even in the seventies when I was last there, when it was relatively quiet, Kinshasa was chaotic. Why were the people so serene, why were they always smiling, is another mystery.

    When I heard about the Kinshasa Symphonic Orchestra, my first reaction was to smile indulgently, but I was able to watch a documentary and I gaped in wonder.

    The orchestra started with a small group of people who played music for fun, none of whom could read sheet music, but they were inspired by. At first they had few instruments, but they began a search and were able to obtain broken down and poor quality ones; they set about repairing them, using, for example, the brake wire of a bicycle to make violin strings.

    Their dedication paid off, and after months of training and practice, they were playing with an astonishing degree of competence.

    A German TV company got to hear about them and came to make a documentary about their activities, and as a result, some voluntary organisation in that country arranged for them to get not only better quality instruments, but sent a small team of experts to train them.

    Last I heard, they were doing the whole of Beethoven Ninth in a refurbished hangar for the public. For the fiftieth anniversary of the independence of the country, they performed Carl Orf’s Carmina Burana and Ode to Joy to an audience of 3000.

    The Kinshasa outfit is the only Symphonic Orchestra in Central Africa and the only All-Black classical orchestra in the whole of the continent.

    An oasis of culture in a desert of chaos.

    Pic: A member of the orchestra in practice
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