It took 20 years to this self-taught group of musicians, formed by a church band, to evolve into the first philharmonic group in Central Africa and the only all-black orchestra on the planet !

In Congo, by its presence, the music is powerful. In religious celebrations, preachers mingle with the rhythms of musicians and choirs. On all the terraces and bars of Kinshasa, the rhythms of the ndombolo, Congolese rumba or big hits of the moment accompany the bustle of the city. In Ngiri-Ngiri, several times a week, classical melodies resound, they escape from the green enclosure, which delimits the plot of Kimbanguists, in this densely populated district of the capital.

The Kimbanguist symphony orchestra, born in 1994, when Armand Diangienda lost his pilot’s job following the crash of the plane he usually flew on. The grandson of the notorious Simon Kimbangu, spiritual leader of the Kimbanguist Church, had no professional training in classical music. This was not a real obstacle and he made the crazy bet to create the first symphonic organization in Congo.

In the beginning, a small group of self-taught musicians shared instruments or made them on the spot with different materials. Their motivation knew few limits and the magnitude of their passions quickly attracted other musicians, eager to learn. Over the years, the band expanded and the instruments, just like the register, diversified.

Revealed to the world in 2010, following the release of the documentary Kinshasa Symphony by Martin Baer and Claus Wischmann, the orchestra enjoys international recognition; on different continents its performances are greatly appreciated.representation de l'orchestre symphonique

The musicians, who make up the orchestra, are all volunteers and come from very different worlds. During the day, everyone goes about their daily business to feed and support their families in one of Africa’s largest and most chaotic cities. Some are shopkeepers, other electricians, dressmakers, students or housewives, but once night falls, they become violins, tubas, flutes, double bass or sopranos. Everyone finds their place, tunes their instrument, warms up a little before Maestro Armand takes his place. When he raises his baton, just under 200 musicians sound the melodies of strings, antlers, brass and percussions. The symphonies of Beethoven or Orff’s Carmina Burana start resonating throughout the whole neighbourhood.

représentation de l'orchestre des enfants

Papy and the children’s band warm up before a lore performance of a birthday concert at the Kinshasa Botanical Garden, Gombe, April 2014

Their current success reassured them in their commitment to this largely unrecognized art which is sometimes ignored by Congolese people who call it “white people’s music”. Popularizing classical music is the dream of Maestro Armand Diangienda who wants to create a music school open to all. The demand is real: in addition to the Kimbanguist symphony orchestra, on this verdant plot, various groups and choirs are already regularly rehearsing the religious registers. Access to quality instruments is not only difficult but expensive. To this day, this education remains the attribute of Kimbanguist church members.