The Democratic Republic of the Congo, also known as DRC or DR Congo, is a huge country straddling the equator in Central Africa. Although it has some of the richest natural resources found anywhere in the world, for most of its 70 million people, life is a daily struggle to survive. Poverty, unemployment, corruption and a lack of basic services present incredible challenges for even the most motivated individuals.
The Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra, based in Kinshasa, the capital city of DRC in the west part of the country, comprises more than 200 musicians who are succeeding despite the obstacles that the sprawling city of more than 12 million throws at them. Although the lack of job security or a reliable transportation system often makes it difficult for members to attend rehearsals regularly, or keep to a regular rehearsal schedule, the orchestra continues to grow, and to gain the international recognition it deserves.
Whenever they can, they come to Ngiri-Ngiri, a dusty, noisy Kinshasa neighborhood, where they meet at a church compound. On days when they cannot find work (only 5% of Congolese have a steady source of income) or have extra time, they often spend their entire day practicing.
The musicians are all self-taught amateurs, but their artistic integrity and passion exemplify professionalism in every way. They are kind, humble, and excited to not only learn, but to share their knowledge with the youth in their community. Through their knowledge and music, they are giving something back to those around them, and enriching themselves in the process. As their founder and conductor Armand Diangienda explains, “When I teach, I learn something new.”
The orchestra members certainly have taken this to heart, eagerly sharing their words of wisdom with anyone that wants to join. Jerry, one of the orchestra’s bassoonists, typifies the spirit of the group, saying hard work and mutual respect are at the heart of the orchestra’s mission: “We don’t ask for money. Nobody has money. But if I’m here, I will teach you. We just ask that you respect our community, our rules. Then I can teach you classical music!”