No country has contributed more to my personal happiness than the Congo.
I do not know for sure whether I was a Congolese guitarist in a parallel universe, but I might well have been! The way Congolese guitarists can start a melody with their instrument, carry you along and then, without notice, change the tempo and enter a completely different musical world, also melodious, transports me to areas of bliss where I didn’t know music could take me.
And their voices – where do they learn to harmonise so perfectly?
Maybe a people who have suffered greatly in life tend to make fantastic musicians. I mean – look at Black Americans: from where did Ben Webster and John Coltrane get their musical prowess? Or Charlie Parker Wes Mongomery or Earl Klugh?
Next, go to the Caribbean – reggae, calypso and their derivatives – can you not hear in them, echoes of sugar-plantation life?
When you come to the Congo, you hear of a European monarch, King Leopold, killing about two million people some of whose heads and limbs he had ordered to be chopped off if they did not produce as much rubber in a day as he wanted. The heads were put on spikes to show others what fate awaited them if they did not produce enough rubber.
How does a nation’s spirit overcome such misery? The stories get told to generation by generation. And music turns the stories into an instrument of survival.
So I hear a Congolese song and I am playing it on my car radio, and I ‘give a lady a ‘lift, and she begs me to give it to her to go and record it. And I never see the tape again, but I hadn’t taken down the title and I keep visiting shops that deal in Congolese music and spend hours listening to records….!
Up to today, the song keeps playing in my head. Okay, I did find Maria Chantal by Dr Nico and African Fiesta; and also Nes Nes by Nyboma and Madilu. But one did permanently get away!
Me no sabe swim
Water dey take me go!
Me no sabe swim
Water dey take me go!
Thiswas a hi-life song that was the signature tune of a special radio programme mounted by Radio Ghana for Ghanaian troops sent to the Congo in 1960 to try and help the Government of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba restore peace and order to his country. His country’s soldiers, the Force Publique, had mutinied within days of the Congo’s independence on 30 June 1960. The mutiny was largely instigated by Belgium, which used the unrest to detach the Congo’s richest province (in terms of mineral wealth) Katanga, from the rest of the country.
The Belgians bought a stooge called Moise Tshombe to do for them, their dirty work of keeping Katanga’s wealth in the hands of the Belgian company, Union Miniere. So serious was the conspiracy linking Union Miniere to a cabal of Western intelligence agencies including the CIA, the UK’s MI6, the French Intelligence organisation under Jacques Foccart, as well as the racist South African and “Southern Rhodesian” secret services, that not only did the conspiracy succeed in taking the life of Patrice Lumumba but also, that of the then United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Dag Hammarsjold (Hammarskjold’s plane was shot down in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) when he bowed to Western pressure and agreed to go and talk to Tshombe.
Hammarskjold’s decision to go and negotiate with Tshombe was highly irregular, because Katanga was a mere province of the Congo, and did not possess enough political status to be negotiating with Secretary-General of an organisation which had been invited by Prime Minister Lumumba to come and assist him end the secession Tshombe had brought about in Katanga.
The Western cabal killed Lumumba and made sure that the Congo would never be ruled by a Congolese politician who would have enough good sense – and skill – to organise the economy of the country in such a way that the people would benefit from their country’s wealth. As it is, Western companies have produced leaders for the Congo who habitually filch the Congo’s revenues and deposit them in Western banks.
By the time Mobutu Seseseko (who had been assisted by the West to take control of the country) was overthrown, he had salted away an estimated $5 -10 billion in Switzerland, Brazil and other countries. The current ruler of what has now become “the Democratic Republic of the Congo”, Joseph Kabila, is also one of the wealthiest people on Planet Earth. (The Congo produces 80% of Cobalt, the mineral from which batteries for mobile phones and electrically-powered motor vehicles are made, which means that under a patriotic government, the country whose exports have made untold amounts of money for Apple, Samsung, Huawei and other trans-national companies, should also have said goodbye to poverty.
But the election that has just been held there is irrelevant (as far as eliminating poverty amongst the general populace is concerned.) The alleged winner, Mr Felix Tshisekedi, is suspected of having benefited from rigging – on his behalf – by outgoing President Kabila (Kabila wants someone he can “do business with”; i.e. someone who will allow his family to keep its money. Clever man, Kabila: his party actually put up an official candidate, in public, whilst in secret, he backed Tshisekedi of “the opposition”!)
A genuine “opposition leader,” Martin Faluyu, who came second to Tshisekedi, has categorically rejected the outcome and may challenge the result in court.
All of which postpones the day when the Congo will be allowed to forget civil unrest and poverty, and carry out its function of providing Planet Earth with some of the best music ever made.
By CAMERON DUODU