Patrice Emery Lumumba was not just the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Congo, he was also a passionate music fan and a gifted listener.
On 22 November 2018 more than twenty big names from the world of music will be singing the praises of the iconic independence leader. With twenty songs from the high days of the rumba and similarly powerful anecdotes Patrice Lumumba will be given a fitting tribute.
Patrice-Emery Lumumba was a politician, leader of the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) and the very first democratically elected Prime Minister of the current Democratic Republic of Congo. On 17 January 1961 he was assassinated in Elisabethville (present day Lubumbashi), along with two of his unfortunate allies: former Vice President of the Senate Joseph Okito and Maurice Mpolo, the former Minister of Youth and Sport. Ironically enough the assassinations have secured him a place in the history books: first as a martyr of independence, later as a national hero.
“Adou Elenga, one of the pioneers of the rumba, had already predicted the independence of Congo in 1954”, says historian Malambu Makizola. “Tomorrow’, he sings in the song Ata Ndele, ‘the world will be different. Tomorrow the world will be turned on its head’”.
In 1958 Adou Elenga gained the following of the famous Congolese musician Franco Luambo, one of the founders of the modern Congolese sound. In the song Yimbi Franco personalises the colonial situation. “Give me my child back, I want to feed him”, he sings. As events unravelled in the 1950s, the independence of Congo gradually took shape.
In January 1960 when the independence of Congo was decided during a round table conference in Brussels, Lumumba was in prison. During this period Vicky Longomba wrote the song Vive Patrice-Emery Lumumba to make it clear that independence could not be proclaimed without Lumumba.
Joseph Kabasele, better known as ‘Kallé Jeff’, wrote Independance Cha Cha, the first informal folk song of the Democratic Republic of Congo. As an illustrious cultural personality he was asked to accompany the political delegation which was going to Brussels in 1960 to speak about the independence of Congo. He performed the song with four musicians from his own group, African Jazz, and two songs from the rival band, OK Jazz. Independance Cha Cha was the first ‘pan-African’ hit and is a great example of the Congolese rumba.
Kallé Jeff sang about everything that was going on in Congolese society at the time of independence. As a tribute to his good friend Lumumba he wrote Matata Masila Na Congo. In this song he reminds the people that it was Lumumba who, after the Pan-African Conference of 1958 in Accra, brought the people together behind the idea of ‘Pan-Africanism’, the dream of a great united Africa.
Liwa Ya Emery is the only song that openly condemns Patrice Lumumba’s assassination. “With this song Franco stood up for Lumumba’s children who had been left behind as orphans”, says Malambu Makizola. “He stood up for Lumumba’s followers in a period of terror in which demonstrating your support for Lumumba could cost you your head. Franco took an enormous risk with this song, nobody dared to imitate him.”
On 24 November 1965 Mobutu Sese Seko seized power in Léopoldville, present day Kinshasa. “Very early on, on 30 June 1966, he proclaimed Lumumba a ‘national hero’”, says Malambu Makizola. “It was a pure political decision to limit the damage caused by the assassination of Lumumba. Franco & OK Jazz and Kallé/Bombenga & African Jazz both wrote a song about this political decision, Lumumba, héros national.”
The former Minister of Culture had organised a competition in which he asked people to write a song about the brand-new republic. Two songs won: Congo Nouveau Afrique Nouvelle by Tabu Ley and Bombenga. Both were stories about how Congo was reclaimed from Moïse Tsjombé by the Congolese, and how Mobutu signed up to the idea of Pan-Africanism.
Kashama Nkoy was Mobutu’s policy adviser for Cultural Affairs. He studied economics and philosophy at Oxford University and in 1967 he decided to head home and devote himself to his country. “He had a brilliant mind and could inspire people. That created tensions, and though we don’t know if it’s true, it would appear that Kashama Nkoy was poisoned. Tabu Ley sings in his song: when you meet Lumumba, wherever you go, tell him that we didn’t embrace you enough. Tell him that we miss you, a husband, son, father, a friend like you.”
The song Esclave tells the story of slavery, all over the world: in the West of Congo, on the East Coast, in South Africa, … but Papa Wemba also sings about other forms of slavery. He curses them all. You don’t hear Lumumba’s name crop up in the song, but between the lines you can feel Lumumba’s soul present in the music.