Survival tale: Congo’s Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra

Posted on: November 4, 2015

In the November 9 issue of the New Yorker, Alexis Okeowo writes that twenty years ago, Armand Diangienda “started the Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra, in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo…. Diangienda admired Handel, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky, and didn’t see why he couldn’t get the musicians he knew [in church] to play that same stirring music…. Diangienda welcomed to the orchestra ushers, members of the church Scout groups, security guards, whoever was interested.” The 80-member orchestra rehearses in Diangienda’s home, and there is also a 105-member choir. Josephine Mpongo, who plays cello in the orchestra, “quit her job as a nurse and started a business that gave her more time to refine her playing…. She had made sure that her [13-year-old] son … had strings for his violin.” The orchestra has traveled to the U.K. and the U.S.; there is a 2010 German documentary about the orchestra, Kinshasa Symphony; and musicians from the group have played at a TED conference. Says Diangienda, “Without money, without making any false promises to people, without people understanding exactly where they are going, for them to be patient enough to be here after all these years … it is a great success.”

Posted November 4, 2015