Trying to wipe off Wazungu legacy in the former Zaire in 1971, the country’s then President-for-life, the sinister Mobutu Sese Seko, introduced authenticity.
So...very cool, right?
Mobutu Kuku wa Zabanga’s cultural philosophy jumped out of the Greek vocabulary – authentikos, a principal thing. A genuine idea. Originality. In Latin it is authenticus, therefore, French (that the tyrant spoke) was authenticite, implemented via changing names of cities, places and people. Such deleting of Western tradition kicked off with Zaire (instead of Congo), and his own Joseph Desire name. Popular musicians Francois Makiadi and Pascal Rochereau were rebaptized Luambo Makiadi and Tabu Ley, respectively.
As history tells us, this “African cultural revolution” was on the surface, the real menace were the actual human killings. Congo is littered with stories of torture, brutality, and robbery – from how Joseph D. Mobutu assisted the CIA and Belgians assassinate prime minister-elect Patrice Lumumba and dissolving his remains in sulphuric acid (January 1961) to his blossoming into among the richest tycoons on Earth, worth $5 billion.
Lying and stealing are next-door neighbours, goes a Saudi Arabian proverb.
So we are left with the word authenticity, which Wikipedia tells us, vanished around 1990. By the time Mobutu died of prostate cancer complications in 1997, all we had – then and now – is a Congo in ruins, tears and disharmony.
One sad outcome are the Congolese refugees scattered across our green planet. East Africa provided sanctuary, and over the years has nourished (and been nourished) by Congolese musicians. In Tanzania we had Kikumbi Mwanza Mpango “King Kiki”, who is currently seriously ill
Ever gifted, King Kiki has contributed immensely to our music culture with Kamanyola Bila Jasho, Masantula and Kitambaa Cheupe beats and chants. “Dr” Remmy Ongala enriched us with the phrase “Bongo beats”, and helped spread Tanzania’s musical identity internationally. Ongala’s family and children continue the banner and as we speak. The Remmy Ongala Foundation (DKRO) led by his daughter, Aziza, is a fact.
Music kept the Congolese people going, and music is an authentic expression of any community.
There is a Zanzibar musician called Mukrim Hamdan Al Albry. His style of taarab is genuinely cooked without the superficiality and mediocrity found in some modern taarab releases. Just to check a few fans comments on Mukrim’s YouTube songs.
Some address him as ustaadh, which is professor or lecturer in Arabic (ustaadha for females), or ask, “Where is my Zanzibar?” meaning the singer reminds of the original Zanzibar, a traditional and classical Unguja. Actually the word “original” (some say origino) is the most noticeable and describes this eminent composer who also plays electric piano on stage.
Most of Al Abry’s lyrics are about love...in its simplified and profound content :
“Ni wewe, uwe wangu...” (It is you be mine)
“Kupendana wawili wawili” (Love is always about two persons)
“Mapenzi...kama huyajui uliza wenzio...”
If you do not know love, ask your friends...
No wonder social media circulated a video of two white ladies, one strumming a guitar and singing, her colleague on the violin. Singing in Swahili, and clearly engulfed in the song, the lovely tourists insist, “Anayependa kikweli, hachoki kuvimilia...”
One who loves for real, does not tire of patience. Their heavily accented Swahili is very clear, while the mood and tone tells you this is a genuine tribute to something original. When “other people” imitate, copy and pay homage to you, it is a reflection of your identity being stable. When you have a clear identity, your definition and respect is guaranteed.
And originality is not just in art and music but in traditions.
Customs and traditions go back to actual events. Among the Chaggas there is a custom of respecting property , wealth, family and hard work.
For example, a recent Azam broadcast highlighted how Chaggas from the Kibosho and Machame areas have made peace after a century-old rift. In 1898, Mangi Sina of Kibosho led a fight that saw 400 Machame males dead. These duels were about livestock and women, said the broadcast. Mangi Sina was fierce, strong and actually battled the German invaders too. But the rift created from 1898 was to be removed through the nationalist struggle process by Tanu and Mwalimu Nyerere’s efforts in the 1960s after Uhuru. Now it is established.
What we are trying to say here is in order for us to proceed as humans, as communities, as societies and nations, our genuine values and origins need to be clear.
We need to know who we are and where we come from. That way progress is easy and cultural health and pride a fact.