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D.R. Congo: Kinshasa's “baroque” style

Du Cabiau à Kinshasa writes about Kinshasa's love of excess in a recent post titled “Kinshasa is baroque” [Fr].

« Le baroque est un style qui se caractérise par l’exagération du mouvement, la surcharge décorative, les effets dramatiques, l’exubérance et de la grandeur parfois pompeuse.»

Alors, Kinshasa est incontestablement baroque. La simplicité est rarement du goût des kinois. A la sobriété, ils préfèrent la surabondance. De l’architecture à la musique, de la danse à l’habillement. Ici, on force le trait. En particulier quand il s'agit de frimer, on aime l’excès.

“Baroque is a style characterized by exaggeration of movement, decorative excess, dramatic effects, exuberance and a grandeur that is at times pompous.”

So, Kinshasa is undeniably baroque.  Kinois [people of Kinshasa] rarely have a taste for simplicity.  They prefer overabundance to sobriety.  From architecture to music, from dance to dress.  Here, they go overboard.  In particular when it comes to showing off, they love excess.

Ndombolo is a prime example. “The music in Kinshasa today,”  Cabiau writes, Ndombolo was born in Kinshasa but “makes the girls move all the way to Dakar and Abidjan.  It is the pride of all Congolese.”

Généralement, les (très) longs morceaux de ndombolo commencent doucement pour évoluer vers le «sebene», la partie déjantée de la chanson, ces quelques minutes où la piste de danse entre en ébullition. Les riffs de guitares sont alors ininterrompus et le rythme ultracadencé. Là dessus se greffent les chanteurs et les ambianceurs qui donnent de la voix… en même temps! Pour le profane, cette partie est presque inaudible tant le style est chargé. C'est pourtant le coeur de l'ambiance kinoise.

Generally, the (very) long pieces of Ndombolo begin softly before evolving toward the “sebene,” the crazy part of the song, those few minutes where the dance track begins to simmer.  The guitar riffs are continuous and the rhthym ultra-(swinging).  The lead and backup singers graft their voices on top of this…all at the same time!  For the uninitiated, this part is so cluttered it is almost inaudible.  Yet it's the heart of Kinshasa's vibe.

A French aid worker in Congo, Cabiau admits that he has trouble telling Werrason apart from Wazekwa, but that he's “developed a taste for this joyous cacaphony.”:

Lorsque les décibels s'affolent, impossible de rester assis. Si l’on se donne la peine de s’aventurer sur la piste, au milieu des miroirs et des déhanchements endiablés, on ne peut que succomber. On est alors entraîné dans des chorégraphies délirantes que tout bon kinois connaît sur le bout des doigts. C’est le feu. De la folie furieuse. C’est Kinshasa.

When the decibels reach a panic, it's impossible to stay seated.  If make the effort to get out there on the dance floor, among the mirrors and the frenzy of swaying hips, you cannot help but give in.  You are led out into wild dance moves that every good kinois knows at the edge of his fingertips.  It's on fire.  It's madness.  It's Kinshasa.

Cabiau also writes about the phenomenon of “libanga.”  Libanga is to Congolese music what product placement is to American film and television.  For a few thousand dollars, “a company, a brand of beer, a politicians, or an officer in the army” can see his name placed in a song.  Several dozen such paid shoutouts might be in a single song.  “Curiously, that doesn't seem to bother many people,” Cabiau writes.

Comme la «sape» et bien d’autres phénomènes sociaux ou musicaux, le «libanga» est né à Kin pour se répandre par la suite à travers continent. Kinshasa, c’est l’Afrique de l’Afrique. C’en est à la fois le cœur et la caricature. Comme un aimant, le noyau attire à lui ce qui l’entoure. Les éléments convergent vers Kinshasa. Une fois au cœur du cyclone, ils se mélangent, se transforment, renaissent et rejaillissent. Même si la ville a perdu de sa superbe, c’est ici que surgissent nombre d’influences qui se propagent ensuite alentours. Kinshasa est un bouillon de cultures. C’est le cratère du volcan. Tout ici est exacerbé… baroque…

Like “sape” and other social and musical phenomena, “libanga” was born in Kinshasa before spreading all over the continent.  Kinshasa is the Africa of Africa.  It is both its heart and its caricature.  Like a magnet, it draws those around it.  All the elements converge in Kinshasa.  As soon as you are at the heart of the cyclone, they all mix, transform, are reborn, and flow back.  Even if the city has lots its splendor, it is here that a number of influences rise up and spread elsewhere.  Kinshasa is a stew of cultures.  It is the center of the volcano.  Everything here is larger than life…baroque…

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