Congo orchestra born on mean streets finds royal favor

Tue Jun 11, 2013 9:22am EDT
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By Jonny Hogg

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congo's sweltering riverside capital is more accustomed to the pulsating rhythms of some of Africa's most famous Soukous and Rumba musicians than the more genteel strains of Italian classical composer Guiseppe Verdi.

But a strange musical oddity - a symphony orchestra of self-taught musicians, some of whom had to make their own instruments - is becoming one of Congo's most well-known exports, even attracting royal patronage.

Formed almost 20 years ago by a handful of music enthusiasts, the Kimbanguiste Symphony Orchestra has grown steadily in numbers, proficiency and stature, culminating in a trip to Monaco earlier this year.

On Saturday, Princess Caroline of Monaco paid a return visit to watch a concert amidst the dilapidated sprawl of Kinshasa.

Armand Diangienda is the orchestra's founder, a man with no musical background who taught himself to play the cello and later to conduct.

"We always said we'd make it far but we didn't expect it to turn out like this," he says, with a broad smile.

The orchestra is named after Diangienda's grandfather Simon Kimbangu, a Congolese religious leader who stood up to Belgian colonists and established his own church.

It has brought together around 80 musicians and 100 singers from across Kinshasa, a crumbling metropolis of 10 million people where daily survival leaves little room for the luxuries of classical music.   Continued...