When there is a will there is little that is insurmountable. Members of the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste rise above their struggles of civil strife and lack of basic amenities to become a group everyone is singing about in the world over.
Screened as the film for the month on the last Saturday in September at the Goethe Institut/iREP Film- Club Screening event held at the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC), Lagos, the documentary, Kinshasa Symphony, comes across as loud as it is sharp.
Loud in the sense that the sound is so good the viewers, which include a smattering of Congolese living in Nigeria and the usual crowd of expatriates and lovers of film, can hear it echo in the hall. And the picture quality, so sharp that every scene makes a statement and the cameras miss nothing.
This is the story of an obscure group of amateur musicians (at least before the film catapults them to fame) located in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a place renowned for war and poverty as is evident in every slide.
It is the story of Armand Diangienda, who founded the orchestra in 1994 after losing his job as a pilot. He is the conductor of the group he named after his grandfather, Simon Kimbangu, who also founded a Christian sect. It is the compelling story of Nathalie Bahati, a flutist and over 200 other musicians as told by the directors Claus Wischmann and Martin Baer.
The characters in this film are unstoppable like Bahati, a single mother, who in the film struggles to find a $40 per month apartment to keep little more than a roof over the head of the young son who accompanies her everywhere, including to her rehearsals. But they tackle pieces like Beethove’s Ninth Symphony and Orff ’s Carmina Burana amid their everyday struggles that include bad roads, frequent power outages and insecurity. At the end of the working day, each one of them, most of them amateur musicians who have never sang or played instruments in their lives, are dead tired but the road must lead to the rehearsal
. Most of the instruments they use are copies of the original, which they construct right there in the city. This too is visible. Albert Nlandu Matubanza, the orchestra’s manager, is also in the business of making most of the orchestra’s instruments himself.
The film takes the viewer through the daily lives and struggles of these wannabe musicians, how they grapple with and master not just the lyrics but also the music of Beethoven, among pieces from other music greats. Many people will buckle under the weight of what most of them go through in Kinshasa. Agony best describes a day in the life of most of them but sheer joy is what they derive from their musicmaking.
This is perhaps why the orchestra has been making music every year in the nearly 25 years that Congo has been in turmoil. The documentary is the story of the orchestra’s most recent major performance and how it came into existence. It may be a film about music but it is also about the people at the centre of the music. It is about Kinshasa and it people. What moves them to look beyond their many troubles and join others like them to achieve such a marvellous feat? Anybody who sees this film that also stars Joseph Masunda Lutete and Albert Nlanzu Matubanza, will get this answers and many more