Papa Wemba speaks out

Most Congolese musicians have an ambivalent relationship with politicians. Many have to maintain good relations, as their funds rely to a certain extent on the largesse of politicians and businessmen (who often have links to political parties). On the other hand, they need to maintain street cred – a Congolese musicians’ ultimate test is how often he or she is played in the clubs and on the radios, and if he is seen as too close to one politician or the other, it could damage his relationship.

So most musicians make veiled criticisms in their songs of politics, and sing mabanga – shout-outs paid for by people – to anyone who will pay, from the opposition or the government. Many Congolese songs are so peppered by these shout outs that a good portion of the song is just people’s names.

A great list of some of the most popular mabanga from a few years back can be read in this fine article by Norbert Mbu. It shows the sad moral state the Congolese music scene has become. My favorite mabanga are:

  • Jaques Ilunga, a Kinshasa businessman, is called, étage ya suka, the highest story or penthouse, because nobody is above him.
  • Didier Kinuani, a diamond dealer, is l’infinitif, because he can’t be conjugated when it comes to money. He’s also, le sauveur de l’humanite. How understated.
  • Serge Kasanda, another businessman, is FMI, the International Monetary Fund.
  • Patrick Bologna, a Paris-based Congolese society man close to the president, is la couleur d’origine.

And so on.

So it was a bit of a surprise to me to see Papa Wemba, one of the best known Congolese musicians, come out and criticize Kabila’s government so strongly. Some of this interview is in Lingala, but basically he’s lambasting the government for its corruption. “People who have been in power for ten years and god knows how much money they have in their bank accounts. And they don’t care one bit about the population.”