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‘We’ve got the power!’ In DRC, rap moves to take on rumba

One of its most celebrated hits, “Independance Cha Cha”, which was written by singer Le Grande Kalle to celebrate the nation’s newly-acquired freedom, remains widely recognised as one of the best-known examples of Congolese rumba.

Widely respected for the genius of Grande Kalle and his L’African Jazz band and fellow founding fathers Tabu Ley Rochereau and TPOK Jazz as well as extraordinary vocals of the late Papa Wemba, rumba underwent something of a revival after the millennium.

During that decade, several beer companies sponsored stars like Werrason and JB MPiana, and the genre continued its commercial trend with “libanga” — in which the artist drops the name of an influential sponsor into a song in the hope of earning a fistful of dollars.

“I am a dissonant note in the country of rumba. Ok, rumba is fine but in the end, it’s too much: I love you, I love you, I love you…” says rapper Lexxus Legal.

An emblematic figure within Congolese hip-hop, he has made a name for himself with music that “makes your brain dance.”

– ‘We have the power’ –

Like Smockey, a hip-hop artist and political activist in Burkina Faso or Uganda’s singer-turned-politician Bobbi Wine, Lexxus Legal has long been engaged in political activism, and is running as an independent candidate in December’s legislative elections.

“When President Kabila addresses the nation, the word ‘culture’ has never passed his lips, not even once,” he rails.

“We no longer have the right to switch off. The words should be about us, we’ve got the power!”

But in the world of music, like in politics, the boundaries are sometimes blurred.

These days, rap’s “rebels” are more likely to come from the nicer neighbourhoods of Kinshasa like Gombe or MaCampagne than from the slums of Masina or Selembao. And some of them even have a job.

On the other hand, the country’s most established rumba artist, Koffi Olomide, 63, recently took everyone by surprise by getting political. He lashed out at the voting machines which have sparked widespread controversy in the run-up to the election.

Lauded by the government, the machines have been rejected by the opposition as open to abuse and fraud.

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