Through our work here at Peace Direct we’re exposed to some truly harrowing stories and images from the countries we work in. Yetwe are constantlyastounded by the creativity of the people we’re helpingin conflict affected countries. One outstanding example comes from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the third largest city in Africa. Its population is close to ten million, of which a significant number are among the world’s poorest inhabitants. However, it also happens to be the home of central Africa’s only symphony orchestra.
Now in its 15th year, the orchestra has persevered through civil war and numerous power cuts in one of the world’s most fragile states. It’s a testament to the power that music has to unite people, particularly in such a sophisticated endeavour. It was founded by orchestra conductor Armand Diangienda,after he was set the task by his grandfather.It began with just a few dozen enthusiasts who shared the few instruments they had between them; today there are over 200 people on stage at any one time, most of whom are self-taught amateurs.
For these music-lovers, every day in Kinshasa is a battle for survival. For those lucky enough to have regular employment, the working day starts at 6 am- or earlier if they have no access to public transport and have to walk miles to get to work. Despite this, they rehearse into the night almost every day and channel all their efforts into making the orchestra a success. The musicians make all their own suits and dresses for the performances, as well as procuring the music and repairing the instruments.
Clearly even in the most difficult circumstances, communities can find a way to express themselves and bring joy to those around them. It’s organic, community led projects that contribute to rebuilding war-torn societies – and by their nature are often more sustainable. Thismirrors our own approach to conflict resolution and peacebuilding, defined by locally-led, grassroots activism from those at the heart of the community. In celebration of their efforts, a fantastic documentary has been produced and information about the orchestra can be found here. We wish them well.