In a country utterly destroyed by war and corruption, the mere existence of an orchestra seems unimaginable. But, founded in 1994, a handful of church musicians began practicing with a few violins, taught themselves how to play cello, added a church choir and gave their first concert ten months later.
Today, the “Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste” (OSK) consists of about 80 instrumentalists and a choir of about 60 members. None of them receive any money. Most have paid for their instruments (second hand from China) out of their own pockets, others rely on Albert Matubanza, one of the founding members, who is not only a gifted musician, but has also taught himself how to build string instruments using wood from the local market and cable wire to replace broken strings. Scores of Handel’s “Messiah”, Verdi’s “Nabucco” or Mozart’s “Requiem” are often copied by hand. The humming of generators (due to power outages) provides the background sound during rehearsals.
The Kimbanguist church is rooted in the teachings of Simon Kimbangu, a Baptist preacher, whose alleged miracle healings and visions of a black Messiah created enough fear among the Belgian colonialists to have him tortured and thrown in prison for life in 1921. His martyrdom created the mass movement the Belgians tried to prevent. It also created the third largest church in the Congo. Up to today, the Kimbanguists have been combining a sense of black power with the goal to command what most of their countrymen consider white culture - in this particular case: the music of dead white men. Armand Diangienda, the grandson of the prophet Simon Kimbangu, is the director and conductor of the OSK. This summer he and his musicians made a big step towards their goal: In June the OSK gave its first open-air concert in Kinshasa playing Orff’s “Carmina Burana”, parts of Händel’s “Messiah” and the fourth part of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. About 2000 people attended and, after the last note, gave a standing ovation.