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Justin Alvarez: The Day After

November 30, 2011

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How Congolese rapper Baloji reminds his native country that what’s most important in times of struggle is sticking together.

By **Justin Alvarez**

The-Day-After-575.jpgPhotograph via Flickr by UNICEF Sverige.

Yesterday, Congolese voters went to the polls amid violence and confusion as initial results showed a big victory for the opposition in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa.

The drama is set to continue as the country’s election commission, which is run by a friend of President Joseph Kabila, is threatening to disqualify tens of thousands of opposition votes in places where opposition supporters had attacked government agents.

Didn’t we already learn our lesson from Ivory Coast’s bloodshed last year? Apparently not, and there is still a week left until the supposed deadline of December 6th, when Kabila’s term officially ends.

While oppositon challengers are now calling for the election to be annulled due to systematic fraud, one facet stayed strong the past couple days—the Congolese’s dedication to voting. As John Stremlau, a leader of the Carter Center’s monitoring delegation, told The New York Times, it was “inspiring to see so many people lined up at the polls on Monday, many of them soaked by an equatorial thunder shower while waiting outside.”

Through the country’s much publicized struggles, most of its customs and cultures have retained much of their individuality. The country’s sui generis music, soukous, is exuberant but never shies away from its various influences, a melting pot of Cuban rumba and merengue. Musicians like Joseph “Grand Kallé” Kabasele, Papa Wemba, and Nicolas “Dr. Nico” Kassanda have set the tone for the current influx of young musicians, decked out in the la sape uniform of expensive designers’ clothes: Parisian suits with padded shoulders, silk handkerchiefs, and J.M. Wesson loafers.

Yesterday, as I read about the current situation in the DRC, I stumbled on a music video for Baloji’s “Indépendance Cha-Cha – Le Jour D’Apres.” Shot in the “Bon Marché” neighborhood in the heart of Kinshasa, the collision of Francophonic raps and the support of the late Wendo Kolosoy’s backing band is a spirited new take on the African independence anthem written originally by Grand Kallé and Dr. Nico in 1960.

About the song, the rapper and singer states, “The wide range of backgrounds, the various ethnic groups and traditions: this has and will never stand in the way of sharing a common set of ambitions.”

For someone born in the Congo but raised in Belgium, Baloji’s re-engagement with his African roots and a mother he hadn’t seen for decades has created a complex identity—and his music is all the more richer because of it. He sings and raps in French, but at times he’ll throw in a Swahili verse or two. The music is total African diaspora, but his rapping has a Euro twang.

Thanks to Glenna Gordon for the video.

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Justin Alvarez Large.jpg
Justin Alvarez is a Guernica Daily and new media editor at Guernica. Read more about him here.



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