The Rappers of Rutshuru

Making music in war-torn Eastern Congo

The town of Rutshuru in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been run back and forth over the last few weeks by opposing sides. Troops loyal to the central government in Kinshasa clash with a mutinous faction called M23. This faction split from the national army earlier this year under the command of General Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague for war crimes.

The DRC borders nine countries and is home to hundreds of thousands of displaced people. The Second Congo War, which began in 1998, involved eight countries, more than twenty armed groups, and left more than five million people dead. Though the war “officially” ended in 2003, fighting continues in the east between the army and a myriad of militia groups, causing continued civilian displacement.

In late 2009, photographer Agata Pietron traveled to Rutshuru from her native Poland to research a story on women’s issues. While exploring the town, Pietron was approached by some young men. Many of them were having a hard time. Some couldn’t afford the $50-70 per semester school fees and were being forced to drop out.

Others were graduating but had little hope of finding a job. Eimable, 20, told Pietron that he would eventually go to the forest and become a general in a militia. “Other countries will have no power to stop me. When I manage to seize territory, occupy villages, learn to kill, rape, burn houses and destroy everything others will start to respect me.” For the time being, he was studying pedagogy at the Institut Supérieur Pédagogique (ISP) in Rutshuru.

Rap music provided escape and inspiration. The young men listened to it on the local radio and when the Institute’s internet connection was working, they watched videos on YouTube of American and French rap groups. Many of the youth she met were in rap groups themselves. They had organized a concert with cash prizes for winners, around $100; a large sum in a country where the average monthly salary for a teacher is around $50. The two-day event took place at the Kaoze Community Center in the village of Rutshuru, Nord Kivu.

The shows, which took place during the day due to security concerns, were full of the euphoria of youth anywhere. Using pre-recorded tracks, they sang and danced until sunset, when the Community Center was cleared.

There are few places to record, and fees at the studios that do exist are too high for them to afford. The winning band, Dangerous, recorded its song, Pata Kitu (“Get Something,” in Swahili), in a studio in Goma.

These photos document Agata Pietron’s time spent with these young musicians. To see more, visit

Produced by Julian Rubinstein for

Agata Pietron

Agata Pietron is an independent photographer, journalist, cinematographer and graphic designer currently based in Warsaw, Poland. She received her Master's Degree from the Cultural Studies at University of Warsaw, and studied Photography in European Academy of Photography and Cinematography in Academy of Film and Television. She has worked on social projects in Eastern Europe, Latin America, USA and Central Africa (DRC, Rwanda).

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