Peace Everyday - an insight of AMANI Festival
by Eugenio Giorgianni | ph. Paloma Yanez Serraño
Goma - North Kivu ( Democratic Republic of Congo)
15th Feb 2015, Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, College Mwanga. In the complete darkness of the city at 8:00 pm, we finished editing the video clip TV5MONDE is going to broadcast in the evening news, with images of AMANI Festival closing day. Amani is the Kiswahili word for 'Peace'.
We phone Will’Stone, a local rapper who performed today in front of more than 10.000 people from Goma, his own city. When he is informed we have included in the clip a frame of his concert, he says “Formidable!”, excited about the idea of the world watching his life dream coming true. Then, after laughing ironically as usual, he adds, “It’s a pity I don’t have a TV, that would be very nice to watch”.
An hour later, while many Belgian organisers and volunteers of the Festival are going to celebrate the brilliant success of the event to the ‘Coco Jambo’, a very popular night club among NGOs managers and MONUSCO soldiers, we have a beer in a little bar with Mista Faba, another singer from Goma who has performed on stage a few hours ago. He’s on hype. “Supercool! - says - I don’t have nothing, nor even a tshukudu (a big wooden push-scooter used by street porters), but today millions of foreigners have watched my performance on TV, and now I’m here drinking beer with white people”. He laughs, as he will do the next morning, while telling us about his night trip to home. A police patrol stole his money and mobile phone, aiming at him with their shotguns and complaining that “a superstar had nothing more than eleven dollars on his pockets!”
An international music festival in one of the most deprived regions on earth. Local youths involved in the organisation say it was their idea to create a music festival in Goma but expatriates claim it comes from the genius of Eric de Lamotte, Belgian entrepreneur in love with the region. The first edition of this artistic celebration of the North Kivu reconciliation, scheduled for August 2013, was cancelled due to confrontations between FARDC and M23, forcing international organisers to leave Goma under the bombs. The Festival took finally place in February 2014, hailed by public, artists and media as one of the main cultural events of the country. One year later, on the occasion of the second edition, we went to Goma to realise a documentary film about the music scene in town. AMANI has been our gate to the place, showing us how music, as being a privileged way of expression for North Kivu people, could be the key to interpret the political situation down there.
Both Gomatraciens (people from Goma) and international observers agree that AMANI Festival is different from many others big events in town like Akon’s Peace One Day Concert, which captured the world’s attention in one peaceful episode happening in North Kivu, to then disappear the day after together with the billions spent. AMANI is not just conceived by foreigners ‘in the name of Goma’, it is made with Goma people. The element which makes the difference is ‘la maison des jeunes’, a cultural foyer in the city centre. The local activists who works in there are the first and the main promoters of the Festival. To advertise the event, they organise les caravanes: they get on a shabby pickup truck with all the musical instruments and drive the local artists, who will be performing for AMANI, all around town.
“Mesdames et Messieurs, je m’appelle Festival AMANI” keeps saying from the car roof Jack Senyora, radio DJ and musician, promoting in the city the three-days music event. Meanwhile, crowds of children run after the truck all through its journey, fighting each other to conquer the flyers with the photos of the Festival’s stars. The caravanes also pass by poor neighbourhoods like Katoi and Birere. “For many people here, the Festival is today. One dollar (AMANI’s price per day) is what they earn in the entire day so they could never afford to get in,” – Will’Stone tells us before the caravane stopped for a short performance at Birere marketplace – “Nonetheless, we stop here, to bring the joy of the party to poor people as well, and also because we know that many of them are so in love with music that they’ll get the ticket somehow. It doesn’t matter whether they are gonna eat or not in that day”.
The media campaign of the Festival always presents the key players of the project being “We, the youth of Kivu”. But the main part of the fundraising, planning and communication takes place outside Kivu where no local youth are involved. AMANI, as well as every stable cultural project in Goma, would be impossible without a notable western participation.
We notice a pyramidal structure of the Festival from the very first day we arrived in Goma, during an organisational meeting at the Foyer. At the head of the table we find Eric de Lamotte, moderator of the meeting. He is a sober, elegant middle-aged Belgian , former director of Goma’s branch of the Banque Belgolaise. Eric de Lamotte is currently involved in local microfinance projects, tourism enterprises and in the promotion of ‘development activities’ like AMANI, the maison des jeunes, and RINHA Crew – a breakdance group working in support of street children – among others. He is the boss, the man who makes it possible. The bishop seats at Eric's left. The College Mwanga – the construction that hosts the Festival –, as well as the maison, are property of the diocese of Goma. The bishop warns everyone: if any NGO distributes condoms during the Festival, as in the previous edition, he will get mad and chase everyone out of the Church’s house. “No condoms, no tobacco, no alcoholic drinks at the Festival!” is his motto. One of the guys from the Foyer points out that among the main sponsors of the Festival there are a beer label and a tobacco company, and surely they will require to advertise their products at the Festival. The bishop concedes, “Well, if it is strictly necessary…”.
International and Congolese press have reported AMANI as a miracle: a well organised music event with brilliant artistic direction, very good sound-system and no security problems in a city with a few hours of electricity per day, which has been theatre of the most bloodthirsty conflict on Earth after WW2. Goma people are in love with it. The last day of the Festival reached the sold-out three hours before the end, and the boy-scouts at the doors had a hard time to keep out the hundreds of Gomatraciens fluttering five-dollar and ten-dollar bills to convince the security to let them in.
The only criticisms we heard came from street people, like a woman from a stall in the Virunga market, or a moto-taxi driver addressing the artists we were hanging out with, saying “AMANI! A festival called “peace”! How can you celebrate peace, and dance, while only some kilometre away from here, in Beni-Butembo people are dying every day in front of the MONUSCO troops, and we are here living so badly while our politicians steal the richness of our country? How can you accept that?”
“We don’t give a shit,” Will’Stone and Mista Faba comment about this attitude, “Here people suffer too much, they are fed up, stressed, frustrated, that’s why they complain about the Festival: they complain about everything! But we have our message to carry on, and it’s a positive message, so we’ll keep on singing for change and dancing for peace.”
During the Festival there were many occasions to commemorate and debate about the atrocities of war in the area and several groups of activists were demonstrating against the conflicts still going on in part of North Kivu. But the criticism of street people goes beyond that. In RD Congo, especially in eastern regions and in Goma above all, the rhetoric of war and peace is ever-present in social life, and all public events, particularly the ones sponsored by western NGOs, must show some peace-related content. AMANI takes good care of the dance and the entertainment, but as the name itself suggests, the main goal is to talk about peace.
Playing for change, singing for amani
In addition to well-known international and regional artists, the organiser of the Festival decided to take on board three local talents, selected by the public and on line. Voldie Mapenzi, previously elected Vodacom Superstar (Vodacom is one of the strongest sponsors of the Festival) has been added as the fourth local singer. These four artists – all under 25yo – live in humble conditions, being forced to do other jobs to make a living, or struggling to create and promote their music without any money, in a scenario where there is no musical market, no CD selling, no copyright, no live concerts apart from rare exceptions, and music productions are mainly crafted in tiny studios with old computers and noisy power units. The Festival has been their main ambition for months. Will’Stone contracted malaria some days before the selections for the festival, and the day of the competition he told the nurses before his medications, “I’ll go out and have a smoke”. Some minutes after, he jumped on stage with the catheter still in his arm. “We will build this country nicer than before/ in peace” he raps a line of the Debout Congolais in the tune he wrote for the competition, referring to the next political elections in 2016, expected by many Congolese people as the possible end of Joseph Kabila’s regime. Voldie has composed as well a remake of the Congolese national anthem for the Festival, turning it into a dance tune: La Danse de l’Indépendance. The public exults ecstatic while Voldie is performing, smiling at them and sensually shaking her hips. The same people proudly rise their fists when Black Man Bausi, another selected artist, step up inciting his nation: “Put your hands up Congo!” For him, AMANI, as every other concert or media space, is just a channel to spread his message: la musique de la révolution, nothing else matters. His birth itself was marked by the violence and the atrocities of tribal war. Conscious rap is his way to find his own identity and to turn his anger and pain into a creative power. “God wanted me to be a black man and to live in Congo during these hard times for a reason. I am the voice of the voiceless, I’ll do with my music what General Mamadou did, doesn’t matter if I have to die for that”. He refers to Mamadou Ndala, colonel of the FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo), who died under mysterious circumstances and became a popular hero in North Kivu. Mista Faba, also selected, takes his country’s problems, and those of his life, lightly. Music is his life. He prefers to sing about love. He calls for peace not depending on a political agenda, but claims the human right to live and enjoy life. He has travelled all the Great Lakes region for years and arrived for the Festival in Goma squeezed on the rear of a big truck, with his guitar on his shoulder.
Will’Stone, Voldie, Black Man and Faba composed together a tune for AMANI called Amani Kila Siku (‘Peace Everyday’). "We don't need just one day of peace: what about tomorrow? Bombs and rapes again? We want peace everyday, that's what we sing: Amani Kila Siku" they say, being ironic about the Peace One Day Concert and every other empty peacemaking propaganda in Kivu.
The Festival has been amazing. Many artists arrived from other parts of the region, bringing performances of traditional groups, percussionists, theatre plays and urban dancers. Others went to set up their stands on the Village Humanitaire connected to the Festival to draw attention to the massacres in Beni and to grow awareness about violence on women and children, or about the discrimination experienced by Mbuti people of the Ituri Forest.
The music line-up was varied, for all tastes. The peak of the Festival were three superstars, one per day. The opening star was Bill Clinton and his Samouraïs. The performer from Kinshasa, better known in Congo than his American namesake, arrived on stage with a Star Wars soldier mask and the fury started: two hours of frenetic Rumba Congolaise without a stop. The great success of the first night earned Bill Clinton a cameo on stage also the day after, during the performance of Habib Koité, a Malian songwriter very popular in all the francophone African countries. The conclusion of the last day was left to Tiken Jah Fakoli, one of the most popular African musicians. “When Africa is gonna wake up/ it will hurt. Sing with me, Goma!” and the crowd joined Tiken Jah for the refrain of a hit from his last album. Everyone was dancing: journalists behind the stage, soldiers, security staff, organisers and camera crews, while hundreds of people got on the roofs of the buildings close to the Festival field to enjoy the music. The night fell, and Reggae music was still playing. All the artists of the Festival joined Tiken on stage for the last track, while the band was repeating over and over the same line: “Africa, Africa/ Africa wants to be free”.
“It has been something great! Everyone forgot his troubles and all the stress of living here, and once they'll be home this positive feeling will be passed on to the families and friends. That really means to bring the peace to Goma!” Will’Stone watched the concert of Tiken, his idol, with the same passion of the public, although he hit the same stage just a couple of hours before. Then, he walked back home, in his hovel in Kasika, while Tiken’s band was going to have a drink in a night club close to their luxury hotel on the edge of Lake Kivu.
All the newspapers and blogs in Congo have published reviews of AMANI with excellent feedback, and the echo of the success reached also European media. After the celebration, all Belgian people involved in the festival left Goma in the next couple of days. One week later, everything was back to normality at the maison des jeunes, and the four local singers, after having been stars for three days, were dealing with their everyday problems again, with the difference that all the people around were treating them as rich and famous personalities, asking constantly for money and favours. Even their families and closest friends could not believe that after having their faces printed on street posters and having performed in front of thousands of people, they did not earn any money out of it. So they were constantly accused of being cheapskates and liars. Will’Stone and Faba faced this absurd contradiction with their usual irony: “You see? It’s good to be humanitarian, as we are, but this is way too much humanitarianism!”
Probably, the point is not about the money. A couple of days after AMANI, a professional musician, close friend of the artistes festivaliers, invited us for a beer, and gave us a lucid analysis of the situation: “Big up to AMANI: they are doing a great job for Goma. But as a musician from here, I don’t wanna play for them. Why should I? It’s good for younger artists who need local visibility. That’s all the Festival can give at a local level, nothing else. If the young artists who played in the Festival are going to write on their CV that they shared the stage with Tiken Jah, and a producer asks Tiken about them, he’ll answer: who the hell are those guys? The Festival didn’t even give to local artists the chance to networking with the international stars”. We hope they will have this chance, next time.
After all, the artists did not openly complain to the organisers, neither the local members of the staff expressed their feeling of misrecognition to their Belgian fellows. In our opinion, Congolese society does not support a democratic approach to citizenship, and AMANI Festival is not yet able to challenge that aspect. As an element of the environment, the Festival expresses the violent contradictions and the striking imbalances of Goma and of all North Kivu area. On the other hand, What AMANI people are doing – all of them, from the two hundreds volunteers to the artists and the European managers –, is to open up the horizons of Goma, miles beyond war, misery, and political oppression. For the rest, maybe it is just a matter of singing a bit more for change, and dancing harder for peace.