In Congo, musicians rely on the patronage of the wealthy

Congo's poor musicians employ "mabanga", the practice of name-dropping powerful people like politicians in their tracks.

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Congo’s poor musicians employ “mabanga”, the practice of name-dropping powerful people like politicians in their tracks.

For Mufula, these people are simply patrons of the arts. If a CD costs $10, the so-called patrons would offer anything from $100 to $1000 for it.

Mufula estimates that the album, music video and vigorous promotion on television and radio cost him more than $16,000. Once the costs are covered, the profits from both the mabanga cash and regular album sales are to be evenly split between Mufula and Kibombo.

Already, 13 people whose names were among those sung on the album bought it for $1000 each, says Kibombo. But it’s still a fraction of the number of people he name-dropped.

Some didn’t pay up but played his songs on radio and television, he says. A few were offended. Journalists from one radio station told him to remove their names from the album.

One of the people who paid $1000 for just one shout-out on the album called recently with a request: his wife was creating a foundation and he wanted her to be well known in Congo. Could Kibombo sing a song about her? He’d be willing to pay for the privilege, of course.

Depending on the request, whether it’s a birthday, funeral or celebration, Kibombo dusts off one of his old songs that were never recorded and layers it with mabanga for the occasion.

Even though national elections this year are far from certain, Kibombo says that so many requests are pouring in that he’s roped in other singers to cover political opponents.

“I’m going to sing for one and I’ll get another singer to sing for another,” he says.

Not everyone is convinced mabanga works as a campaign strategy for politicians.

“Even though musicians are helping them with their songs, they’ll never be elected. People don’t react when they hear it,” Alexandre Kahimbi, 32, a security guard, says about shout-outs.
Watch: Tresor and the camp musicians (25:00)

Reflection of poverty

Although Kahimbi is one of many Congolese who shrug off mabanga with a what-can-you-do-about-it attitude, others excoriate the practice.

“It’s a reflection of poverty,” says Ganza Buroko, the coordinator of Yole!Africa, a cultural centre where an estimated 17,000 youth participate. “The people named in the music are thieves.”

Buroko says that mabanga is pervasive in rumba and another type of music called ndombolo but not so much in hip-hop in Congo.

“There’s music where they shake their ass and there’s music to exercise their brain,” he says.

Hip-hop is viewed as the latter here.

Professa ZikfullKibombo is familiar with the criticism and wants to break away from mabanga. He says he’s in touch with producers in Canada and Europe – places where he wouldn’t have to sell shout-outs to get by. Even as he plans his future, he says he needs to work within the Congolese system to get there.

“Everyone needs to start somewhere.”

Sruthi Gottipati is a 2017 Africa Great Lakes Reporting Initiative fellow of the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Source: Al Jazeera News

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