Ô, Kisasa makambo ! Transformations and urban representations of Kinshasa in Congolese popular music of the 1950s and 1960s.
The impetus that steered research for and writing of this paper came from a lifelong passion for Congolese popular music. Long hours of listening to Congolese rumba, as this genre came to be known in Kinshasa in the late 1950s, opened up new historical horizons and broadened my understanding of Kinshasa’s protean identity. Indeed, Kinshasa’s musical discourse of the 1950s and 1960s provides researchers with a wealth of voices that shed light on the urban representations and the invention of modernity at an important juncture, between the urban growth of the postwar years and the sprawling drive in the aftermath of independence. During that period, Congolese musicians used popular music to comment on Kinshasa’s metamorphosis from a modest colonial outpost to a sprawling megalopolis and reflect upon her position as the fabric and locus of colonial and postcolonial modernity. This music fulfilled a variety of functions, as a vibrant entertainment outlet, social commentary, a vade mecum that eased the urban experience of so many young migrants, and above all a barometer that registered the changing moods of a fascinating urban scene. This paper looks at these functions and analyzes the themes that this music produced, from the invention of modernity and a new urban ethos to death, love, and the urban jungle.