Congolese Rumba Wins UNESCO Protected Status

Putumayo cover of African Rumba disc (Source: Putumayo)

Two months ago, the 2 Congos, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), filed jointly for the Congolese Rumba to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage (The 2 Congos Seek to have the Rumba Recognized as a World Treasure). I hope that this is a start for both Congos to transcend their differences to rise together more often, and join efforts. Isn’t it Unity nice? Enjoy this article from the BBC.


One of the most influential genres of African music and dance, Congolese rumba, now has Unesco-protected status.

Flag of the Republic of Congo

It is the culmination of campaigning by two countries – the Democratic Republic of the Congo and neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville.

They both occupy what was once the ancient kingdom of Kongo – where the sinuous dance originated according to the two nations’ joint application.

The word “rumba” itself comes from the Kikongo word for navel, “nkumba“.

Flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo

Congolese rumba joins other living traditions such as Jamaican reggae music and Singaporean hawker food on Unesco’s “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” list. The UN’s cultural body says bestowing this status helps to “maintain cultural diversity in the face of growing globalisation”.

… Rumba “has been part of our identity, descendants of Africa and all of us, throughout the ages,” said DR Congo’s Culture minister Catherine Kathungu Furaha earlier this year. “We want rumba to be recognised as ours. It is our identity.

When our ancestors who were taken abroad wanted to remember their history, their origin, their memory, they danced the navel dance.”

Papa Wemba1
Papa Wemba

Among the earliest heroes of Congolese rumba were Wendo Kolosoy, Paul Nkamba, Franco and TPOK Jazz, Tabu Ley Rochereau and Dr Nico. As African nations fought for independence from their colonial rulers, The Independence Cha Cha by Le Grand Kallé galvanised many and is seen as the first truly pan-African hit song. … Later that decade saw the arrival of Zaïko Langa Langa and its breakout star Papa Wemba. Among his many protégés was Koffi Olomidé, who remains popular today along with younger stars such as Fally Ipupa.

… There is no doubt that rumba’s influence is felt across the world, and its champions say it is only right that this be recognised by Unesco and benefit the next generation of musicians.


Tabu Ley Rochereau, a Baobab of African Music

Tabu Ley Rochereau
Tabu Ley Rochereau

Is it possible to talk about Congolese music without mentioning ‘Le Seigneur’ Rochereau (Lord Rochereau)? Is it possible to talk about Africans performing at the great Olympia hall in Paris, without mentioning the first African ever to have performed there? Is it possible to talk about Rumba, without talking about the impact Tabu Ley Rochereau had on Congolese, and therefore African music?

Tabu Ley Rochereau & M'bilia Bel in 'Loyenghe'
Tabu Ley Rochereau & M’bilia Bel in ‘Loyenghe’

I remember listening to his love ballads ‘Pitié’ on the radio, while growing up. I remember watching the gorgeous M’bilia Bel singing with Tabu Ley Rochereau.  Well, Tabu Ley Rochereau was one of those rare artists who have written/composed/performed/produced over 3,000 songs, and have more than 250 albums in his repertoire.  He is one of the few who could claim to have influenced entire generations both in music and in politics as he later became vice-governor of Kinshasa. Just listening to the interviews of the likes of Koffi Olomide, Lokua Kanza, M’Bilia Bel, Papa Wemba, tells us a lot about him.  When asked about the impact of Tabu Ley Rochereau on Couleurs Tropicales, Lokua Kanza (one of my favorites) replied: “Just like an American child can say that Nat King Cole rocked his childhood, Tabu Ley Rochereau rocked mine (Lokua’s),” and that of most Congolese children.  That was the impact of ‘Le Seigneur Rochereau’.

Tabu Ley Rochereau & The African Fiesta National
Tabu Ley Rochereau & The African Fiesta National

As Kinshasa, Congo, and Africa mourns Tabu Ley Rochereau, we will remember ‘Le Seigneur Rochereau’ by dancing and singing to his great tunes.  We will celebrate his life (Rochereau even wrote the song ‘Mokolo Nakokufa’ (the day of my death) a bit like Mozart composed Requiem) and influence on all of our lives (even when he stood against Mobutu with the title ‘Trop c’est Trop’).  Tabu Ley was a uniter (when Kenya banned Congolese music, he sang ‘Twende Nairobi’ with M’Bilia Bel), a decider, a crooner, a lover, an activist, a melodist, but above all, Tabu Ley Rochereau was a baobab!  Listen to ‘Pitié’ below, and do not forget to read these really good articles on his life on, AFP, RFI Musique, and the best on Radio Okapi.