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.


Who/ What did we say goodbye to in Africa in 2013?

'Things Fall Apart' by Chinua Achebe
‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe

In the year 2013, we said goodbye to some people, some events, and some things.  Here are 10 of those:

– Well, in January, we said goodbye to rebels in Mali thanks to the French intervention with the Operation Serval (the Françafrique is back, and very well).

– The South African athlete, Oscar Pistorius made us almost regret ever celebrating Valentine’s Day with his arrest for the murder (or not?) of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on 14 February.

– On 5 March, El Commandante, Hugo Chavez left us.  Lots of tears cannot express how we all felt, and how many Africans felt about his passing.

Kofi Awoonor
Kofi Awoonor

Chinua Achebe made our world fall apart when he left us on 22 March.  We did cry, but above all we reconnected with his great work so that ‘Things [would not] fall apart.”

– On 3 July, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was ousted by the army which was supported by millions of people.

– There were another rebels in Central African Republic (CAR) with the ousting of president François Bozizé.

– We said goodbye to yet another writer, this time Ghanaian writer/diplomat Kofi Awoonor who was killed during the scandalous Westgate shopping mall shootings in Nairobi on 21 September.

Tabu Ley Rochereau
Tabu Ley Rochereau

– In 3 October, a boat carrying 500 illegal immigrants toppled in the Mediterranean sea near Lampedusa killing 366 people.  Italy declared a national day of mourning.

– The M23 rebels in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were defeated by the Kabila government with help from the UN troops (remember the UN used to be in the region, and never did anything – I wonder what changed this time) at the end of October and beginning of November.

Nelson Rohlilahla Mandela
Nelson Rohlilahla Mandela

– Le ‘Seigneur’ Tabu Ley Rochereau left us on 30 November 2013.  We are still celebrating the maestro’s work and his influence on generations of Congolese and African artists.

– We said goodbye to Nelson Mandela on 5 Dec. 2013Madiba left us, and we all cried for this great symbol of strength, forgiveness, and greatness in Africa.


Tribute to Nelson Mandela by Tabu Ley Rochereau & M’bilia Bel

Nelson Mandela raising the freedom fist
Nelson Mandela raising the freedom fist

Tabu Ley Rochereau and M'bilia Bel
Tabu Ley Rochereau and M’bilia Bel

M’bilia Bel and Tabu Ley Rochereau once sung for the liberation of Nelson Mandela.  As we are celebrating both the king of Rumba, Tabu Ley Rochereau, and one of the greatest freedom fighters of our time, Nelson Mandela, I only saw fit to share with you Sisi Mandela sung by the greats to celebrate another Great!

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.

Why the name: Nairobi?

Nairobi in 2010
Nairobi in 2010

Have you ever fallen in love with a name? with a place? well… that is the feeling… when you hear the name Nairobi (the capital of Kenya) for the first time, it is like some beautiful girl you were always attracted to but could never get.  Well, the name Nairobi is quite far from that: it comes from the Maasai Enkare Nyrobi which means the place of cool waters, which is also the name for the Nairobi River which lent its name to the city.  Today, it is popularly known as the Green city in the sun… probably because of its lush-ness.

Flag of Kenya
Flag of Kenya

Nairobi hosts a natural reserve protected, the Nairobi National Park, within its borders.  It is also the capital hosting the most species of birds in the world.  Nairobi was originally built at the beginning of the 1900s as a railway link between Mombasa (on the coast of Kenya) and Kampala (Uganda) by the rail company Kenya Uganda Railway.  It was completely rebuilt in the early 1900s after an outbreak of plague and the burning of the original town.  Its location was chosen because of its central position between Mombasa and Kampala; it was also chosen because its network of rivers which could supply the British camp with water and its elevation which would make it cool for the British residential purposes.

Map of Nairobi
Map of Nairobi

Nairobi from Nairobi National Park
A girafe looking onto Nairobi, from Nairobi National Park

In 1905, Nairobi replaced Mombasa as capital of the British protectorate, and from then on grew tremendously around tourism, administration, and big game hunting.  Britons came to live in Nairobi for for game hunting.  In those times, the city quickly became the commercial centre for the colony’s coffee, tea, and sisal industry. Today, Nairobi is one of the most populous cities in Africa known for its beauty, for its versatility, and also for its slum Kibera.  The city of Nairobi is located on the eastern edge of the Rift valley, with the Ngong Hills located to the west of the city, and Africa’s two tallest mountains, Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro are located to the north and towards the southeast, respectively.  It was also the birthplace of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta.

Enjoy the great Congolese singer M’Bilia Bel (she is also a beauty) singing about the beautiful Nairobi, Nakei Nairobi, a song written and composed by Tabu Ley Rochereau.

Have you ever been to Nairobi? What were your impressions?