One phenomenon that perfectly acts as a mirror to the musical reality that took shape during the period here under investigation and that still perdures unscathed up to this date is, as the title of this paragraph suggests, the widespread usage of Libanga. Strictly linked with what has been debated in the previous pages, the practice of Kabwaka Libanga (that, as Bob White suggests us, means ‘to throw a stone’) consists in singing the praise, but most importantly the name of a given person, in exchange of a variable amount of money, on the stage during the musical performance of a band. Usually those sponsorsare identifiable as very “[…] wealthy patrons and public figures [offering] money in exchange for being cited or sung by name […]’’ looking for even more visibility and, as we have debated above, more legitimacy.However, the research on the field made by Bob White unravelled us how this practice has become of common use even among those people that certainly can be hardly be identified as wealthy nor powerful. Thus, re-enacting in the microcosm of small musical events and concerts, similar -where not even the same- unbalanced relations of power existing between the popular musician and the political leader that cleverly exploit musical related events for the sake of its own legitimacy and creation of consensus, in the macrocosm of Mobutu’s Zaire.
Even if Bob White has clarified that in reality the practice of libangais more like name dropping than praise singing’’, with some extreme examples where a single song ended up singing the name of 110 different sponsors, it is hard for us to not recognise how the reason behind such a practice, that can move even ordinary people into spending the little money they have in order to have their name be uttered by a known musician, is in perfect harmony with the reality of the country itself.The impact may indeed differ when the patron is Mobutu, but the gears that allow this system to perdure are just the same. It does not come as a surprise then how in fact, trough Libanga,[…] musicians are actually citing genres of speech that first became common through the mass-mediated idiom of animation politique et culturelle,in which traditional forms of praise became fused with the imperative of naming politicians, especially Mobutu.
The last aspect of Libanga that contributes to make this practice so interesting and relevant for the narrative here proposed, is its ambivalent peculiarity -which mirrors the ambivalence of music we referred to in the early pages- that allows musicians that recur to it to sing their support toward those in charge and, at same time, provoking those same people
in position of power, to seek assistance, to encourage acts of generosity, or simply to demand acknowledgement: [because] names stand for debts to be incurred, responsibilities to be met, favours to be granted […].
Indeed, as B.W. White himself has put it, in this particular context “ […] musicians are not known for speaking truth to power’’ and instead, in coherence with the common custom that lays behind the practice of Libanga, to catch a glimpse of resistance and criticism toward the system and those unbalanced relations of power, one should focus on ‘’[…] songs of satire and suffering [which] enable musicians to show sympathy for the situation of the average [Congolese] without putting themselves at political risk[…]’’.
Nevertheless, if we move away from the anthropological approach of Bob White, toward a more historiographical framework, those hints of resistance concealed in lyrics of satire, suffering, isolation or abandonment, are not enough to deny the fact that with full force, Mobutu did rely on those complicit popular musicians ‘’to serve the revolution’’.
White, Rumba Rules, 10.
White, Rumba Rules, 173.
White, Rumba Rules, 177.
White, Rumba Rules, 177.
White, Rumba Rules, 179.
Mukuna, “A brief history of popular music in DRC”.