With that small but omnipresent sense of irony that can indeed characterise history and all its intricacies and political plots, the most internationally well-known musical event of Zaire is the musical festival Zaire ’74, the best example of how to exploit a musical event for Mobutu’s own propaganda, and also the one show of animation politique et culturellefor which Mobutu not only did not paid for, but actually refused to do so when asked for by its promoters. As Ron Levi explained in his paper,
Mobutu’s success in preserving the alleged strength of Zaire during the early 1970s has been attributed to his ability to invest public spectacles of power with symbolic attributes which came to permeate the social imaginary. The events that occurred in Kinshasa on the verge of the dry season of 1974 represent the zenith of these processes.(Levi R.,2017, pp185)
Indeed, Mobutu did not fund the musical festival that initially was intended to be a prelude for the boxing match of the century known as ‘the rumble in the jungle’, for which instead he offered millions of dollars to obtain that the match would have been played in Zaire, nevertheless[…] the Zairean leader cannily used it to position Zaire in the international arena [Mobutu’s] image dominated the stadium through its projection on a giant screen. […] Mobutu’s regard for the rituals of Zairean nationalism come to the fore during the collective singing of Zaire’s new national anthem which inaugurated the festival […]
Almost as a clear-cut confirmation of what we have been debating so far, Ron Levi goes on explaining how[…] the collective singing of the new national anthem alongside the crucial accompaniment of Mobutu’s image projected on a large screen, maximises the symbolic potential of the sound event for Zaire and for its ruler in the international arena, even if this process occurs outside of formal diplomatic settings.
It is even more evident that Mobutu had deeply understood the importance and political potential of such manifestations that even if he did not paid for Zaire ’74, to ensure its success when the boxing match it was intended to open to had been postponed, Mobutu’s relied on its own military -using helicopters to gather the maximum amount of people possible in the surrounding villages- to fill the stadium that otherwise risked to be worldwide shown as half empty in consequence of the boxing match having being postponed. Mobutu’s influence over the management of the festival went as far as him dictating and obtaining that musicians close to the regime would have been given precedence over other international participants.
Studying and researching history, when you hear about a dictator using its military to move people into a stadium, this is not the outcome one would usually expect. This is likely what Ron Levi meant when he titled his paper ‘Zaire ’74: politicising the sound event’.
Ron Levi, “Zaire ’74: Politicising the Sound Event.” Social Dynamics 43.2 (2017), 184-198, 185.
Levi, “Zaire ‘74”, 191.
Levi, “Zaire ‘74”, 192.
Levi, Ron, “The Musical Diplomacy of a Landless Ambassador: Hugh Masekela between Monterey ’67 and Zaire ’74.” Interventions20.7 (2018), 987-1002, 997.