Mobutu’s Ghost: Musical Patronage and Policy in Congo’s Economies of War and Peace — Chérie Rivers Ndaliko

Chérie Rivers Ndaliko profiles the fraught politics of distribution with a historical tour of the landscape of postcolonial music production in DR Congo. Two recent music videos compete for the attention of Congolese and international audiences: one a cover of an international hip-hop hit that aims to humanize an African city and the other a call-to-arms for youths to protest corruption. Yet Ndaliko argues that even songs as widely divergent as these share a history that has positioned power at the heart of Congolese music. Looking back at the arts mobilizations during former dictator Mobutu’s program of authenticité reveals that songs have long served simultaneously as propaganda for public projects and promotion for political patrons. Such dynamics continue under economies driven by international NGOs, whose ignorance of important national history undermines the potential potency of music as a means of sociopolitical action, instead forcing compromises and prompting rebellions from local artists and listeners. Congolese audiences possess an intimate understanding of how the distribution of media is directly tied to the distribution of political power and material wealth. Works that address the charged history of patronage offer a parallel strain of musical dissent that might serve to disrupt cycles of political and structural violence. The specific history of music’s mobilization in DR Congo serves as a warning that engaging with local arts industries requires reckoning with the particular politics of their pasts.

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