Sunday, October 2, 2011

Coming to terms with house music

After two months in the Congo, I am still struggling to think of interesting things to write about our life here. It's not that we are by any means unhappy or even bored. As I mentioned, our quality of life is quite high. We've got a great place to live, can afford to treat ourselves to some of the ridiculously expensive imported foods, spend many afternoons at the pool, and always have people to hang out with. This blog is supposed to about "African" things, right? And we're just not in a position to gain much in the way of a perspective on the state of the Congo as relative outsiders.

As I mentioned in a previous post, one interesting thing about living here is getting to see the intersection of Central and Southern African goods and culture. Though the Congo is geographically in central Africa, South Africa seems to be working towards co-opting into it's area of dominance (that already extends across Southern Africa). South African companies are worming their way in, and the DRC is part of SADC (the Southern African Development Community).

The more interesting thing to observe is the intersection of culture here. People say 'koko' before entering a room just like in South Africa. They also grab they air to motion someone to come towards them just like in Chad. Congolese music, in addition to being some of the most popular music around Africa, shows some of this intersection as well. I came to surprising revelation the other evening while listening to a Congolese band playing in a bar. Some of the beats reminded me of jiving to South African house music. I had always thought of house music as a European style embraced by South Africans, but I finally realized it was more than this - sure the electronic side of house music is European but the beats are African and that's what makes it so popular. I'm still not a fan of most house music, but at least I can justify enjoying the song 'Jezebel' so much.


  1. It should come as no surprise that the beats are African. Although house music is much more popular in Europe than in the U.S., its origins are squarely within the African American community in Chicago. It, along with a lot of other African American regional musical genres (hip-hop in NYC, Detroit Techno, Baltimore Club, etc.), sprang up at a time of great technological innovation with regard to samplers, drum machines, and synthesizers and at a time at which more traditional R&B may have seemed to have run its course. For their differences, the folkways behind them all are common and lead back to West Africa more than to anywhere else.

  2. Thanks for your view of Kinshasa and the school compound. I read your recent posts and was startled to realize the population is so large! 10M is more than I imagined! I enjoyed reading about your students in S. Africa (boys/girls/Oprah post) and look forward to your continued observations of this community. What did people think about the events in Libya today? Congratulations on completing your service in South Africa, and I hope you have many rewarding days in DRC!