By Craig Lapp
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Craig Lapp is a Montreal-based soundman who went to the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) four times over 2003-2003 to do a documentary on the U.N. peacekeeping mission in DR Congo for the National Film Board, when he took these pictures. They are accompanied by the music of Franco, le Grand Maitre, the founder of the OK Jazz band and the B.B. King of Afro-Cuban rumba guitar-picking, with its glissading silver runs high on the neck and its endless variations and syncopations of a couple of insistently repeated chords. In l981, when Kinshasa was one of the coolest, or hottest, towns on the planet for music and the Bohemian good life– I came very close to staying there– I jammed for an hour at some club in the cite with OK Jazz, adapting the Travis pick in a way that really rocked, before Franco finally appeared. In l987, when I was doing a piece for Vanity Fair on the source of the AIDS panedemic, which was presumably somewhere in Africa, I visited Franco in his home in the Mantonge quartier of Kinshasa. He was a huge dude, well over three hundred pounds, and he had just written a hit called “Attention Na Sida,” “Watch out for AIDS.” We sat on the patio on his roof, where there were four separate sets of livingroom furniture, a case of what I described in “African Madness” as “redundant multiplicity.” Three years later, when it looked as if Mobutu was going to go down (but he ended up lasting another six years), I returned to Kinshasa for Vanity Fair. Franco had died– of AIDS himself– the year before, and I looked up his lead and rhythm guitarists, who were out of work, having been displaced by the younger generation of hot guitarists, who took the rumba zairois to the next level of dazzling intricacy, soucousse. The leader guitarist begged me for some money and showed me a lightning-fast series of arpeggios from the sub-dominant to the dominant, which I am currently incorporating into my latest version of “One Morning Soon” (for two previous versions, see the “Music From Many Lands” Section).
Congo is going through some very rough times, as Craig’s pictures illustrate, but the Congolais have not lost their joie de vivre, and I hope they never will. The four hundred and some ethnic groups in the country have produced some of the world’s greatest music and wood sculpture, but many cultures and species are dying out in the ongoing civil war, which has claimed three million lives since l996. It is another great part of the world with a tragic history.”Kinshasa –These are all of kinshasa. It is very unusual to be able to take photos in the capital because people freak out. There are all kinds of things here: kids sleeping rough, training for boxing at dawn in the stadium where Ali fought Foreman, parliament, street vendors, graduating students, a leopard in the zoo, public transport, people living in car wrecks in a cemetery… The song is infidelite mado. Waterfront Kinshasa –These are all of the Kinshasa Waterfront from the water, riding on a UN pusher. There is a market on an island, only accesible by boat. Lots of wrecks to show the state of the economy, which mostly depends on shipping on the Congo River… This pusher had just come down from Kisangani, a three week trip. Its trip essentially marked the reopening of the river by the UN, although traffic is still rare. The captain (Ricardo Delsanta, from Uruguay) said, “you don’t know the country until you’ve been down the river”. The song is Ou est le Serieux, again…
Kisangani – These are all from Kisangani (formerly Stanleyville, home of Mistah Kurtz). The song is Chacun Pour Soi.
Bunia – These are photos of the UN in Bunia, capital of Ituri province, eastern Congo. The song is by Franco, called ‘Ou est le Serieux. (All songs are from the same album)
Black and White Images – The pictures are mostly from a town called Drodro, east of Bunia. There was a massacre here in march of 2003. About 400-500 people were killed, although the numbers are very vague. Original estimates were about 1000. This was part of the local ethnic conflict between Hema and Lendu. Drodro is a Hema town and was presumably attacked by lendu. This massacre was referred to recently in a Harper’s article. A couple of the first photos are in Bunia itself. What is happening in the other pictures is that a UN investigation team has arrived in Drodro to find out what happened. The song is Likambo Ya Ngana, by Franco, from the Rough Guide compilation.
Craig went on each of his visits to Bunia, where a mini-genocide between the Hema cattlekeepers and the Lendu farmers is going on. The situation has deteriorated seriously since my visit to Bunia in 2000, described in Dispatch #2. Craig is one of the few people I know who has been there, to some of the places I’ve been to, that not many people from our world get to, and he has a fabulous collection of Brazilian, African, and other world music that is ten years more recent than mine, plus is a lovely man, so he is valued friend. Craig did the soundtrack for his pictures. In a future Dispatch I will tell you about Benoit Quersin, the ethnomusicologist at the Musees Nationaux in Kinshasa and a jazz bass player who played on Chet Baker’s legendary l956 session in Amsterdam and with all the cats dans le temps (Google him and you’ll see what I mean). I met Benoit on my first trip to Zaire. He went with me to Madagascar and to the Amazon to research the historical basis of the Amazon Women myth. Both trips I wrote up for the New Yorker. They are in Past Dispatches. My book, “In Southern Light,” ends with a party at Benoit’s place on Mont Ngafula, overlooking Kinshasa. Benoit died of cirrhosis, malaria, and hepatitis– a triple whammy to his liver– in l990. He was only 66, and I was 23 years younger, but we were like von Humboldt and Bonpland, and his death was a terrible blow. I wish he was still here so I could jam with him, now that I can play halfway decently. He never even told me that he had played with everybody. I only found that out two years ago, when I was learning some of Chet’s tunes and John Rudel, a percussionist who lives up the street, happened to spot his name on three of the cuts. He had put that early European chapter of his life behind him, as many African expats do.
– Alex Shoumatoff