The Democratic Republic of Congo, often shortened to DRC, is the second largest country on the continent of Africa. Kinshasa, located on the Congo River, is the capital city of the DRC and the largest city in Central Africa. Another “nickname” for the country is Congo (Kinshasa), where the capital city is added to distinguish it from the Republic of Congo. From 1971 to 1997, DRC was actually referred to as the Republic of Zaire. General Mobutu Sese Soko, the ruler of the Republic of Zaire, wanted to use a more traditionally African name for the nation; “Zaire” means “great river” in local African languages. The name “Congo” came from European colonization, where the area was named after the Kongo tribe, who lived near the mouth of the Congo River. In 1997, Motubu was overthrown, and the new government reinstated the name DRC. Now, the DRC is the fourth most populous African country and the most populous francophone (French-speaking) nation in the world with a population of 105 million.
French is the official language of the DRC and is widely used in education, business, government affairs, and international communication. There are also four national languages (Swahili, Tshiluba, Lingala, and Kongo) that are used for a variety of regional commerce and cultural purposes (such as radio). Lingala is the most rapidly growing language and was used as the official language of the military during the rule of General Motubu. Now, it is often used in popular music and widely spoken in the capital city.
Unlike other francophone nations in Africa, the DRC was actually colonized by Belgium during the Scramble for Africa. Under the leadership of King Leopold, the area now known as the DRC was colonized via a series of treaties made with local tribes to sign land over to his control; many of these treaties were based in trickery and violence. Another interesting factor in the colonization of the DCR is that the land was owned by Leopold himself, not the Belgian government. Leopold claimed that his interests in Africa were a humanitarian effort, which convinced European leaders to support his efforts. In actuality, Leopold’s real focus was the vast quantities of ivory that existed in the region of Central Africa. Once the facade of Leopold’s benevolence wore thin, the negative attention became overwhelming, and he tried to grant the land to the Belgian government, which slightly improved the conditions of life. Albert I, a new Belgian king, slowly improved the lives of the Congo people. In 1960, the DRC finally achieved independence but was still considered a part of the Belgian economic sphere.
Art & Music
Across the entire continent of Africa, art is a critical cultural phenomenon, but this rings especially true in the DRC. Each region is known for its own unique style of art–be that painting, sculptures, or other mediums. The southwest region is well-known for the stone and nail-studded “nkisi” statues, which resemble Kongo people. This region also produces masks and figurines of the Yaka people, another ethnic group in the DRC. Kuba, the south-central region, is famed for its “ndop,” statues that are created to resemble the king and serve a symbolic representation of his power in his absence. The Luba art style dominates the south-east region of the country and incorporates a female influence on society by depicting motherhood. Just north of Luba, the Lega region produces a variety of ivory crafts and traditional masks. Both the Zande and Mangbetu regions are located in the north and characterized by spears, bow shafts, anthropomorphic pottery, and statues with elongated heads.
Perhaps the most famous form of art to be produced in the DRC, however, is music. Kinshasa is known as one of the greatest hubs of music in the world, and the Congolese music produced there influences a vast array of cultures in sub-Saharan Africa. African Jazz was forged in 1950s DRC by artists such as Kabesele Tshamala and François Lwambo. This style of jazz had a strong influence on music in Europe and North America, as well. In the 1960s, rumba and soukous became popular styles of music; with them came new dance moves, as well, such as the cavacha and silauka. Papa Wendo was the most famous Congolese singer and musician and helped lay the foundations of the rumba style. Today, an indigenous blend of Cuban merengue, Congolese rumba, and West African highlife is the most popular genre of music, reflecting a meeting of cultures and ethnicities that occurs in the Congo.