The prince of peace

2011-01-22 13:34

I came to South Africa from ­Kinshasa in 2008 after I wrote a song called Le Press S’efface (journalists are being erased). At the time, 10 journalists had been murdered and 20 were in jail in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

After the song was released I started getting anonymous phone calls from people saying I was giving our country a bad name. I decided to leave after my friend, Annemarie Kalanga, a journalist for Congolese national TV who had exposed corruption, was attacked. She ­survived and went to Kenya, and I ­decided to come to South Africa.

I knew very little about the importance of media freedom until I gave my voice to the issue. My family weren’t happy about the negative publicity and threats and suggested I leave the country and come back after the elections.

I was born in a mining province called Kasaï, where my dad worked for a mining company. We moved to Kinshasa when I was eight years old. I speak Lingala, Chiluba, French and English.

I am the second eldest of 12 children, we are six boys and six girls. Two of my brothers have come to join me in Durban: Alain is 32 and studying management and Dona is 25 and works in a restaurant.

I qualified to be a mechanic when I was 19 years old. My father believed it would give me a good grounding because he wanted me to go to Canada and study to become a pilot. But he suffered a stroke in 2006 and was unable to pay for my studies, so I couldn’t go.

I chose South Africa because I wanted to get as far away from the DRC as I could. I wanted to live in an English-speaking country because I wanted to get a larger audience for my music.

I live in Durban because my uncle has lived here for 10 years.

When I came here I got a job as a gardener. My employer didn’t always treat me well. When it rained and I was unable to work, he’d say that the rain wouldn’t kill me. One day I went to work and saw that my lunch plate was also being used to feed the dog. I left the job and decided to start busking.

In April 2009 I started busking on Bulwer Street. A woman walked past, told me she liked my music but that ­no-one could really hear me where I was. She gave me R10 and suggested that I ask the owners of Earth Mother organic restaurant if I could sing there instead. Earth Mother agreed, and I stayed there for two months. By then I had my own second-hand sound system and I moved on.

After my gigs at Earth Mother restaurant, André Schubert, the owner of The Art Café, asked me to play there once a month and it gave me huge exposure.

In 2009 I was asked to sing at two weddings, last year I did 13 weddings and now my phone rings all the time.

Once, at a restaurant in Durban, my former employer came in with his family while I was playing Frank Sinatra’s My Way. During the break I went over to say hello. I told him that I had forgiven him. He was a teacher and it was a learning process.

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt here is that your reputation is your most valuable asset. Durban is a very small city and everybody knows everyone else. You have to be careful about what you say, what you do and where you do it.

Two things I’ve come to love about South Africa are the KZN landscape and the diversity of the South African people. The Congo has diversity, but for us, being African means being black. Here it’s not about how you look, but how you feel. Living here has changed my mind-set about what it means to be an African.

Something that puzzles me about SA is that people tend to complain a lot. They are never happy and always seem to want more. You have so much more to ­celebrate than you have to worry about.

Friends always complain that the government isn’t creating jobs, but I don’t believe it’s the job of government to give people jobs. It’s their job to create a good environment in which you can create the world of your own dreams. It’s not good in the long term to create the idea that government can meet all your needs.

The hardest thing about doing business here is not being able to speak ­English. When I started it took so much courage to knock on doors. When I met André, I couldn’t speak English and used sign language.

The biggest difference between being a musician in the Congo versus South ­Africa is that there is no music industry as such. Here I’ve gained a better understanding of the music industry. The two years I’ve been in SA have given me so much more than I would’ve had had I stayed in the Congo.

Another difference here is that women really love it when you sing in French. They say it’s romantic. Whenever I do weddings, brides always ask for French songs. My friends have told me that I should speak to the brides in French, even if they don’t understand what I’m saying.

Something I’d want South Africans to know about the Congo is that we got our independence from Belgium in 1960. Mobutu Seseko gave jobs and companies to people just because they were from the right tribe. We wanted everything for free and didn’t work to get it. We didn’t have what it took to benefit from what the ­Belgians left behind. Fifty years later, we are still paying for that mistake.

If I could take a South African to the DRC, I’d take them to a Congolese hospital so they can see people dying because they have no beds and medicine.

I’d like South Africans to see how lucky they are.

The thing I’m most proud of about the DRC is that we believe that marriage is forever. We value the family and don’t ­believe in divorce.

What gives me the greatest hope for SA was seeing all races united behind the SA flag during the World Cup.

I have two favourite South Africans. One is Nelson Mandela and the other is Johnny Clegg.

I will go back to the DRC one day. I’d like to start a project to support children in the eastern part of the country.

Many of them don’t have fathers ­because of the war and their mothers are HIV-positive. These kids have witnessed terrible things and don’t deserve what’s happened to them.

The one piece of advice I’d give to ­anyone thinking of moving to SA is that they have to be strong in heart and spirit and that gifts come in different packaging. And that one day you’ll look back on the hard times and say: ‘Thank you’.

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