Congolese Pop Stars Forced To Migrate Back to Africa

Among the Congolese diaspora in Europe, opponents of President Joseph Kabila call themselves “the Combatants.” Accusing Congolese pop stars of supporting Kabila, they have systematically attacked their concerts in Brussels, Paris and elsewhere, turning them into battlefields. Unexpectedly, this has been a boon for their fans back in Africa.

Fleeing the hostile atmosphere that the Combatants movement succeeded in creating, more and more artists among the European Congolese diaspora are returning to Africa for their concerts. Because of recurring violence, the Combatants have indeed made it harder for these musicians and artists to perform in Europe, where they once were kings among the Congolese diaspora.

No longer able to perform in Europe-where their recent concerts had more often than not become riots-artists like Fally Ipupa, J. B. Mpiana and Ferre Gola are all performing on African tours.

After a short trip to Paris to record his new single Avant Gout, Ferre Gola performed at the Palais de la Culture in Abidjan [Ivory Coast] on December 23.

Likewise, J. B. Mpiana (aka “Bin Adam”) and his band have just finished a tour in Angola and will soon go to Congo-Brazzavilleand Equatorial Guinea for other concerts.

Singer-songwriter Fally Ipupa (aka “Dicap la Merveille”) launched an African tour which has passed through Nigeria, Benin, Guinea and Chad. In December, he performed inAbidjan’s Palais de la Culture, the capital of the Ivory Coast,with the American singer Olivia Longott, once a member of rapper 50 Cent’s G-Unit.

Abidjan is now the preferred destination of both Congolese and international pop stars. Living in Abidjan for several years, Congolese artist Barbara Kanam chose the Ivorian capital as the place to celebrate her successful decade-long career. Likewise, internationally famous stars have recently performed memorable concerts in the Palais de la Culture: French rapper Booba, American singer Kerry Hilson, the uncontested king of French rap, La Fouine, and rising French R&B stars Colonel Reyel and Soprano. Taken together, these musical events suggest that the city of Abidjan is pursuing a strategy to restore Cote d’Ivoire’s prestige in the aftermath of the war, trying to affirm itself as the capital of music in Africa.

Though the Schengen Territory [Europe] is temporarily closed to Congolese artists because of the riots associated with their shows, some still make short trips to Europe to record their albums without giving concerts.

Gone are the days when musicians like J.B. Mpiana, Werrason, Papa Wemba and Koffi Olomide filled the Olympia or the Zenith in Paris.Until they recover the goodwill of their compatriots living in Europe, and succeed in returning to the stages of these mythic theaters, the most famous of the Congolese singers will be obliged to settle for African tours. The less-famous will, as usual, be obliged to settle for a few local weekend shows to fill their pockets.

Patrick Kianimi