In the DRC, Do Nsoseme, a poet born under the sign of slam in the land of rumba

It's not easy to find a place in the world of music in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) when you are a woman and you don't follow the beaten path of Congolese rumba

In the DRC, Do Nsoseme, a poet born under the sign of slam in the land of rumba

It's not easy to find a place in the world of music in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) when you are a woman and you don't follow the beaten path of Congolese rumba. The king musical genre in Kinshasa, inscribed by UNESCO in 2021 on the “representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity”, has propelled Koffi Olomide, Papa Wemba, Fally Ipupa and Ferre Gola to the rank of adored stars far beyond their borders. Do Nsoseme Dora, or “Do” for short, does not have the presumption to claim to compete with them. She prefers to slam.

Born in 1994, the soft-spoken artist began writing at the age of 7, before recording herself on a boombox given to her by her father. “I would sit my family down to listen to my poems. They were playing the game,” the young woman recalls. As a teenager, she joined a slam group, then, in 2015, “Do” won first prize in the Kinshasa slam and urban poetry competition. In March 2023, she performed on the stages of the Théâtre national de Wallonie, in Brussels, as part of the Mots à Défense (MàD) festival. Her growing notoriety makes her one of the rare artists invited to go on stage, in June 2023, in Kinshasa in front of a prestigious and very formal audience made up of the first ladies of Africa to “slap words” on the square of women in African society, in particular.

The formula is not in vain. “It’s complicated to be a woman artist in the DRC. In the artistic world, there is a lot of sexual harassment. Not only are we not valued but we are seen as easy prey,” denounces the one who takes on serious subjects in the hope that this “pushes people to action.” “Slam is writing for the stage, exposing your words in front of an audience for three minutes, without hiding. I write about what affects me and this is obviously the case with violence, particularly sexual, against women. They are my mother, my sisters and maybe my children,” she says.

“Laugh at everything and move forward.”

There are few countries in the world where this question arises in such a dramatic way. Which other state than the DRC has among its illustrious citizens a Nobel Peace Prize-winning gynecologist (2018) nicknamed “the man who repairs women”? All the women. Of all ages, including very young girls, victims of armed groups who have proliferated for thirty years in the east of the country and who have trivialized the use of rape as a weapon of war. Candidate for the presidential election held at the end of December in the country, Denis Mukwege only received 0.22% of the vote, according to the provisional results announced on December 31 by the independent national electoral commission (CENI). Far behind outgoing President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi, re-elected with 73.34% of the vote.

Sitting on the terrace of the Greek restaurant adjoining the Orthodox church, a haven of tranquility spared from the tumult of this sprawling city, "Do" hoped, a few days before the vote, "a candidate who respects human rights, who attack on the question of employment of people, on the improvement of the health system, which generalizes the supply of water and electricity... Basic, essential questions, to which no one answers with realistic projects", regrets -She. In the end, she did not go to the polls. “I started writing a text encouraging the Congolese to go and vote, but I stopped,” she confides, letting out a little laugh tinged with despair.

The artist, who “assumes [her] abstention”, is no less a committed citizen. Participation in public life which involves in particular the organization of “Slam and open microphone” meetings in different districts of the Congolese capital. Her slam, all gentle and spiritual – “but no Christian slam outside the Church,” she specifies – is never aggressive. “Being a poet is not being happy, but the Congo is not all misfortune, it is also a country full of hope and the joy of living despite the problems, we can laugh at everything to forget and move forward” , she emphasizes.

" New rich "

This tranquility which nourishes her inspiration, “Do” finds it on the banks of the Congo River, where it flows slowly, or on the campus of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kinshasa, where she studied graphic arts. An environment which also sometimes gives him desires for elsewhere. To find recognition and support that artists in the DRC sometimes lack.

“Cultural policy is the least of the concerns of Congolese governments and works of art are not the priority, or even secondary, investment of the nouveau riche that this corrupt system produces,” denounces a young painter, who prefers to remain anonymous . “For a long time, the DRC was among the African cultural giants through its music and its visual arts, it has lost ground in recent decades due to the lack of a clear and elaborate cultural policy”, recently recognized the Minister of Culture Catherine Kathungu Furaha .

In 2023, his ministry had to settle for a meager budget portion (0.16% of the state budget). As a result, many artists give in to the sirens of abroad. “Do” herself, who slams the beauty of the Congo, concedes that this perspective sometimes crosses her mind even though she is not making a living from her art. Leave then? “Why not, but it won’t be a decision driven by money. » His immediate project is elsewhere, after ten years of slam, to release his first album in the spring. The title is already found: “I’m waiting. »