Bordered by Central African Republic and South Sudan to its north; Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to its east; Zambia and Angola to the south; the Republic of the Congo to its west; and the Atlantic Ocean to its southwest, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second largest country by area in Africa and the eleventh largest by area in the entire world — and by with a population of 78 million people, the most populated officially Francophone country in the entire world, the fourth most populated nation in African and the seventeenth most populated country in the world.
Humans first settled within the expansive territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo roughly 90,000 years ago, although various Bantu speaking tribes began migrating into the region in the 5th century and again in the 10th century. From the 14th to the 19th century, the territory was split into three different territories — to the West, the Kingdom of Kongo ruled for close to 500 years; while the central and Eastern sections were ruled by the Luba and Lunda kingdoms, which ruled from roughly the 16th century to the 19th century.
In the 1870s, European exploration of the Congo region was first carried out and led by Henry Morton Stanley, who was sponsored by King Leopold II of Belgium and by 1885, Leopold had formally acquired the rights to the Congo territory, making the land his private property. Ironically naming the territory the Congo Free State, the colonial military unit the Force Publique forced much of the local population into producing rubber and from 1885-1908 millions of Congolese died from exploitation and disease. Despite initial reluctance, the Belgian government formally annexed the Free State and the territory became the Belgian Congo.
Between the late 1950s and mid 1960s, revolutionary movements swept much of Africa, reshaping the map; in fact, The Democratic Republic of the Congo achieved independence in June 1960 as the Republic of the Congo, with Patrice Lumumba, a Congolese nationalist, becoming the country’s first Prime Minister and Joseph Kasa-Vubu, becoming the country’s first president. Within a few months, the provinces of Katanga, Moise-Tshombe and South Kasai attempted to secede and by September 1960, Lumumba was dismissed from office by Kasa-Vubu with encouragement by the US and Belgium after Lumumba sought assistance from the Soviet Union with what has since been known as the Congo Crisis. By mid September of tha tyaer, Lumumba was arrested by forces loyal to Army Chief of Staff Joseph-Desire Mobutu, who gained de facto control of the country through a coup d’etat. By early 1961 Lumumba was executed by Belgian-led Katangese forces.
In 1965 Mobutu, who later renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko, officially came into power through a second coup d’etat, running the country, which he renamed as Zaire as a one-party state, with his Popular Movement of the Revolution as the country’s sole legal party for more than 30 years. By the early 1990s, Sese Seko’s government had begun to weaken and by the middle of the decade, growing disenfranchisement among the country’s eastern Congolese Tutsi population led to Zaire’s invasion by their Tutsi-ruled neighbor Rwanda, which began the First Congo War and eventually led to the end of Mobutu Sese Seko’s 32 year stranglehold on the country.
In May 1997, Laurent-Desire Kabila, a leader of South Kivu province-based Tutsi forces became President of the country and reverted the nation’s name to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Unfortunately, tensions between Kabila and the Rwandan and Tutsi presence led to the Second Congo War from 1998-2003, which involved nine different African nations and 20 different armed groups and eventually resulted in the deaths of 5.4 million people. Naturally, the decade long period of civil war and instability devastated the country and the larger region. And if you add several centuries of commercial and colonial exploitation, which continues to this very day, extreme poverty, inequality and inequity and a lack of infrastructure, you understandably wind up with a population that’s desperate and struggling to survive.
Led by Makara Bianco and featuring production from prolific French producer débruit, KOKOKO! is a pioneering Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo-based DIY electronic collective inspired by a growing spirit of protest and unrest among Kinshasa’s young people, who have begun to either openly question centuries-old norms and taboos or openly denounce a society that they perceived as paralyzed by fear. In fact, the collective’s name literally means KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK! with the collective viewing themselves as the sound of a new generation boldly, loudly and defiantly banging on the doors and walls, and yelling “OUR TIME IS NOW!” The members of the collective operate in a wildly inventive DIY fashion, creating self-designed and self-made instruments from recycled junk and claptrap and building a recording studio out of old mattresses, found wood and a ping pong table. Fueled by the underlying notion that desperate survival fuels creativity, the collective’s sound as you’ll hear on “Tokoliana,” the title track of their recently released Tokoliana EP possesses an immediacy and urgency unlike anything I’ve heard in many years. And more important it’s a swaggering, exuberant, wildly forward-thinking sound that hints at psychedelia, disco, post-punk, hip-hop, reggae, retro-futuristic funk and traditional regional music but from a sweaty, post-apocalyptic future in which the ghetto and the club are one in the same.
Recently La Blogotheque invited the Congolese band to perform “Tokoliana” at Le Chateau Borely in Marseille, France — and it’s an incredible performance in one of the oddest settings I’ve seen in some time.