By Caroline Six

At the risk of disappointing the industrialists who have fought for Katanga’s soils for over a century, the real treasure has already been dug up from the mines. And it is not copper. It is a musical phenomenon with old-fashioned and indelible charm, which is called JECOKE. To meet them is to fall in love at first sight : could it be because their music has been constantly used to ease the suffering?

Created in 1951, in the working class district of "La Kenya" in Elisabethville (Lubumbashi since the independence), the Jeunes Comiques du Katanga – Jecoke – began by performing sketches for the miners after their day’s work was done. Inspired by the workers’ songs and the music from southern Africa, this group of actors quickly transformed into a band, keeping their humor and lightness that gave them an immediate popular fanbase. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, in particular, where the weight of history lies heavily on the shoulders of the population, the ability to pacify minds is a virtue well worth its weight in gold. Today, the liberating magic still works. With their black Stetsons on their heads and their blue frock-coats flowing in the wind, the choir made up of dashing fifty-year-old men swing Swahili with folk guitar melodies and creates a particularly infectious quivering rhythm. Their voices, smoothed with an irresistible nostalgia, accompany a wriggling choreography which has the ability to bewitch. While the elders sing and play, free-and-easy elegant young men, half dancers, half acrobats, swivel their hips like Elvis in a dance called Kalinchelilincheli.

Teenagers quickly follow suit, alternating group choreography and demonstrative solos, which inevitably cause laughter, applause and cheers. The late Edouard Massengo, co-founder of the band, with Antoine Kabeya Corbish, would certainly still recognize the federative, popular and intergenerational spirit, which he brilliantly defended in the 50s. The vast national popular success that he enjoyed back then regrettably received a decisive and long-lasting blow under the Mobutu dictatorship. The desire to standardize and to control the Congolese culture durably favored the Rumba from Kinshasa, which had the advantage of using the official language of the army: Lingala. If the Jecoke, swahiliphones, still fascinates some people from Lubumbashi, and a few foreigners passing through, they no longer enjoy any more of the commercial successes that puncuated their early stages and are, as yet, not produced. But they are as much on fire as ever. That fire overflows, after their concerts, at parties and in consolation. It is a fire that creates hope and high spirits. Promoting this cultural heritage, which also defines the identity of a nation and its influence, is not yet the priority of the State. In the region, the mining contracts granted to the Chinese entrepreneurs are a safer bet. Numerous Chinese workers, these days, populate the industrial landscape of Katanga. Perhaps, it is time for the Jecoke to learn Madarin?