"Happy are those who sing and dance" : Mobuto, Franco, and the struggle for Zairian identity

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Carter Grice (Creator)
Western Carolina University (WCU )
Web Site: http://library.wcu.edu/
Beth Huber

Abstract: In this thesis, I examine the public rhetoric of two very big men of post-colonial Zaire: master musician Franco Luambo Makiadi, and military dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, whose careers were roughly contemporary. The rhetoric employed by these men held great sway over a newly independent African country and populace seeking to enter the modern world. This rhetoric breaks down along the lines drawn by postcolonial theorists such as Paulo Freire, who analyzed colonialism in terms of a dehumanization/humanization binary perpetuated by a subjective/objective disconnect between postcolonial “revolutionary” leaders and their subjects. Mobutu was such a leader whose rhetoric revealed a pathological separation from his subject audience and a drastic divergence between his “action” and “agenda,” which deliberately obfuscated his neocolonial kleptocracy. Franco, in contrast, held deep identification with his audience, the subjects of Mobutu, and his action and agenda, as delivered in hundreds if not thousands of popular songs, converged in terms of this audience. Audience identification and the convergence of stated and ulterior purpose in his rhetoric defined him as a spokesperson for a cultural movement that postcolonial history has largely ignored. Yet this movement, defined through the most beautiful of African popular musics, sustained a population sliding into ever-increasing poverty and voicelessness by inviting them to construct meaning from the coded semantics of Lingala, the creole tongue favored by Franco and the people of Kinshasa. Within these coded semantics, Franco fostered a critical spirit of inquiry in his audience by offering veiled, consistent criticism of the despotic governance of Mobutu wrapped in sublime rumba, a music as hybrid in construction as its Lingala lyrics. Franco was not a political activist, but a cultural revolutionary of tremendous popularity operating under the thumb of a dictator. Over a three decade career, he dedicated himself to the construction of an “authentic” Zairian identity with his audience, an identity based on a genuine synthesis of the poles of identification that defined postcolonialism in Zaire, and throughout Africa: the tribe and the colony. History states that Mobutu defined postcolonial Zaire, and he did, unfortunately. But Franco?s music has outlived that history and has assumed a preeminent space in postcolonial African culture. In fact, his music continues, long after his death, to define the liminal space between history and culture.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2011
authenticity, Kinshasa/Zaire, Lingala, mbwakela, postcolonialism, rumba
Franco, 1938-1989
Mobutu Sese Seko, 1930-1997
Popular music -- Congo (Democratic Republic)
Congo (Democratic Republic) -- Social conditions

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