In the west, we hear hopeless stories about the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and it’s hard to imagine that anything positive could be happening there. (More)
But it isn’t all war and violence. There is a peace movement and it’s got traction. A leading voice in this movement for peace and reform comes from the artists.
Maisha in Swahili means “life”. They are Prince, Eric, Achilles, and Innocent Balume — four brothers who chose to water the seeds of peace and hope rather than those of conflict and despair. They came to the US with HEAL Africa to raise awareness about the peace movement — that there is another way for Congo, and their country is so much more than brutality and violence.
The Lake Kivu region has been plagued by conflict and natural disasters. The genocide in Rwanda brought refugees across the border and destabilized the country. Soon, a revolution replaced the government (then Zaire), but the new leadership was unable to stop events that lead to the Second Congolese War, which is also called The Coltan War, The Great War of Africa, and The African World War. In 2002, near the end of the Second War, the nearby volcano Nyiragongo erupted, destroying about half of the city of Goma. This also destroyed the original HEAL Africa hospital, which is still being rebuilt.
Maisha Soul was born after the eruption in a refugee camp. The war was over, but their lives hadn’t changed — they were living as if the war continued. Life was painful, and there was despair everywhere. It was then that the four brothers started to sing. They sang to lighten the hearts.
The oldest brother and front man, Prince, told their story. They were dispaced by the volcano, but couldn’t sit by and give in to the darkness. They knew that love was the answer. Loving brothers and sisters, yes, but also the identifable other. With pain and death everywhere, the only answer is love.
People were forced away from their homes, and often couldn’t find shoes or food. Life for them was difficult. We sang to bring the message of love. If you live tomorrow it will be a miracle, but today you can choose love instead of despair.
(My paraphrase of Prince, who said it more beautifully.)
Today, Maisha Soul works with other artists from Goma to spread a message of hope — bringing the larger community together to find a better way. A way to love the other. Below, Maisha Soul performs with Emma Katya Katondolo, another artist/activist from Goma.
Because of the war in the Lake Kivu region, it is difficult for artists to have a voice. To this end, Maisha Soul is building a production company that will give legs to the music in Goma — to provide recording technology and resources to help artists promote their work across the country and abroad. Congolese musicians are beginning to have a presence on the internet, so they will be able to connect with the world and spread their message of hope.
Music is better than a gun.