- Necessary Noise: Music, Film, and Charitable Imperialism in the East of Congo by Chérie Ndaliko Rivers, and: The Writing of the Nation: Expressing Identity through Congolese Literary Texts and Films by Kasongo Mulenda Kapanga
Studies that provide extensive readings of Congolese cinema and film-making are scarce. For that reason, it is refreshing to see two recent publications, each of which offers profound analyses of the complex role of film in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with both offering a repeated stress on the importance of knowledge of the Congolese past, and from a Congolese point of view.
Ndaliko argues that the current conflicts in the east of Congo have been "de-historicized" through explanations such as ethnicity, which obscure the historical events and the Western economic interests that were the catalyst for these events. She describes how youth in the east of Congo have often been deprived of historical knowledge due to accounts of "official" history, which leads to the harmful continuation of "mental colonization," a concept that she borrows from Frantz Fanon. Therefore, she demands for "re-historicizing" [End Page 290] these conflicts, in which film could play, as she aptly demonstrates, an important role.
Kapanga defines knowledge of the Congolese past as a thorough understanding of how the nation's identity has historically been deeply affected—perhaps even defined?—by European outsiders such as Joseph Conrad. In delineating the meaning of this construction Kapanga argues for its negative effects and consequences that can still be seen in the present and possibly on into the future. He places the beginning of the history of the Congolese nation at the moment that the Portuguese Diogo Cao entered the waters of the Congo estuary in 1492, rather than with the more conventional moment of the Berlin Conference in 1884, and develops in his analysis, (informed by Benedict Anderson's concept of imagined communities,) a reading of the elements that historically constituted the Congolese identity, such as the Kongo Kingdom, Belgian colonization, and Christianity.
In Necessary Noise, Ndaliko outlines in detail the ambivalent role that music and film play in the east of Congo, a region that is littered with deadly conflicts. In this specific context "art" is never neutral and operates within a spectrum that varies from militant resilience to harmful commodification. Despite the fact that art can become corrupted when it is commodified and "used" for the wrong reasons, she strongly advocates the power of art as a vehicle of resistance and social change. She searches for the cultivation of a "Lumumbist liberation ideology," in which art is not "used" for the sake of propaganda according to the Mobutu methodology, but rather a path through which transformation and liberation can be achieved.
In so doing Ndaliko uses each chapter to analyze a specific case study, selecting activities organized by Yole!Africa, a locally founded art center in Goma established by her husband, filmmaker Petna Katandolo Ndaliko. She navigates between a description of the processes, goals and effects that shaped the organization of these events, while contrasting them with the artistic activities implemented by foreign NGO's or agents working in the region. Her crucial insight, informed by intellectual role models such as Frantz Fanon, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Paolo Freire, and Third Film scholars such as Gabriel Teshome, is that despite the best of intentions, foreign actors can seriously harm the local community in which they operate, even while applying the seemingly innocent mechanisms of art: "my concern is that, historically speaking, the Western version of making the world a better place has had catastrophic consequences for the browner people of that world" (11).
After having described in the first chapter the circumstances in which Yole!Africa was founded and a short discussion of the history of the DRC, while carefully opposing official history to popular history, Ndaliko continues in the second chapter with an analysis of a historical film...