Congolese music festival for peace draws tens of thousands

AP News
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Posted: Feb 12, 2017 10:50 AM
Congolese music festival for peace draws tens of thousands

GOMA, Congo (AP) — Enrique Makasi's hometown of Beni in eastern Congo is under frequent siege from rebels, and music is the way he tells the world what is happening.

Performing before tens of thousands at the Amani Festival in the regional capital, Goma, the 26-year-old singer hopes to give voice to the hundreds slain and build solidarity to promote peace.

"I took to the stage in black to show the world that in Beni, nearly 1,000 people have been killed by the ADF rebels from Uganda and an investigation should be carried out," he said. "The festival is also a way for me to share the word 'amani' (meaning peace in the Swahili language) with colleagues coming from other countries in Africa."

Nearly 36,000 people gathered in Goma over the weekend for the three-day festival of music and dance aimed at promoting peace and boosting the eastern Congo's generally negative global image.

Some have come from as far away as the United States. Hamilton Collins of Cherry Hill, N.J., said he made the journey after reading about the festival online.

"I love Congo and I will be here again in 2018," he said while dancing to the music of Burundian group Alfred & Bernard.

Eastern Congo has drawn international headlines since the 1990s for rebellions, rape and instability, and multiple armed groups remain active in the region, drawn by its vast mineral wealth.

But Goma is a relatively peaceful provincial capital, nestled at the foot of mountains and beside picturesque Lake Kivu. Close by is Virunga National Park, which features the Mt. Nyiragongo active volcano and some of the world's last lowland gorillas.

Spreading the message that Goma can host tens of thousands of concert-goers without problems is part of the festival's mission.

"We want to promote a positive image of eastern Congo so that foreigners know that in Goma, there is life," said Julien Paluku Kahongya, governor of North Kivu province.

In its fourth year, the Amani Festival began on a somber note after one of the organizers, Norbert "Djoo" Paluku, was fatally shot after intervening in an apparent altercation between a young man and local police, according to the festival's Facebook page , which said it was decided to continue with the festival because Paluku had dedicated so much to it. A meeting was to take place with police "to better organize the security of concert-goers."

Along with helping to change eastern Congo's image, the festival is also promoting peace by bringing together artists from neighboring countries, said festival promoter Eric de Lamotte.

"It is bringing people of all cultures together with music, even if yesterday they were in conflict," he said. Neighboring Rwanda continues to recover from its 1994 genocide and Burundi has been gripped by deadly political violence since early 2015.

In addition to local artists, the festival attracts well-known groups from further afield, this year including Sauti Sol from Kenya, which won best group at the 2015 All African Music Awards.

"A good neighbor is someone who starts to dance when his friend plays music," said Dunia Abedi, head of the Burundian dance group Komeza Karanga.

"All the Burundians are with the Congolese in the struggle for peace," Abedi said. "Music is a force that all of the world hears because it is easy on the ears."

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