Tuesday, June 3, 2008

On the Rumba River

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bio-Pic Pays Tribute to Legendary Congolese Musician Wendo Kolosoy

Born in Northern Congo in 1925, Antoine Kolosoy, divided his youth between honing his skills at boxing and playing the guitar. Roaming up and down the Congo River on his ramshackle raft, he acquired the nickname Wendo while developing a loyal musical following, despite having his songs banned by the Church and the Belgian bureaucrats who had colonized his homeland.
The Establishment’s fear was that his tunes might contain secret messages intended to foment civil unrest, since the lyrics were in his native Lingala. Many of his colleagues were, in fact, assassinated for refusing to perform in Portuguese.
Wendo’s verses were actually apolitical, and after his first album was recorded and released in 1948, he became the Congo’s first Rumba superstar, performing in and around the country’s capital Kinshasa with his band, Victoria Kin. He went on to find fame both as a professional boxer and as a musician, though the latter career would prove to be the more enduring.
It would even survive the blighted nation’s decades of post independence suffering marked by poverty, oppression and civil war, during which Wendo’s brand of Rumba would serve to sustain the spirits of the Congolese people. Ultimately, the venerable cultural icon did fall on hard times, and was temporarily reduced to begging for tips until mounting a successful comeback in the 1990s.
On the Rumba River, a retrospective directed by Jacques Sarasin (I’ll Sing for You), is an endearing mix of reminiscences and impromptu concerts by Wendo and some of his former sidemen, all of whom are by now senior citizens up there in years. Plus, the picture features plenty of compelling cinematography guaranteed to give the uninformed a good idea of what life might be like in a land where over four million souls have perished in a neverending cycles of exploitation and ethnic cleansing.
An overdue tribute to some talented geezers which might as well be called The Kinshasa Social Club, if you get my drift.

Very Good (3 stars)
In Lingala with subtitles.
Running time: 82 minutes
Studio: First Run Features

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