Congolese dance inscribed on the UNESCO heritage list

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Kinshasa (AFP) – The United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, on Tuesday added Congolese rumba dance to its list of intangible cultural heritage, sparking joy in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo-Brazzaville.

A UNESCO summit approved the two countries’ joint request to add rumba to its list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity, where it joins Cuban rumba, polyphonic pygmy music from the Central African Republic and drums from the Burundi.

DRC President Félix Tshisekedi greeted the news “with joy and happiness” as citizens of the two nations celebrated on social media.

“This cultural gem unique to both Congos is recognized for its universal value,” Tshisekedi wrote on Twitter.

“Rumba is our identity! Its international recognition is a source of pride and a treasure ”, declared the Minister of Culture of the DRC, Catherine Furaha.

Experts have traced the origins of rumba to the ancient central African kingdom of Kongo, where people performed a dance called “Nkumba”.

The word means navel because the performances involved a man and a woman dancing with their navels in front of the other person’s.

“National life”

Africans brought their music and culture across the Atlantic through the slave trade, eventually spawning jazz in North America and rumba in South America.

Traders then brought music back to Africa through records and guitars in more recent times.

The modern version of rumba is 100 years old and symbolizes towns and bars, Andre Yoka Lye, director of the DRC’s national arts institute in the capital Kinshasa, told AFP.

Rumba was marked by the political history of the two Congos before and after independence and is “present in all areas of national life”, he added.

He draws on nostalgia, cultural exchange, endurance, resilience and the sharing of pleasure through his flamboyant dress code “undermines,” Lye said.

“These treasures from Congo and exported across the world are part of our pride,” Congolese government spokesman Patrick Muyaya tweeted last week ahead of the announcement.

Rumba stars are sometimes controversial or mired in scandals.

A French court on Monday sentenced the famous Congolese artist Koffi Olomide for having retained against their will four of his former dancers during tours.

But residents of both countries say the dance continues and hope its inclusion on the UNESCO list will give it greater fame, even among Congolese.

“It is our common duty to promote rumba,” DRC Communication Minister Muyaya said.

“We are the land of rumba, what will we do with it?” He asked.

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