Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra at Colston Hall

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s only symphony orchestra visits the UK

Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra at Colston Hall

The Democratic Republic of Congo remains one of the poorest and most unstable regions in the world. With life expectancy below 50 and the number of people displaced by conflict estimated at 2.6 million by the UN in 2013, the situation has been one of ongoing crisis since the 19th century.

That’s why it is so astonishing – and inspiring – that Armand Diangienda founded a symphony orchestra in the capital, Kinshasa, in 1994.

‘The only way I saw to bring people together was to create this unknown thing – a symphony orchestra,’ explained Diangienda when the orchestra performed in Bristol last night.

Created from scratch with church musicians who had to teach themselves how to make and play new instruments and often walk many miles to attend rehearsals, the orchestra now has around 100 members and has become a powerful symbol for hope and cooperation against all odds.

Now the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra (OSK) has come to the UK for the very first time.‘A few years ago, I told the musicians that they would start travelling soon, that the world needed to discover this orchestra – and it’s finally becoming a reality,’ writes Diangienda in his programme notes for the four-city tour (the orchestra performed in Manchester, London and Cardiff before coming to Bristol).

The reception in Bristol was fantastic. Nearly every seat in Colston Hall’s auditorium was taken and the Kinshasa musicians were greeted with as warm and enthusiastic applause as I have ever heard at an orchestral concert.

The evening opened in the cold North, far from the OSK’s origins in the heart of Africa, with Sibelius’s Finlandia. The combined forces of Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and Sinfonia Cymru (Diangienda wanted to work with British musicians on the tour) filled the hall instantly with a great wall of sound, characterised by metallic brass and beautifully soft strings.

Visiting with the orchestra was the Kinshasa Symphony Choir who next performed a selection of Congolese choral music – something Diangienda described as ‘African classical music’ – before the OSK returned to the stage to perform the first and third movements of a symphony written by Héritier Mayimbi and Johnny Balongi. In the first movement, their combination of African roots with the classical tradition somehow created music reminiscent of Shostakovich’s famous Waltz No. 2 from his Suite for Jazz Orchestra.

After the interval, the full forces returned to perform the 'March to the Scaffold' and 'Dreams of a Witches’ Sabbath' from Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, before the centerpiece of the evening, the finale of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 – a ‘symbol of hope and joy, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the streets of Kinshasa’ as Louise Mitchell, chief executive of Bristol Music Trust, put it in her introduction.

Seeing the Kinshasa musicians teamed up with the members of the National Youth Orchestra and Sinfonia Cymru, and witnessing the huge combined choral forces (Bristol Choral Society joined the Kinshasa Choir) in the famous ‘Ode to Joy’ was incredibly uplifting. As clichéd as it may sound, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s description of music as ‘the universal language of mankind’ has never rung so true for me.


A documentary about the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra's UK tour will be broadcast on BBC Four in October (date to be confirmed)

Kinshasa Symphony, a film telling the story of OSK, is out on DVD now. Visit: and watch the trailer below



  • Article Type: | Blog |
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