African Politics and Policy is delighted to introduce to the readers Belamy PALUKU, musician, volunteer manager at the Foyer Culturel de Goma (Goma Cultural Centre), Congo-Kinshasa. In the interview, Belamy tells us about the role of cultural center in promoting and training young artists through the art dialogue, the state of art and culture in DRC, his challenges and sources of inspiration.

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APP: Dear Belamy Paluku, could you please introduce yourself? Why are you interested in volunteering at the Goma Cultural Centre?

 Belamy: I am Belamy PALUKU, a musician from the city of Goma. During the last 5 years, I have been a vocal trainer at the Foyer Culturel de Goma (Goma Cultural Centre) – Maison des jeunes, where for 3 years I have also been a director. I am interested in volunteering at the Goma Cultural Centre because I believe in the power of culture to bring peace and development, and volunteering is a great opportunity for me to contribute to it.

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APP: How was born the idea to organize the Goma Cultural Center? Do you get any governmental/international support?

Belamy: The idea of creating the Cultural Centre in Goma was born from a meeting between artists from Goma and Belgian educational artists visiting the region. After a show mounted together, we became aware of the need to have a framework for meeting, exchanging, training and promoting artists. The project is part of the bilateral cooperation between the DR Congo and Belgium. Thus, with the agreement of the government, the charges are covered by the Belgian association En Avant Les Enfants (http://www.enavantlesenfants.com/), funding from Wallonia-Brussels International.

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APP: What projects/activities does your center organize? How far do you succeed in engaging local community? What are your main achievement and disappointments for the moment?  What is next for you?

Belamy: The main projects of the Foyer Culturel de Goma are the training of young people in the arts, the promotion of artists and their works, the supervision of children in extracurricular activities, and the opening to a scientific culture for the benefit of youth.

The activities organized are:

– Weekly lessons for 6 months in singing, guitar, piano, percussion, dance and theater with an average of 300 candidates each year.

– Organization of 7 to 8 shows open to the public each year with learners with an average of 400 spectators in all.

– As part of the promotion of artists, an artistic meeting was set up every Saturday afternoon for concerts with a dozen groups of musicians, dancers and actors in front of an average audience 4000 people with free access. The appointment is called SANAA WEEKEND (to say Weekend in art).

– Organization of recreational, sports, competitive, scientific and cultural activities with children. 260 children take part each week.

– Set up a library and a reading room for the benefit of young people to facilitate scientific development. 50 young people access it each week.

– Organizing sessions of fitness using dance for the benefit of people of the professional world, twice a week called Go-DANSPORT (to say Goma Dance-sport). This activity is animated by young dancers of the city and hosts 30 people a week.

– Organization of the freestyle session with the artists of the city for exchanges on themes based on the social realities of the region. The activity is called Djembe Freestyle and brings together 15 to 20 rappers a week.

– Organization of an international music festival called AMANI FESTIVAL which means PEACE. The three-day festival brings together 33 local, regional and international artists, 33,000 festival-visitors, local and international press, 60 NGOs and local associations, 600 volunteers from the city itself and elsewhere. There is also a mini marathon and a competition for young entrepreneurs.

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The community was able to take ownership of the project. Firstly, by the fact that the center is run by young volunteers from the city, each one in their respective areas of expertise, so they understand the real needs. The activities are also open to as many people as possible and we organize activities of exchange and evaluation with the public to move forward together in a collective vision of cultural development.

Our main successes are:

– The supervision of 150 young people in the arts training until gradually making a career;

– Supporting more than 200 artists in the promotion of their professional careers;

– Loyalty of an audience of 4000 people to discover artists and their works, and to getting benefits from an education and a sensitization through different messages to Sanaa Weekend.

– Impact on the image of the region throughout the world presenting a living culture beyond war and natural disasters.

Our disappointments are:

– Lack of cultural policy at national level.

– Lack of resources necessary for the development of activities in the long term;

– Difficulty in selling artists and their works at their true value;

– Political and security instability which jeopardizes the activities from time to time.

APP: What is the idea behind to organize Sanaa Weekend? What are the feature of this event’s program?

Belamy: The idea behind Sanaa Weekend is to bring together culture lovers on a regular basis to promote artists and provide healthy entertainment for children, youth and adults. 10 groups of artists, including singers, dancers and comedians get together every Saturday. The artists perform on stage between 3pm and 6pm. Each one thus reaches to cover 10 or 15 minutes of performance.

To be part of the program, artists come to the office at the beginning of the week and request a space in the program. For those of the first experience, auditions are held. For others there are free dates. Once confirmed, we organize with them 2 rehearsal sessions with a team of musicians who have volunteered for this program. Thus, artists have the opportunity and experience to perform with a complete team of musicians, a good presenter, good music material, a suitable sound and an important public. This event is free for the public and the speakers are all volunteers.

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APP: The motto of the Center is “we live and learn the art through dialogue, the joy and peace”. How successful is the dialogue between the center and the community in learning the art?

Belamy: First, there is a dialogue between those who learn throughout the course; there is a dialogue between the learners and their trainers; and there is a dialogue through the exchange of ideas between the artists and the organizers of activities. Sometimes, through social networks and radio and TV broadcasts, exchanges with the public. The great success we had with regard to the dialogue was observed during the first edition of the Amani Festival, which organized in a period of strong tensions between the ethnic groups of the region and between the countries of the Great Lakes region. A strong xenophobia was noticeable until the time of celebration with artists from different ethnic groups and regions. However, immediately afterwards, as by a miracle, there was an atmosphere of mutual tolerance and appreciation in the city.

APP: You mentioned “because of the history of colonization and independence in DRC, we feel a sort of dependence on outsiders”. How does the center help to overcome this dependence? What are the new values you want to educate in young Congolese?

Belamy: The great struggle is to get young people to be masters of their destiny: making the first step in change, not waiting for others. There is also the spirit of entrepreneurship in order to produce and manage resources rationally, contrary to the spirit of mendicity and dependence that has been observed for a while. We also strive to create a sense of general interest of building together.

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APP: As was noted in Deutsche Welle, “activism is a very dangerous business in DRC”. What are the main challenges you faced in your volunteering work, and what does inspire you to overcome the obstacles? Who are the people who help you to mentor young artists?

 Belamy: Activism is at the forefront. But for everybody is his own mission. For us, the priority is to get people to accept their strengths and weaknesses and to build society together. Among the challenges we have is working with activist artists, sometimes they get feedback from the authorities. In that case, we play a little the role of mediators in inviting them in the common activities, emphasizing the sense of dialogue and not of attack to this or other person.

Young artists are supervised by a group of artists who have been training in Belgium for 5 years. Over the 12 months each year, three to four out of the team of 10 trainers we have go to Belgium for a three-month training.

APP: Congo-Kinshasa is famous for its talented musicians and artists. Could you please tell us about the state of art and culture now in DRC?

Belamy: Our country has a very rich culture and is full of talents. We note, however, a cultural development inadequacy in the country, both internally and internationally. Despite being an inspiration to many African countries, the DRC is incapable of keeping its place in the great race that is currently taking place on the African musical scene.

I can say that it is due to the absence of a cultural policy, the involvement of competent authorities and state services, a functional industry and a formalization of the rights of artists on the one hand. On the other hand, one suffers from a kind of isolation. There is little circulation of Congolese artists around the world and we receive less artists from elsewhere. There is a heavy abuse of works, a lack of investment and promotion in the field, and a lack of adequate infrastructure.

At the same time, there are initiatives in the private sector which, hopefully, will help to revive things, especially if we have to consider what happens in the provinces beyond what is found in Kinshasa, the capital.

APP: Do you believe art can produce or instigate significant change in the world? What do you think it will take Congo to cease the violence, and how do you feel art can help make this a reality?

Belamy: I’m sure we can make a difference with art. The world today needs hope and sharing and art is one of the best ways to achieve it. Art has the strength to gather, educate, influence, naturalize, touch the hardest hearts and give another color to the differences. The world needs it and can use it.

To put an end to the violence, in my opinion, it is necessary to become aware of each person’s responsibilities regardless of his or her rank. I say this because it is difficult to understand the mystery of the violence existing in the Congo. But without closing their eyes, the Congolese have a share of responsibility at all levels. There are too many betrayals and corruption, which makes one thinks of misery. In my humble opinion, working on entrepreneurship would be a good option. We need an employment and means to live. If everyone knows how to find or create a job, we can reduce the early violence.

Art can bring a lot to this policy because it has an industry, which engages a great diversity of fields that unite around a common objective. For example, a festival that integrates financiers, administrators, artists, technicians, dressmakers, make-up artists, security agents, architects, managers, communication services, merchants, decorators, not to mention the services of hotels and tourists. In short, we can solve many problems with art.

APP: What do you want the international community to know about DRC, its people and culture that is losing during the continuous tensions?

Belamy: I would like the international community to know that the people of the DRC are far from being a resigned people. As proof, we have all the cultural richness that shines from the inside in the activities organized in every corner. These people just need more support in what is already done positive, considering the different sectors other than political, while we seek solutions in terms of the negative at the political and security level.