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     Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled Zaire (now the Democratic Republic
of Congo) from 1965 until 1997, was fond of saying “happy are those
who sing and dance,” and his regime energetically promoted the notion
of culture as a national resource. During this period Zairian popular
dance music (often referred to as la rumba zaïroise) became a sort of
musica franca in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. But how did this
privileged form of cultural expression, one primarily known for a
sound of sweetness and joy, flourish under one of the continent’s most
brutal authoritarian regimes? In Rumba Rules, the first ethnography of
popular music in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bob W. White
examines not only the economic and political conditions that brought
this powerful music industry to its knees, but also the ways that
popular musicians sought to remain socially relevant in a time of
increasing insecurity.

     Drawing partly on his experiences as a member of a local dance
band in the country’s capital city Kinshasa, White offers
extraordinarily vivid accounts of the live music scene, including the
relatively recent phenomenon of libanga, which involves shouting the
names of wealthy or powerful people during performances in exchange
for financial support or protection. With dynamic descriptions of how
bands practiced, performed, and splintered, White highlights how the
ways that power was sought and understood in Kinshasa’s popular music
scene mirrored the charismatic authoritarianism of Mobutu’s rule. In
Rumba Rules, Congolese speak candidly about political leadership,
social mobility, and what it meant to be a bon chef (good leader) in
Mobutu’s Zaire.
     About The Author(s)
     Bob W. White is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the
University of Montreal.

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Juan Paulhiac
Doctorant. Université de Paris 8

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