Congo’s Kinshasa Symphony makes first visit to Britain

An inspirational orchestra from one of world’s most unsettled countries will make its UK debut next month.

L’Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste de Kinshasa (OSK) – Central Africa’s only symphony orchestra – will travel to Britain from the Democratic Republic of Congo, kicking off its tour at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall on 11 September.

A partnership between the Hallé, Southbank Centre and Bristol Music Trust, and supported by Arts Council England, the tour will see OSK’s orchestra and choir perform at Royal Festival Hall in London and Bristol’s Colston Hall.

ACE chair Peter Bazalgette, said: ‘Projects such as this are brilliant examples of how the universal language of the arts brings people together, helping to create communities and ways to communicate across different cultures. We hope that the musicians taking part, and the audiences lucky enough to see one of the performances first hand, will be inspired by this shared experience.’

Kinshasa Symphony © Sounding Images
Kinshasa Symphony musician © Sounding Images

On 15 September Cardiff ’s Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama will host a series of side-by-side rehearsals and workshops involving players from the Hallé and Southbank Sinfonia; clinics and instrument repair workshops; sharing sessions; and informal performances.

OSK was founded in December 1994 by conductor and former airline pilot Armand Diangienda. Initially the ensemble comprised a small group of amateur musicians, sharing a few instruments, and rehearsing in shifts to allow everyone a turn. Today the orchestra numbers around 200, mostly comprising self-taught musicians playing on homemade instruments.

Kinshasa is one of the poorest places on earth, where more than five million have died from the ravages of civil war and the average life-expectancy is below 51. OSK members are resourceful, often using unorthodox methods to repair instruments and make concert attire.

The orchestra was the subject of a multi award-winning 2011 documentary that depicts the musicians’ lives against the backdrop of the chaotic Congolese capital.