A few years ago, a youth group set out to organize a music festival for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The young people were tired of years of violence in the eastern D.R.C. They decided to hold the event in the eastern city of Goma.
Their first attempt in 2013 was cancelled because Goma came under attack. But last year, 25,000 people came to the city to hear their favorite Congolese artists play. And this year, some of Africa’s top musicians decided to attend.
The crowd cheered when Habib Koite arrived for his performance. The smoke machines fired up. Some people stood one behind another, forming a conga line. Thousands of other people ate, drank and danced in the dust.
Music festivals are popular across Africa. But this is something few would have imagined possible in Goma. For years, the city has been linked to crises. Refugees went there after the Rwandan genocide in 1994. In 2002, a nearby volcano exploded. The explosion buried part of the city under liquid rock.
In recent years, competing rebel groups have captured and re-captured Goma. But one youth group believed that their city could be different. They turned to music to make that happen.
The Amani Music Festival took place earlier this month. Vianney Bisimwa was one of the organizers. He says he and the other young people wanted to change the image of Goma.
“We go through war, and the war was really, negatively impacted the promotion of culture. So the idea was, how can we try to change the way people see this town? Because all the reports on DRC were, ‘don’t go there. People are killed. There is no way, no hope, no future...”
Although the country is known for war, it is also famous for its music. Many local artists sing openly about the conflict. Vianney Bisimwa says this gives people a chance to express their feelings.
“Music is powerful in DRC. When people are tired, they go to dance. When people are angry, they dance or they sing how angry they are. People believe in what they understand, what they hear.”
Some local people say life in Goma is already improving. This man says Goma has already changed a lot from the days when the M23 rebel group ruled the city. He says people are hungry for peace.
Organizing a show in Goma has not been easy. The first music festival was cancelled when M23 rebels controlled the surrounding hills. But the show the following year was a success. Violence returned to the city last month when police opened fire on demonstrators. They were protesting changes in Congo’s electoral law.
Vianney Bisimwa says it is not always clear that Goma is making progress. Tensions lie seemingly just below the surface. But peace, he adds, is a process. He hopes events like this will get people talking about the past, and thinking about the future.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
This report was based on a story from reporter Hilary Heuler in Goma. George Grow wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
peace - n. the condition of freedom from war, fighting or noise; rest; quiet
violence - n. the use of force to cause injury, death or damage
rebel - n. one who opposes or fights against the government of his or her country
success - n. reaching a goal or thing desired; producing the planned result