Congo-Kinshasa: The luthier of Eastern Congo

Moïse Muhindo Kisuba believes affordable tools and training can break a cycle of violence that has claimed thousands of lives.

Moïse Muhindo Kisuba sits on the floor of his studio, chiseling the neck of a guitar. An apprentice is watching. On the walls, modern drums and guitars are displayed.

Kisuba knows his instruments. He will answer customer questions without hesitation. To demonstrate a guitar, he could strum a favorite piece of gospel and sing in Kinande, his native language, thanking God for the gift of intelligence. He often nods his head in time to the music.

The Kisuba workshop is small, located in the south of Lubero territory, one of the most remote regions in eastern DRC. It lacks the machinery of a large workshop, and all its instruments are handmade. It has only served a few hundred customers since its inception in 2018, but in this region it is transformative.

One piece at a time, the Kisuba workshop not only equips young people – often underemployed and subject to political manipulation – with practical skills, but also gives local musicians access to instruments, so that their music can offer respite from the crisis. In this part of the DRC, an upsurge in fighting has left thousands dead or displaced. More than 130 armed groups in North and South Kivu provinces are fighting over a complex range of issues – including land and natural resources, according to the Kivu Security Tracker, a project between international NGO Human Rights Watch, and New York University.

Kisuba, 49, started his craft in 2012 but only knew how to make traditional instruments like tom-toms, guitars and flutes. That changed after a gospel trip to the city of Bukavu in South Kivu province in 2018 with his gospel choir. A workshop of modern instruments, the first he had seen, piqued his interest. “The three days I spent in this [workshop] were enough for my training,” he says.

Before Kisuba opened his shop, musicians from southern Lubero had to travel outside the region to buy modern instruments or import them from neighboring countries like Tanzania. Most of these instruments were expensive and inaccessible, says Kisuba.

To keep his instruments affordable, he sources his materials from Butembo, a trading town in North Kivu province. A full set of drums costs around 480,000 Congolese francs ($240) in his workshop. An imported set costs almost double that amount, which most local musicians don’t have, says Kisuba.

“They order, pay cash or go into debt,” he says. “I can make two drums and eight to ten guitars a month.”

Better access to instruments has sparked a craze for music in southern Lubero. Ringo Ramazani Muhinho, a member of Jeux Du Ciel, a Kirumba-based group, says they could not afford guitars. He approached Kisuba, who agreed to a payment plan. Now Muhinho plays rumba. The genre, full of rhythms and danced across the DRC, promotes “social cohesion and solidarity”, according to UNESCO.

Kisuba’s instruments also helped make Muhindo Ngoyamwaka Samuel’s activism possible. Also from the village of Kirumba, the reggae musician, known as Ngoyam’S, uses music to promote peace. “I call on people not to collaborate with the enemy,” he says, “or I invite armed groups to lay down their arms in my songs.”

By making music, now easier thanks to the Kisuba workshop, Ngoyamwaka hopes to ease a security situation which, since 2017, has claimed 7,262 lives in this region alone, according to the Kivu Security Tracker, which monitors violence in the region. east of the DRC.

“As a musician, I feel I have a great responsibility,” says Ngoyamwaka.

Kisuba also teaches his craft; he is now training his fifth apprentice. Equipping young people with practical skills is an effective way to counter the challenges they face, he says. “Music also participates in the supervision of young people.”

Scarce employment opportunities make young people vulnerable to the influence of armed groups, according to a report by YouthPower Learning, a research and learning platform funded by the United States Agency for International Development. Training programs like Kisuba’s offer another option.

“Before coming to this workshop to train, I was a traditional luthier,” explains Egide Kasereka Kighoma, one of Kisuba’s students. “After my training, I will have to open my own workshop.”

Apprentices pay 40,000 francs (about $20) in registration fees and 100,000 francs (about $50) for the training program, which lasts four months.

The cultural value of the workshop has not gone unnoticed, says Lambert Kasereka Mungumwa, head of the Department of Culture and Arts at Kirumba. Through his department, the Kisuba workshop benefited from a 40% tax reduction, which is not granted to other small businesses.

Kisuba eventually wants to set up a proper showroom, but most of its customers pay in instalments. The father of seven children only earns enough money to support his family and buy equipment. He acknowledges the tax cut and hopes the government will do more to recognize the workshop’s contribution to the community.

Christian, he likes gospel music, popular in this region. Through music, he says, a community can change.

This article was originally published by Global Press Journal.

Merveille Kavira Luneghe is a Global Press Journal journalist based in Kirumba, Democratic Republic of Congo. Merveille specializes in reporting on migration and human rights.

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