Shimama: Empowering Music from Kids in Congo

As the war in the east of Congo worsened in 2008, Pembe Lero decided to show the world that his country was about more than just poverty and bloodshed, by forming Shimama.

Using a model based partly on the success of Mana, a Pacific Island Baha’i music group, Shimama is a musical group that aims to put Baha’i-inspired Congolese music on the world map.

In a tiny recording studio in one of the slum areas of the capital city, relying on faltering electricity from a generator, Pembe started co-producing 16 tracks for a new English-language children’s album, Arise.

“I was talking over ideas with an Australian Baha’i,” says Pembe, “trying to figure out how we could show the world the Baha’i musical talent from the Congo.”

“He suggested we take the Mana model, which was based on creating music for Ruhi, expand that into creating music for all four core activities and sell the CD’s to the world through our website. And that’s what we’re doing!”

Pembe knew the first album should be for children.

Shimama actually means ‘arise’ or ‘stand up’ in Swahili,” said Lero, “and that’s what we’re asking kids around the world to do. We designed the CD to accompany Ruhi Book 3 and children’s classes.”

“It’s a message of empowerment for children coming out of the Congo, and that’s the most important thing for me because the only thing the media seems to focus on from here is war and poverty!”

“The Congo is about so much more than that and music is one place we can start to show it. We’ve always been famous for our sounds.”

These sounds have inspired many across Africa and from the 1970’s made international stars of people like Papa Wemba, but the country’s next generation of musical stars have found it difficult to build on that success after nearly two decades of war and lawlessness, starvation and widespread disease.

After returning from working in development in Afghanistan, Lero decided to rally together young professional musicians and singers, create a music label called Blackrose, find marketers to build a website to sell the music to the world and bring in trainers to teach the group how to create their own music videos.

Lero is ecstatic that after one year of hard work and many challenges, Shimama’s debut album, Arise, is ready to be launched world-wide.

“You’ve got to understand that in the Congo there isn’t even a functioning postal system,” said Lero, laughing. “We can’t send out the CDs from here, we have to do it from Atlanta in the USA.”

“But despite all the challenges, the internet has given us this window to the world, and hopefully the world will look in and finally start to see something different about this place.”

You can watch the music video for the first single, ‘Arise’, a cute and colourful piece of Congolese-pop which features four of the youngest members of the group.

For enquiries or to order CDs, contact Pembe at [email protected]

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