Congolese tales to be told on stage in Manchester

Soukous star Blanchard De Plaizir

A special event showcasing the history of Democratic Republic of Congo will be held in Manchester on 28th June 2014.

The history of people of DR Congo will be brought to life through original music and song, spoken word, digital image and food.

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, “Lisapo: the Congolese Tales” has been inspired by a new collection of oral histories from Greater Manchester’s Congolese community.

An original performance based on powerful personal stories of Congolese migration to Britain will take place at Manchester’s Band On The Wall on Saturday 28th June. Special guests include Les Sapeurs Congolais: The Society of Elegant Persons of DR Congo. The one-off performance will be followed by food, music and a party.

Lisapo means tale or story in the Congolese language Lingala.

Musician Freddy Wanga, also known as Ya Freddy says that if a Congolese has £500, they will spend £400 of it on clothes

Congolese nationals have been migrating to Britain from Africa’s second largest country since the late 1980s, as a result of the destabilisation of the country and consequent civil war.

Contributors to the project include Kinshasa-born Jean Blanchard Azip, artistically known as Blanchard de Plaizir, who arrived unaccompanied in the UK aged just 15.

“I didn’t decide to come to the UK,” said Jean, now living in Sale. “It just happened. I didn’t really care because I had already lost everything.”

Christina Fonthes, 26, left DR Congo aged just three. Brought up in London and now living in Stretford, Christina’s tale of being an out-lesbian within the Congolese community also forms part of the narrative of the one-off performance.

Despite the troubles suffered by many of the participants, tales of tantalising home-cooked Congolese food, world-class music and extravagant fashions are a common thread.

Musician Freddy Wanga, who records as Ya Freddy, said: “The Congolese love to dress smart. If a Congolese person has £500, they will spend £400 of it on clothes.”

A common lament is that favourite ingredients just don’t taste right once they have been flown into the UK. Pondu (cassava leaves) apparently don’t travel well and palm oil is not the same when it doesn’t come straight from the tree.

Project Manager for Community Arts North West Peggy Mulongo said: “Lisapo is a direct development of our Exodus Refugee Arts programme and is the company’s first project that aims to create an oral histories record for the region’s archives.

“We hope to be able to build on this programme for the future, creating archiving projects with other refugee heritage groups that have settled in Greater Manchester in recent years.”

The 28th June performance at Band On the Wall launches a new permanent public archive of 29 oral histories from Greater Manchester’s Congolese community, which is available at Manchester Central Library as part of the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Archive and at the North West Sound Archive.

Extracts from the recordings are available online at can.uk.com/archive/lisapo-oral-histories/

CONGOLESE TALES TOLD ON STAGE
Lisapo: the Congolese Tales, Saturday 28th June 2014
Time: 7pm
Venue: Band On The Wall, 25 Swan St, Manchester M4 5JZ
T: 0161 834 1786
Tickets: £5