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Shiko Mawatu Using Music to Help Heal the Congo

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SHIKO MAWATU (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)


They call him the voice of the Congo. His name is Shiko Mawatu and through his music, his working hard to bring attention to his homeland, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and to its people devastated by war. He just put out a new CD called "Kimbanda Nzila." The profits from its sale will help raise money to build wells for the people in the country formally known as Zaire.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MAWATU (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

CHIDEYA: Shiko, thanks for coming on.

Mr. MAWATU: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: How's the Congo doing right now in terms of day-to-day life? When you talk to your family, your friends, how are things going?

Mr. MAWATU: Not so well now. We're expecting to have a peace completely after the election, but we still have a few problems here and there as far as human right is concerned. And there is also killings in some parts of the country, in the west, also in east. So, that's not good.

CHIDEYA: There are a lot of people who've used music to raise awareness about what's going on in different parts of the world. Why do you think people relate to music as a way of understanding and humanizing other people? What is it about music that's so special?

Mr. MAWATU: Music is very natural. We are born - our mothers sing for us. The community welcomes you with music, with singing. So, it becomes part of your being, of your nature. At the same time, when you cry, it's also like singing. So, it seems like singing and music is set of human being. So, when we sing, we cry, we shout, we just bring it outside. So, it's very natural.

CHIDEYA: And your family had a musical tradition, what was its like growing up?

Mr. MAWATU: Oh, it was wonderful. My father used to play the accordion and my brothers used to sing as well. So growing up with them, I learned a lot. It was not difficult for me to become a musician. I just have to create my own identity - that was the hard part.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MAWATU: (Singing in foreign language)

CHIDEYA: Some people call your sound Congo Rumba. What does that phrase mean to you and what kind of flavors do you try to put into your music?

Mr. MAWATU: Rumba is an old form of music that requires two people to come together and dance. It originated way back in our traditional music. Of course, the name sounds familiar because of Kuba. We know Kuba is a very strong African tradition so they played that kind of music as well. So, when it came back to us in Africa, especially in Congo, it was welcomed back home. So, it's a very old type of music, and it's about love. It's about (unintelligible). So, I like to sing for lovers. I like to sing for peace. I like to sing for people who can dance to people.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MAWATU: (Singing in foreign language)

CHIDEYA: You're donating percentage of the sales from the CD to the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, and we spoke with Dikembe last year on the show. He's — just remind folks from the Democratic Republic of Congo a place for the NBA. How did you connect with his foundation?

Mr. MAWATU: As you know, he recently opened the hospital in Kinshasa in Democratic Republic of Congo. I wanted to help with my small donations, so I decided to talk to the foundation and make sure that some proceeds go to them so they can help maintain the hospital. And if you move, that is also inviting other Africans and other people who could - will to come and help Mutombo.

CHIDEYA: We do a segment on our show called Africa Update, so every week we do 17 minutes of coverage, at a very minimum, on the continent of Africa. We talk about different regions at different times.

And one of the questions that constantly comes up in America is why hasn't Africa gone further? Why hasn't there been more development? Why don't leaders do a better job? What do you think people in a position like yours, in a position to use some leverage or some influence or raise some money, what do people need to do for their individual countries and for the continent?

Mr. MAWATU: I think to just help. I think that people should just go to rural leaders; people who are helping who are not involved in politics because politics in Africa can be very complicated. You see people like Mutombo Dikembe helping Congo the way he's doing. He's not - Mutombo is not involved in politics. He has no interest of becoming a prime minister or president. So, he wants to help.

So, people like him, which I believe there are a lot of them out there, you know, and people like Oprah, for instance, you know, people like that. I mean, they need help. You know, $100, 1,000 - maybe $20 you know, it can help people. And people in Africa are human beings just like you and others. So, they feel the pain. They are suffering every day. So, you know, here I am doing music. I'm not rich, you know, I am not rich, but I want to share a little bit of what I have with the ones that we left behind.

CHIDEYA: What do you want to be your legacy in the world of music because there's the philanthropy you're doing but then there's also the music that you're doing. What do you plan to do in the future?

Mr. MAWATU: I want to be able to play music to please Americans, and I want to be able to make them see just the beauty of music, not just African music but just the gift of music. That's my goal — to make people happy, to make them dance.

CHIDEYA: Well, Shiko, I'm so glad that we got a chance to talk. Thank you.

Mr. MAWATU: Oh, thank you very much.

CHIDEYA: Congoist musician Shiko Mawatu. His new CD is "Kimbanda Nzila." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.