The ‘Afrofuturist’ collective, who make their instruments out of what they find in Kinshasa’s dumps, play Womad this weekend
A Congolese band that makes music from rubbish are making their UK debut at Womad Festival at the weekend after a four-month wait for visas.
Meaning “music from the garbage” in Lingala, Fulu Miziki use items others have thrown away, from jerry cans to flip-flops, car parts to plastic tubing, as percussion instruments for their energetic “Afrofuturist” sound.
The band began making their own instruments in 2016, out of necessity in Ngwaka, an area singer and drummer Sekelembele describes as “a bad neighbourhood in the middle of Kinshasa with a big dumpster in it”.
Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has a tradition of performance artists (such as the Ndaku Ya La Vie Est Belle collective) upcycling found objects.
Tche Tche, singer and percussionist in the band, says the group was inspired by “street performers from Kinshasa and superhero movies,” to use the materials around them to create their own distinct music and costumes.
“We like the sound of PVC tubing and metal boxes, but we are always searching for new materials and new sounds,” adds Tche Tche.
Fulu Miziki’s work, which fuses music, performance art and fashion, has the environment at its core. “We hope our collective can put a spotlight on this pollution problem in Kinshasa and other parts of Africa,” says Sekelembele, adding that “finding solutions is what Afrofuturism is about”.
“In nature there is no trash because life reuses everything. Trash is toxic if it has no other use, so we give a second life to what we pick up,” he says.
“But this problem is a global one. And if Africa is the dumpster of the entire world, it is already facing difficulties that everywhere else will face very soon.” For decades, environmental activists from across the continent have warned that Africa is becoming a dumping ground for the world’s waste, from plastics and electronics to clothing.
Touring Europe, Fulu Miziki have adapted instruments and costumes along the way. “As we can’t travel with some materials because they’re too big, we have to improvise and find what we need before every show,” says Tche Tche. Earlier this year two of their suitcases were lost in Rome, leaving them 24 hours to search the festival site for tubing and wood for new instruments, and shoes to use as drumsticks.
Their UK debut at Womad Festival on Saturday will be special for the group, whose four-month wait for visas cost them eight UK gigs.
Womad founder Peter Gabriel has spoken out about the impact the UK’s “hostile environment” is having on Britain’s creative industries – and global reputation.
“A lot of other artists from Africa have been discouraged to come to the UK but with patience and hope we finally got our visa today,” says Sekelembele, speaking to the Guardian before their gig. “The UK is a very important place for us to play. There is a real ‘public of connoisseurs’. This is where pop music was born!”
Fulu Miziki Kollektiv play at Womad festival in Wiltshire on 30 July.
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