Rumba Rules
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Rumba Rules : The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu's Zaire

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Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) from 1965 until 1997, was fond of saying "happy are those who sing and dance," and his regime energetically promoted the notion of culture as a national resource. During this period Zairian popular dance music (often referred to as la rumba zairoise) became a sort of musica franca in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. But how did this privileged form of cultural expression, one primarily known for a sound of sweetness and joy, flourish under one of the continent's most brutal authoritarian regimes? In Rumba Rules, the first ethnography of popular music in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bob W. White examines not only the economic and political conditions that brought this powerful music industry to its knees, but also the ways that popular musicians sought to remain socially relevant in a time of increasing insecurity.Drawing partly on his experiences as a member of a local dance band in the country's capital city Kinshasa, White offers extraordinarily vivid accounts of the live music scene, including the relatively recent phenomenon of libanga, which involves shouting the names of wealthy or powerful people during performances in exchange for financial support or protection. With dynamic descriptions of how bands practiced, performed, and splintered, White highlights how the ways that power was sought and understood in Kinshasa's popular music scene mirrored the charismatic authoritarianism of Mobutu's rule. In Rumba Rules, Congolese speak candidly about political leadership, social mobility, and what it meant to be a bon chef (good leader) in Mobutu's Zaire.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 328 pages
  • 156 x 235 x 19.81mm | 462.66g
  • North Carolina, United States
  • English
  • 59 photos, 3 illustrations
  • 0822341123
  • 9780822341123
  • 839,437

Back cover copy

""Rumba Rules" ties dance music to dictatorship, band leaders to politicians, in ways that are sensitive to the struggles of Congolese musicians and their fans in Kinshasa. Bob W. White neither diminishes the artistry and entertainment value of musical performances nor over-determines their role in political culture. This is a book that finely theorizes the relationship between aesthetics and political culture through vivid and often amusing storytelling."--Louise Meintjes, author of "Sound of Africa! Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio"
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Table of contents

Preface xi

Note to the Reader xxi

1. Popular Culture's Politics 1

2. The Zairian Sound 27

3. Made in Zaire 65

4. Live Time 97

5. Musicians and Mobility 131

6. Live Texts 165

7. The Political Life of Dance Bands 195

8. In the Skin of a Chief 225

Notes 253

Bibliography 271

Discography 287

Index 289
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Review quote

"White's poignant research and heavily-referenced text showcases a rather complex and dynamic musical historiography and ethnography of Zaire's (now Congo's) musicians. . . . [A]n in-depth guide to the music and society of a people transformed and shaped by political policies and pressures. The text contains an extensive notes section, bibliography, small discography, and index. Scholars and students of African music with Congolese interests would benefit most from the text's information. Yet, it is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in music." -- Matthew J. Forss * Callaloo * "Fascinating, even enthralling." -- Robert Christgau * Barnes and Noble Review * "[A] pioneering study of its subject." -- Ted Smith * Montreal Review of Books * "Rumba Rules: The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu's Zaire by Bob W. White should be a welcome addition to the library of any fan of Congolese music. This book has descriptive passages that give a delicious insight into the everyday workings of a modern Kinshasa orchestre. Furthermore there is some fascinating information and research that helps explain how Congolese music sits within the national culture and everyday social life of the Congolese people. The book can be justifiably described as an essential read for anyone wishing to gain an extended appreciation of the Congo, its politics and its quirky obsession with music." -- Martin Sinnock * Beat * "What an enchanting ethnographic study! This book deserves to be widely read. . . . My comments on this book are based on my understanding of its significance in terms of the contribution it makes to debates within the field of cultural anthropology, in particular the anthropology of performance, the anthropological study of music, political anthropology and the anthropology of popular culture. . . . It was indeed a joy to read. Right now I am going to go out to buy a Congolese music CD to dance to!" -- Rosita Henry * The Australian Journal of Anthropology * "What began with an extraordinary feat of immersion into Kinshasa's music scene toward the end of Mobutu's regime has been honed and crafted into a study of Congolese popular culture and politics that is bound to become a classic. A feat of ethnography and a much-needed ray of hope in these messy and tragic times."-Johannes Fabian, author of Memory against Culture: Arguments and Reminders "Rumba Rules ties dance music to dictatorship, band leaders to politicians, in ways that are sensitive to the struggles of Congolese musicians and their fans in Kinshasa. Bob W. White neither diminishes the artistry and entertainment value of musical performances nor over-determines their role in political culture. This is a book that finely theorizes the relationship between aesthetics and political culture through vivid and often amusing storytelling."-Louise Meintjes, author of Sound of Africa! Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio "Rumba Rules is a really exciting book, definitely worthy of the 'groundbreaking' and 'sorely needed' labels it is bound to attract. It is full of the basics and the nuances; deeply informative about a place, a scene, a local history, and lived realities; and deeply accountable to debates and discussions about how popular culture encodes a feeling of and for modernity."-Steven Feld, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Music, University of New Mexico "[F]ascinating, even enthralling." - Robert Christgau, Barnes and Noble Review "[A]n important source of information about one of the most celebrated genres of dance music in Africa. Highly recommended." - Kazadi wa Mukuna, Choice "[A] pioneering study of its subject." - Ted Smith, Montreal Review of Books "White's poignant research and heavily-referenced text showcases a rather complex and dynamic musical historiography and ethnography of Zaire's (now Congo's) musicians. . . . [A]n in-depth guide to the music and society of a people transformed and shaped by political policies and pressures. The text contains an extensive notes section, bibliography, small discography, and index. Scholars and students of African music with Congolese interests would benefit most from the text's information. Yet, it is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in music." - Matthew J. Forss, Callaloo "Rumba Rules: The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu's Zaire by Bob W. White should be a welcome addition to the library of any fan of Congolese music. This book has descriptive passages that give a delicious insight into the everyday workings of a modern Kinshasa orchestre. Furthermore there is some fascinating information and research that helps explain how Congolese music sits within the national culture and everyday social life of the Congolese people. The book can be justifiably described as an essential read for anyone wishing to gain an extended appreciation of the Congo, its politics and its quirky obsession with music." - Martin Sinnock, The Beat
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About Bob W. White

Bob W. White is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Montreal.
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Rating details

22 ratings
3.72 out of 5 stars
5 14% (3)
4 50% (11)
3 32% (7)
2 5% (1)
1 0% (0)
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