Congolese rumba, one of the most influential genres of African music and dance, has won UNESCO-protected status after the culmination of campaigning by the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville.
The two countries both occupy what was once the ancient kingdom of Kongo; where the sinuous dance originated according to the two nations’ joint application.
The word “rumba” itself comes from the Kikongo word for navel, “Nkumba”.
Congolese rumba now joins other living traditions on UNESCO’s “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” list.
The UN’s cultural body says bestowing this status helps to “maintain cultural diversity in the face of growing globalisation”.
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said the music and dance became emblematic of the anti-colonial fight in the 20th Century, adding that it is the “political nature of this music which inspires so many artists all around the world today”.
Many people outside Africa closely associate the rumba with Latin dance, despite its African origins.
Rumba “has been part of our identity, descendants of Africa and all of us, throughout the ages,” said DR Congo’s Culture minister Catherine Kathungu Furaha earlier this year. “We want rumba to be recognised as ours. It is our identity.
“When our ancestors who were taken abroad wanted to remember their history, their origin, their memory, they danced the navel dance.”
Wendo Kolosoy, Paul Nkamba, Franco and TPOK Jazz, Tabu Ley Rochereau and Dr Nico were among the earliest heroes of Congolese rumba.