Producer finds musical "sweet spot" in the Congo

Go to the heart of the Congo with a 60 Minutes producer as she finds the only all-black amateur symphony orchestra in the world

A special post by a producer of this week's 60 Minutes story "Joy in the Congo," Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson:

Rerunning the inspiring piece "Joy in the Congo" is a bittersweet tribute. My colleague and co-producer Clem Taylor left this earth far too soon on March 21. At this time last year, we were on top of the world when "Joy in the Congo" was awarded the prestigious Peabody Award, as well as two Emmy Awards that would follow in the fall. As I reminisce on this story and how we got to do it, I truly believe Clem is watching it himself from Heaven with a big smile and wearing the custom-made shirt that one of the orchestra members made for him.

Soaring songs from an orchestra you'll never forget

This story would probably never have been done, had it not been for the insistence of a friend that I see a German documentary about a symphony orchestra in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the DRC. Everything that seems to come out of the DRC these days is not good: civil war, child soldiers and worst of all, the systematic rape of women as a weapon of war. The fact that an orchestra managed to exist in the midst of all of this was something that had to be seen to be believed.

The creator of the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste, its official name, is Armand Diangienda. He's an airline pilot by trade but a musician at heart. When the airline company he worked for went bust -- the Fokker 27 he used to fly, crashed -- he decided to turn his attention to his real passion: music. Because he belonged to a church, founded by his grandfather back in the 1920s, they had a brass band and a chorus, and he thought -- as one would -- why not start an orchestra? That was 1992.

What is so extraordinary about this is that the orchestra lived in virtual anonymity for some 17 years until some German documentary filmmakers made a short film about them. Researching the orchestra proved to be challenging, but for a short article here or there. I had the privilege of meeting Armand in New York when I went to see the film and was completely taken by his disposition: a very subdued human being, living in one of the toughest places in the world and somehow making music. Classical music.

When we made it to Kinshasa with a crew of seven people, we had no idea what was in store for us. The sounds of the orchestra left us all speechless and what was all the more moving were the individual stories behind all of those incredible faces. To see commitment at that level is not something that can be explained. Of the 200 members of the orchestra and choir, only two have cars. Kinshasa, the capital, where the orchestra is based, is a huge city with a population of 10 million. The musicians come from all over the city and for the most part travel on foot to get there -- six days a week! Armand's place serves as a makeshift conservatory and it feels like a mini-Juilliard in the heart of Africa. It's also an oasis from the trials and tribulations most of these musicians face on a daily basis. There is never a start time to rehearse because people trickle in throughout the day and they spend hours losing themselves in music. When we would wrap up a day of shooting by 9 or 10 p.m., there were still musicians working.

I hope that with this story, the orchestra will get what it deserves and frankly needs: a proper school in order for this orchestra to grow and show the world that there is more to the DRC than violence. These are good citizens, wanting to do the right thing and enjoy things that, perhaps, we take for granted in the West. One can't help but want the best for them. They are simply incredible.

Editor's Note: This Overtime segment was originally published April 8, 2012

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