A special post by the producer of the 60 Minutes story "Joy in the Congo," Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson:
This story would probably not have been done by 60 Minutes 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.
Armand belonged to a church, founded by his grandfather back in the 1920s, and they had a brass band and a chorus, so he thought (as anyone would), why not start an orchestra? That was 1992. What is so extraordinary is that his orchestra lived in virtual anonymity for some 17 years until the Germans made a short film about them. Even researching our story 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 7 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 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, where the orchestra is based, is a huge city with a population of ten 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 the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste 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 all the things that perhaps we take for granted in the West. One can't help but want the best for them. They are simply incredible.
To learn more about the Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra -- including how you can help -- click here.