Kinshasa, Congo. We call them “shegués”, the more than 25,000 children who live and survive in the roads of the Congolese capital, accused by their own families of being sorcerers and promptly rejected. Marc Henri Wajnberg, the Belgian director already lauded as best director at the Film Festival Ghent in 1993 and then with the Rail d’Or at the Semaine de la Critique in 1996, follows eight of these kids and documents the stagnating poverty and dust in Kinshasa. Under the wing of the flamboyant and eccentric street musician Bebson, who begins to manage them, the eight form the music group “Diable Aza Te”, or “The Devil Doesn’t Exist”, attempting to thwart destiny, assume control of their lives and charge the city with energy.
A cross between documentary and fiction, the very making of the film encountered a whole host of problems, including difficulties in obtaining permission to film, corruption, and the lack of usable footage. While evidenced by the frequent interjection of passerbyers and police, Kinshasa Kids nonetheless offers a colorful, kaleidoscopic vision of the lives of these children. Music is like a necessary escape, if not from poverty then from loneliness. All of the “kids” in the film come from the streets of Kinshasa and, despite not knowing each other beforehand, quickly learned how to work together in a tight-knit group. They have even continued to live together following the shoot, which has brought even bigger things for Rachel, a “shegué” from the Ngaba roundabout. Following filming, she was noticed by the Canadian director and screenwriter Kim Nguyen and also brought home the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 2012 Berlin Festival for her role in the movie “Rebelle”. Bebson from the streets and his group Tryonix have also recorded a new CD, Groupe Electrogène.
Kinshasa Kids documents much more than the daily lives of these street kids. It shows the power of art as a creator of identity. Music, a symbol and reflection of both individual and global histories of African society, becomes a vessel of freedom, a language, and a means to regain things lost. It recreates ties and social cohesion, making a group creation indispensable for the survival of the individual.
The fate of these children, heros in “Kinshasa Kids”, is of a particular concern for AAD because of its setting in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where AAD is actively engaged in development projects in conjunction with local artists. The power of music, as cathartic as it is central in the creation of individual and societal identity, is something that AAD has believed in from the beginning and has translated into action via the “Rap Against AIDS” program that was launched in September 2012. With music as the tool, AAD has enlisted the help of rap group Black Power in creating songs that carry with them messages on HIV/AIDS prevention, all in the aim to target new generations and teach them key measures in the fight against the disease. “Kinshasa Kids” all the more reinforces the conviction that art can lie at the center of peace and development and is an important tool that needs to be used.