Armand Diangienda

L’Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste – Kinchasa, DR Congo

Armand Diangienda is a former airline pilot who has founded a symphony orchestra in one of the poorest cities on earth.

Almost ten million people live in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the third largest city in Africa.  They number among the poorest inhabitants on this planet. Kinshasa is the home of Central Africa’s one and only symphony orchestra that tackles big pieces — like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony — out of sheer love, learning their instruments and craft as they go. Full of self-taught musicians, many of whom travel two hours by foot for rehearsals and play on home-made instruments, this orchestra’s very existence provides hope and promotes peace in a country full of poverty and war.

Former airline pilot, conductor Armand Diangienda founded the L’Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste, the world’s first all-black symphony orchestra, in December 1994. Never conservatory trained - he calls himself "just inquisitive by nature" - he named the ensemble after his grandfather, Simon Kimbangu, who founded an African Christian church  in Congo named “ Kimbanguist Church” .

Armand Diangienda has built his symphony orchestra from the ground up, literally transforming his home into a make-shift conservatory. When Diangienda first gathered 12 young people who wanted to learn to play the violin, he had only five instruments: "One of them would play for 20 minutes, and then pass the violin on to the next one." When violin strings broke, they replaced them with brake cables from old bicycles. When they needed a C trumpet, they cut up another instrument. In 2010, a film about the orchestra, Kinshasa Symphony, won several prizes at international film festivals. Diangienda was the focus of a recent CBS News 60 Minutes profile and the recipient of the inaugural Charles Ansbacher "Music for All concert” Award.

Feature article on Armand Diangienda

Image credits: "sounding images" (top) and Simon Jay Price (Armand, above)

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