Culture: Story Telling

I was raised in Kinshasa, the capital of the Republic Democratic of Congo.  For some in more rural areas of the country, Kinshasa was the big city.  In part, it was true.  We had electricity on a regular basis (African-style…I shall explain shortly) and piped water distribution (hmmm…sometimes).

Morijo-camp-fire-2_thompson eastafricanblog

While we seldom had to make a wooden fire and sit around it as depicted above by thomsoneasafricanblog, we frequently sat outside during blackouts.  You see, even in our big city Kinshasa, electricity was ‘available’ but irregular so we would spend nights or weeks without it. However, blackouts turned into storytelling hours.  We (the kids) would sit on the porch of my parents’ enclosed parcel and listen to stories from my mom, my grandmother, my uncles and occasionally, my dad.

My grandma’s Sophie were the funniest.  Coco Sophie, as we call her, did not live with us at the time and would visit once a month to check on us.  If her visits coincided with a blackout, she would proceed to tell us stories of her childhood, how she learned the hard way to be obedient, why family is the most important bond, how a friend of hers fared poorly due to arrogance and selfishness, how hard she had to work as a child, etc.  My grandma is a very petite lady who loves to chatter and laugh. However, when she would tell her stories to the city boy and girl my baby brother and I were at the time, she would take that rare, deep voice and look dead serious.  Because we never took her seriously, and her stories always felt extreme, we would laugh to no end.  She would in return shake her head, smile then remind us that one day we would understand.  And we do today, Coco.  Sad but true, we have seen it happen too.

storytelling_african_businessaimimage credit (via Google)

When Coco Sophie was not available, then one of my uncles would fill in.  Sometimes, they would ask my mom to chime in to validate a point.  Otherwise, they would just sing together songs from their childhood and laugh, completely forgetting our existence…When nobody else was around during a blackout, my mom would sing, which would attract us out of our rooms.  Usually, she would then stop singing once she had an audience, and begin telling her story.  On occasions, she would keep singing and we would join…

I was not fond of blackouts growing up.  They always happened when I was watching Lois & Clark, Sunset Beach, the original Beverly Hills, the French Open, Jamais Deux Sans Toit, etc.  Otherwise, they happened when I was chatting on the PC in the computer room, or while I was studying for my many exams or quizzes.  However, I always looked forward to the resulting storytelling, because it felt like a special family bonding moment.

Today, I am sitting on my bed in the states.  It is dark (I did not switch the lights on) and I am soon to go to work but I miss it; I miss storytelling during blackouts back home.  I miss the musical duets by my uncles and my mom. I miss my mom’s voice. I miss Coco Sophie’s deep voice.  And I wish I could still laugh to no end to her stories, instead of finding out that the reality of life is indeed as ridiculously extreme as her stories….She knew better and my baby brother and I were only kids…It is your turn to laugh now, Coco.  We have learned 😉


Culture: Cornelius Nyungura – Beyond War and Bitterness (20 Nov 13)

In my teenage years, Corneille’s tune “Avec Classe” was a major hit.  Indeed, what girl doesn’t want to be respectfully wooed into believing she is the most unique specimen on earth 😉

In the song, Corneille begs me to listen to him.  He promises that he’s not like the other ‘flashy’ guys because he can discern that I am not impressed by cash.  In “Avec Classe”, Corneille promises that, if I’d allow, he would admire my interior beauty with class.  That he’d desire me with class, that my smile and my voice are enough to make him lose his head…that he truly is sincere…Then, he shouts out to his male friends that men owe women a little respect after all, since every man has a sister and their mothers were young too…a new school that Corneille guarantees every man will join at some point in life.


Up until this week, Corneille was just that flirtatious singer, with a charming voice and a cool style.  I knew his parents were Africans, that they were killed during a war and he had to run for his life at a young age, but I did not look beyond his smarts and melody.  However, if you’ve been following me, you may have noticed that I have been on memory lane lately.  As I was looking for new artists, Spotify recommended some French Canadian musician based on my history (you see, I had recently listened to “Quand tu danses”, a remix of Jean-Jacques Goldman’s hit song, reprised by Corneille as part of the Generation Goldman effort*).  Ok, back to THE story 🙂

Instead of clicking on the artist, I chose to look at Corneille’s portfolio and listen to some oldies.  Of course, Spotify did not have any of those, but a few of his later hits.  I then decided to google Corneille and listen to his songs on YouTube.  There appeared his biography on Wikipedia…and my heart melted for the young man born in Germany who grew up in Rwanda and had to watch his parents, brothers and sisters killed during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.  I will leave the Rwandan Genocide for future days if I gather enough strength and time to accurately summarize it.  Today, I want to focus on Corneille and his music.


His biography states that Corneille enjoyed music during his teens and was getting his group together when the genocide took place.  As he moved from Rwanda to Congo-Kinshasa to Germany and finally to Canada, music remained his outlet.  I do not know Corneille personally, nor can I pretend to be a steady fan.  I will not pretend to completely understand his pain either, but I can relate even if only to the smallest extent because the exposure I have had to war has marked me for life.  I was not physically hurt but I remember the trauma that comes with the prospect of pain and death at any point of time.  I remember images of dying women, raped little girls, and children being forced to join militant groups.  I remember the panic in my dad’s voice.  I remember my uncle’s determination to protect my mom, my baby brother and I…He did not even care for his own life, focusing solely on us.

War and difficult times can leave any one bitter, angry, lost. I do not know if this applies to Corneille, but his songs seem to convey the image of a man who’s been hurt at his core but still finds a way to smile at life.  His tunes are upbeat though the lyrics are deeply sad at times.  I am curious if this is his true personality (or maybe not, maybe it is better to know the minimum), and if so, what has helped him move past war and its massacres.  In my case and many others’, the bible truth has brought into light the origin of suffering while giving a hope for the future.  So we keep on living each day to the fullest, ‘as if it were our last one…because we come from so far’, would say Corneille. Then, again, how to properly live one’s life to the fullest is another topic 🙂

Corneille - cover_je_me_pardonne

Yes, I am impressed that Corneille’s songs convey good manners (I hope they all do!), respect for women and letting go.  They are definitely fresh air from the painfully explicit but empty lyrics so in vogue nowadays…or am I just a twenty-something old soul.

In any case, let’s listen to Corneille together.  See video links for “Avec Classe”, “Le Bar des Sentimentalistes“, “Parce qu’On Vient de Loin“, “Toi“, “Si Tu Savais“, “Je Me Pardonne” and “Ensemble“.  His English album on Amazon HERE.

*Generation Goldman (I and II) is a compilation of Jean-Jacques Goldman’s hits, as remixed by today’s popular French/Canadian/European singers in an effort to honor Goldman and introduce the younger generation to his profound music.

Images courtesy of, Youtube and Google.