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I sat in the front seat of Congo Initiative’s UCBC van this morning, coffee in hand, white bread with avocado resting precariously on my knee. After a day of heavy rain, the air was cool and the clouds hung high above the Renzwori Mountains to the east. I could even see the top of the snow-capped peaks, only partially covered by a light grey mist. It was beautiful.
Here in Congo, I have felt the juxtaposition between joy and sorrow, beauty and tragedy, in a way I’m not sure I’ve experienced anywhere else. They exist side-by-side, one not ever very far from the other. My host, Dr. Kasali, attended three funerals last week. Three. As we sat at the dinner table the other night, we prayed for a respite. We prayed that no one would be killed or die from disease this week. Just a week. Give us a week of peace.
That’s the heartbreaking reality of this place. War and death surround us on all sides. Uncertainty and distress. Tension and grief. Tragedy, yes…but not despair. Despair is not profound enough to explain the experience. Tragedy is simply the truth. We can move through tragedy; it is difficult, almost impossible, to move through despair.
So the question is, what are people doing to move through it, to bring light, and to give hope to this broken country?
I saw Pacifique on the big screen before I ever met him in person. During a lunch break of the Lawyer’s Conference, they put his music video, clearly shot on the campus of UCBC, up in the front of the meeting hall. When I bumped into him a few days later, I said, “Oh, I know you!” So late last week, I sat down with him to hear his story and his passion for bringing hope – through music – to Congo.
Pacifique was eight or nine years old when his family moved to the North Kivu province of Congo, to a town called Bunia, a few hours north of where UCBC now sits. The son of a Methodist pastor, he was always captivated by music, and was enthralled listening to his grandmother sing in the church choir. Pacifique grew up singing in Sunday school choirs, memorizing the words and the melodies, and was seen teaching them to kids outside of the church’s four walls.
Congolese music is different and distinct from other types of African music, and after hearing a South African group come to their area as a pre-teen, he was inspired by the gospel style that he heard. He did everything he could to procure cassette tapes of their music and listened to them night and day, learning the style, and improvising his own musical ideas over the top.
As I mentioned before, tragedy has not been far from Congo, at least not in recent memory, and between 1996 and 1997, Pacifique and his family fled from Bunia to Uganda to seek refuge from the ongoing war. To keep themselves occupied and comforted, he and his siblings (there were eight of them!) would sing together at night.
Eventually, his family relocated to Beni (the home of Congo Initiative) to escape the enduring conflicts in Bunia. In 2000, Pacifique’s family got their first TV, and he started to watch French performers, hip-hop artists, and R&B singers. He said, “Every time I saw a guitar on the TV, my heart would skip a beat! I just got so excited to even just see one.” Through their influence, he began to write his own music.
The challenge, and he realized this even as a teenager, was to write songs that were meaningful, and from the heart. He recognized that his writing lacked honesty, and it was his heart’s desire to speak truth through his music. As he matured as a singer/songwriter, his passion for peace and reconciliation within his country grew, and he began to communicate that in his songs.
Around that time, he wrote a song that he was particularly proud of, taught it to a handful of singers, and recorded it in the studio. Now, this was Congo at the beginning of the new millennium, so the technology was limited. It wasn’t possible to lay separate tracks; everything was recorded simultaneously. And thus began Pacifique’s career as a recording artist in Congo.
The road for him has not been an easy one. As they say, no one ever appreciates genius coming out of their own town. A producer stole money he put down on a project, violence has kept him from traveling, sound engineers have presented a poor product, and promises have not been kept. He won a local singing competition that would have granted him exposure in the capital, Kinshasa – but the project was underfunded and nothing ever came of it.
Understanding the importance of a solid education to back up his pursuit of a musical career, Pacifique started at UCBC in 2008 as a Communication Studies major. Through the program there, he has had the opportunity to get involved in film and radio, which has complemented his passion for music, and in the last several years, he has had the chance to star in several music videos. He’s beginning to build a significant platform on which he can communicate the need for forgiveness and reconciliation in eastern Congo and throughout the country.
Yes, it’s true that Congo faces uncertainty, conflict, and tragedy, but this place and these people have reinforced for me that tragedy does not mean despair. For Pacifique, he has found a unique way to communicate hope, truth, and love to an area in desperate need.
Below you can find links to buy Pacifique’s music on iTunes, Amazon, and other online retailers. Please encourage and support his work and continue to spread the word of the amazing things that are coming out of this beautiful country.
Until next time,
- To hear some of Pacifique's music, check him out on iTunes here. His music is also available in many other stores.
About the Author: Sarah is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She has her undergraduate degree in Business Communication from Azusa Pacific University in Southern California and is currently working on her Masters degree in Organizational Leadership. Sarah recently finished a two and a half year assignment working for an anti-trafficking NGO in Kathmandu, Nepal, where she had the opportunity to mentor and lead college students in ministry abroad. She is mildly obsessed with Jeopardy, coffee, running, and the Atlanta Falcons.