In 2010, and on the 50th anniversary of Congolese independence, a Belgian-Congolese artist named Baloji released his own take on the song Independence Cha Cha. Grand Kalle originally created the song in 1960, as an optimistic anthem to the newly gained independence. In this video, we seek to show the sharp contrasts between the two Independence Cha Chas. Furthermore, we would like to demonstrate the role that musicians play in the production of history. Yasmin and I were initially highly interested in looking at how the arts play a part in interpreting history, and thus we decided to collaborate together. After reading Speaking with Vampires: Rumor and Gossip in Colonial Africa by Luise White for class we were both inspired to be more creative with our sources and the way we approach our project. It also encouraged us to look for sources that come from the Congo itself. We explored various avenues such as music, theater, paintings, and literature. We finally settled on examining music because it was the only common interest, more specifically we decided to understand how musicians can also be historians themselves. This decision was made during one of our meetings in which we both discovered Baloji and his remake of the song Independence Cha Cha (2010). We were instantly moved by the lyrics and the way his mannerisms contrasted with Grand Kalle’s Independence Cha Cha (1960). Soon after we began brainstorming ways in which we can use the materials we have gathered to create a project.
One of our initial ideas consisted of interviewing Baloji himself to understand his perspective on the way his song reinterprets the Congolese narrative of independence. However, despite Baloji’s instant replies at the beginning of our correspondence, we were not able to set up an official meeting date and time to film an interview-style video for our project. After three months of following up with him and his manger, we had almost given up on the hopes of interviewing him for the project. With each month of delay, we started to shift the focal point of the project from the man himself to the lyrics of Independence Cha Cha. However, when we presented our ideas to the class during the seminar in which Yasmin and I lead the class discussion we shifted our focal point yet again towards the discourse on Afrobeats music and what does it represent. We thought about looking at the history of Afrobeats and how it has evolved throughout history to become something else. However, this was such a big topic that only led towards more confusion and we lost the main purpose of our goal. Thus, we went back to our original idea of examining Baloji’s reinterpretation of Congolese independence.
On January 18th, 2020 we were able to manage to interview Baloji via video chat for ten minutes, and although Yasmin and I were practically done with our final product we decided to add some audio taken from the interview into the project as bonus content. Even though this resulted in re-editing the entire video to make it fit more smoothly, it was worth it because it felt like the missing ingredient to our final product.
We decided to make the project a video rather than a paper for five main reasons; firstly, we believed that whilst making a video would be more challenging it would help us develop a new way for us to communicate history. Secondly, a video would engage a wider audience as it is more accessible and entertaining than academic writing. Thirdly, the best way for us to convey the contrast in tone between the two Independence Cha Cha’s is to incorporate the audio into the project and that would not have been possible if it were simply a written document. Finally, we wanted to convey to the audience how Baloji’s lyrics summed up Congo’s reality and history by matching his lyrics with the corresponding visual of the occasion he was referencing.
Notwithstanding all the advantages of creating a video instead of a paper for the project, there were some problems we encountered whilst doing so. Primarily, our main issue was trying to get the video to be around ten minutes long. At the beginning the video was very long and, it did not convey the argument we were attempting to demonstrate. However, after consulting a communications expert we received some practical advice on how to organize our video to create a stronger structure. It was unlike structuring a paper, which is how Yasmin and I initially started organizing our ideas for the video. Furthermore, it was a challenge to avoid using so many clips of texts to explain to the audience what they are about to see and what they should be looking for when they do see the inserted clips. According to the communications expert, a good video or short movie should be able to allow the audience to receive a message without so many clips of texts, as transitional texts tend to disengage the audience.