Kuzikiliza: Pitcho Womba Konga lets himself be heard

A conversation between KVS city dramaturge Kristin Rogghe and theatremaker Pitcho Womba Konga. 

Kuzikiliza, your first play, is inspired by a speech Patrice Lumumba gave in 1960. Where did the need come from to make that play?
I made the play out of a need to address the colonial past of Belgium and its shared history with my country. I never heard about that in school or in the media. I was already 20 years old when I learnt about it for the first time. I was thinking: all this shit happened, an nobody talks about it?! I visited the museum of Central-Africa in Tervuren to learn more about the history and its representation, and to understand why it was so rarely spoken about in Belgium. I started to read more about Congo and encountered the figure of Lumumba, and the speech he gave at the ceremony where Congo became independent – the speech that he paid with his life. I was intrigued: what was it that made this speech so special, so dangerous? To me it just sounded like a great freedom fighter speech. If he would have been a Flemish guy, it would probably be seen as an example of a powerful and universal speech, a speech everybody should hear. So my question was: what can I do to make it heard and understood in its universality? Kuzikiliza means: making oneself heard.  To do that, we first need to examine relationships of domination between human beings.

In my search for a universal language, I used hiphop with its different disciplines like rapping, beatboxing and breakdancing. What is more universal than hiphop, nowadays? It’s one of the most globally spread cultures. Some people think that hiphop is linked to the ghetto, the hood. The local context is indeed important, but influences in hiphop culture come from everywhere. It makes you aware of an infinity of possibilities: there are so many different ways of seeing and doing things. And that is what I want to experiment with in my art as well. 

Which reactions did you provoke with your play so far?
Kuzikiliza has been very well received, both by the audience and in the media. There has been an interest that surpassed my expectations. What surprised me most was to see how mixed the audience is: youngsters, elderly people, white people, black people, arab people… It resonated well with my wish to reveal the universality of Lumumba’s speech. 

After one of the performances, two young women of Congolese origin came to see me. They said they really liked the show, but there was one scene they didn’t understand: a scene where you see the speech being performed by different women: black women, white women, brown women. ‘But Lumumba is ours, no?’ they said. They felt as if the play gave Lumumba back to them, but then they didn’t understand why I brought these other people in. I told them that I wanted to share this story, this history. Lumumba doesn’t belong to me! If tomorrow an Asian person would decide to talk about Lumumba after seeing the play, that would feel like a victory to me.

Art is not something I use to comfort my community, or to comfort whoever, but to question my community, to question myself, and to question people in general. All spaces of art are only interesting because they allow us to meet the other. It’s all a pretext to encounter each other, to get to know people you wouldn’t know when you would stay at home.