Tale of a Brussels storyteller
Pitcho Womba Konga is known for many creative endeavours, but above all he’s an urban artist. That moniker brings him from Malcolm X to Lumumba, from slam poetry to contemporary classical music. Through his acting and directing work, Pitcho questions what he and we all know or pretend to know about the world. The result is often surprising, moving, even enraging, but never leaves you indifferent. This is the tale of a brave Bruxellois who looks at the world through eyes wide open.
Where did you get the hunger that drives you to all these different art forms?
I’m terribly voracious, because I’m curious by nature. Through hip hop culture I discovered that it’s not the packaging but the content that counts. If you want to tell a story, you find a way to deliver it. That’s the core of my work as an artist: telling stories. Whether that’s through music, film or theatre matters less to me than the message I want to convey.
How do you manage to interweave historical and personal perspectives throughout your work?
I think it’s not very interesting to represent the life and work of someone like Malcolm X or Lumumba as the truth. It’s much more interesting to see which insights we have today. There’s not just a duty of remembrance, but also a duty of change. How does the memory impact us and the relationship between people? How do I handle it as an artist? I can choose between anger, or transmitting a message coloured through my own experience.
My perspective is that of a Congolese who loves hip hop and who lives and works in Brussels. That’s a totally different perspective from someone who grew up in, say, New York. I am not interested in precise biographies. That’s why I’m not trying to present a “truth”. It’s all about impact to me. It’s much more interesting if a project results in a big question mark and not a bite-sized answer. The questioning isn’t over after the performance, it continues to exist.
For your play Kuzikiliza you use the independence speech of Lumumba as a basis. What makes it a good starting point?
Lumumba testified about the reality he had experienced in Congo, which was hard to accept for a number of Belgians. I wondered how we deal with media that overload us with information and that have so much influence on someone’s public image. Even if you experience lots of opposition, it’s still more interesting to make up your own mind and formulate an opinion. That requires time, research and constant reflection. That was the work around Lumumba, and what mattered to me.
What can a figure like Lumumba signify for future generations?
In Belgium we are only just starting to understand that different cultures have equal value. We all need heroes who look like us – especially when that hero stems from a shared history. If you take that away from people, they no longer feel at home in society. Historical figures like Lumumba or the former president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, have become heroes through their determination, and have died for their ideals. They are sources of inspiration who can offer hope to future generations and encourage them to make their dreams and ambitions reality.
Are you weary of being labelled as a “activist artist”?
I don’t like pigeonholes, but I understand that people need them to classify things or people. I just see myself as an urban artist. That’s the source of my artistic reflections. I don’t see activism as a purely political action. Activism is all about deeds. That makes artists activists too. It’s about that process of creation, reflection, talking to people and building performances. That is my form of activism. I don’t need to make plays about Malcolm X or Lumumba to become an activist. I engage with subjects that engage me. I do notice that within the cultural field it’s deemed important that a person of African descent is talking about Lumumba. The only thing I think of is the next level: how do I create a play about love and violence, without having to use a “strong” main character. I just want to tell stories. Of course I am socially committed, but don’t call me a “political activist”.
What should we expect from you in the coming year?
Kuzikiliza is being reprised in January 2019. We are also working on L’expérience Pi, an ambitious co-production with Le Botanique, Arsonic and Théâtre de Liège. Then there’s KVS project Rise Up, where I lead poetry workshops. And I’m also writing for three television series.
Finally, what is your biggest dream?
I would love acting in a Spike Lee film. I’m also looking forward to becoming a father at some point, starting a family. I am incredibly grateful for the path I’ve been sent on. This job has often brought me close to ultimate happiness.
Pitcho Womba Konga in conversation with Hugues Makaba Ntoto