Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula tells it like it is and should be in More more more... future
Even an ocean away, on a scratchy cellphone line that sporadically cuts out, Congo-based dancer-choreographer Faustin Linyekula comes across as lively, articulate, passionate, a rigorous thinker and deeply politicized. His free-wheeling performance More more more… future, soon in Montreal for Festival Transamériques, flies in the face of generalized perceptions of the overwhelming and dire realities of poverty, death, illiteracy and political turmoil in Africa and counters the perpetual ambivalence about these concerns. Narrow understanding and Eurocentric stereotyping of African dance/performance cultures fall into the same self-interest category. As Africanist and performance scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild succinctly writes, "Our concept of Africa is a lie."
Storied past, untold future
Linyekula greets the expectations that meet his globe-tilting work – including the African diaspora’s sociopolitical wants and needs – head-on. It’s important, he says, to contextualize his work and concerns "by telling my stories," negotiating past, present and future constantly. He is part of a dynamic and varied generation of artists who reconsider aesthetics and physicality on their own terms. "I like calling myself a storyteller," says Linyekula.
Before Linyekula danced, he studied literature. "I had a chance to start writing short stories in the context of Négritude." Black French-speaking writers in Paris launched this literary and ideological movement in 1932, reasserting traditional African cultural values, rejecting colonialist policies and attitudes and influencing many black writers over the next decades.
As Linyekula describes it, he needed to distance himself from this "big, heavy heritage. Négritude told us being black is this. I come from a period where this is blurred." In his own work and life, he couldn’t be contained by it. He favours shifting paradigms: "My Africa is in the becoming. Identity is not fixed."
Born in the city of Kisangani in 1974, in the heart of the tropical rainforests in the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.) (which later became Zaire and is now once again the D.R.C.), Linyekula escaped the country in the early ’90s. This was at the height of the brutal military dictatorship of Joseph Mobutu (later known as Mobutu Sese Seko), whose regime incited civil strife, inter-ethnic warring, the abuse of public power, human rights atrocities and widespread misery and corruption.
Spending eight years in exile (1993-2001) in Kenya, where he attended university, Linyekula never ceased dreaming of returning to the Congo to create his stage work. When he did, he founded a company and multidisciplinary art centre, Studios Kabako, located in Kisangani, where he’s trained actors and dancers in methods of thinking about performance. It’s not incidental that he cites Pina Bausch’s famous quote, "I’m not interested in how people move; I’m interested in what makes them move."
Of course, it’s not in the title alone that More more more… future is positive and forward-thinking. The cross-arts stage work features a rock trio led by superb guitarist Flamme Kapaya, a huge star in Congo and the show’s musical director, three dancers (including Linyekula) and two singers. Driving the piece is Linyekula’s unique take on ndombolo, the highly danceable hip-swinging Congolese pop-music genre stemming from the late ’40s and early ’50s, encompassing Afro-Caribbean rumba, local rhythms and melodies.
Because ndombolo videos unerringly feature beautiful women, couture clothing and expensive cars, "as if it just grew on trees, in a country where in fact you have to start all over again every day," Linyekula says, they lull Congolese audiences into a hallucinatory comfort zone. So Linyekula wanted to twist the music with the energy of the punk movement (its "no future" agitation awoke Britons to realities within their society). By ramping up ndombolo with punk’s anarchic spirit, he assaults people with the music. It’s loud and the lights glare, and with the raging cry "More more more… future!" this raucous party of a performance he’s devised unquestionably rocks.
The text, written by Linyekula’s poet and friend, the political prisoner Antoine Vumilia Muhindo, is another "protagonist," he says, raising again the show’s fury quotient. Decked out in designer/recycler Xuly Bët’s patchwork urban-punk-pop Afro-fusion costumes, the performers roar, "We are dancing but it’s nothing but a procession towards the burial chambers – open your eyes!|"
Linyekula takes nothing for granted. This performance, he says, with its built-in Congolese structure and ideas and ambience of culture-jamming, raises "the awareness of where you are in the world and how can you build and imagine." The challenges for Linyekula, and many artists in similar circumstances, are immense, as he fights to express his ideas while engulfed by stories of destruction in his native Africa and his country’s own complex and precarious history. "To be positive is most subversive. Celebrating is a way of resisting," he says. "We’re still alive in all this." For him, no future truly means any future.
More more more… future
At Usine C (1345 Lalonde), June 1-3