Posted on Thursday, 22 October 2015 12:37

Jean-Pierre Bokondji a.k.a. Jupiter: I've had many lives

By Claire Rainfroy

Photos© Florent de la Tullaye/Belle Kinoise ProdMinisterial private secretary, funeral musician, international pop star and the subject of a documentary, Jupiter's orbit continues as he promotes congolese culture to the world

A politically engaged musician who takes inspiration from the Democratic Republic of Congo's some 450 different ethnic groups, Jean-Pierre Bokondji, a.k.a Jupiter, does not have much hope for his generation but is fighting for the next one.

For us, we're already screwed. We are a sacrificed generation

"For us, we're already screwed. We are a sacrificed generation: our parents mismanaged the country after independence. Things are only starting to pick up now," Jupiter says.

He has great hopes for the future: "The situation is changing. We are no longer in the era of slavery or colonisers, nor are we in an independent era. We are already in the global era with the advent of the internet. I think fu- ture generations can benefit from the riches of Congo and our mission is to lay the foundation for them. For example, with my world tour, Congolese artists will be noticed and I hope that producers will come searching for them!"

Earphones in the ears and a guitar in hand, Jupiter is usually surrounded by music. But his goal is not music for music's sake. "My role is to change attitudes through my music. Of course, I'm concerned about my country! The only thing is that each one has his way of going about things. I might be a member of parliament one day. Who knows?" he says.

Curious in Kinshasa

Born in 1963, Jupiter has tried many things in his life. "At the time of Mobutu, I was involved in the Condor political movement. Mobutu spoke then of democracy. I was even the private secretary of one of his ministers. I've had many lives. I'm a curious man."

That curiosity led him to explore his country's culture, but he says that he did not have to leave the country's capital city in order learn something from the country's many ethnic groups.

"You know, Congo has more than 450 ethnic groups, and they can all be found in Kinshasa! When I was performing during funeral ceremonies, I was able to take a trip around Congo just through the capital city. That is how I came into contact with traditional music," he explains.

While some other musicians have left the instability of Kinshasa for a life in Europe, Jupiter says that he wants to stay in Kinshasa. He lived in Europe with his father when he was younger, but "I saw the situation of Congolese people there and I didn't want to find myself in their shoes. I preferred to stay in Kinshasa. We have an immense and untapped cultural wealth! My goal is to share my experience with future generations. I work with small groups who are learning from my career. I advise them to draw inspiration from their ethnic cultures as I did from mine, the Mongo tribe. It's so vast!"

Jupiter and the band have performed across Europe with the Brit-pop band Blur. Damon Albarn, leader of the group, spotted Jupiter & Okwess International during one of his Africa Express events.

Jupiter's raspy voice featured in Renaud Barret and Florent de La Tullaye's 2006 documentary film La Danse de Jupiter, which also shone a spotlight on the band Staff Benda Bilili, another Congolese music phenomenon.

"My collaboration with Damon Albarn is not new," he explains. "We met around 2007 in Kinshasa, and we immediately felt a connection. Back then, I had no idea who he was. We shared our views on music and it was only later that I found out that it was Damon and Blur! He's now a friend and he's always given me opportun- ities which have helped me tour Europe and the world." Albarn is producing the band's new album, which is set for release before the end of this year.


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