‘Beyond the walls’
The installation of the Kinshasa Staff Band (KSB) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa, attended by Ronald Waiksnoris, USA Eastern Territorial music director and New York Staff Band (NYSB) bandmaster, was a musical mission of monumental proportions. Daniel Diakanwa, corps officer of the New Rochelle, N.Y., Corps and son of the first African territorial commander in Congo, introduced Waiksnoris to his home country, where Salvation Army is celebrating 80 years of ministry.
From September 1–11, 2014, Waiksnoris and Diakanwa conducted a music seminar attended by 40 bandmasters and songster leaders. The following is an excerpt from Waiksnoris’s recollections.
Monday, September 1: A long flight from Newark, N.J., to Brussels, Belgium, is delayed two hours. I’m enjoying coffee with Captain Daniel Diakanwa and talking about things to come in Kinshasa. We then take another long flight to Africa with a short stop in Angola. It’s a spectacularly modern city. Back in the air, we approach Kinshasa. Upon landing, I see it is a developing city. Daniel has a friend among the guards who moves us smoothly through Passport Control and baggage claim.
During our ride to the hotel, we see people along the highway run in front of busses, cars, and vans. Those vehicles are so filled with people, some hang outside. There is much shouting and horn blowing.
We arrive at a lovely, small, new hotel in the center of the city. It has a restaurant and about 30 air–conditioned rooms. There is also TV and Internet service. What more could I want? Sleep!
Tuesday, September 2: I travel to Territorial Headquarters (THQ) in Kinshasa. I’m amazed at our driver’s ability. Everywhere, I see streets that might have been paved at one time. There are few traffic lights or stop signs. Open drains create another hazard. Eventually, we see THQ, a walled compound in a busy area of the city.
Commissioner Madeleine Ngwanga, territorial commander, welcomes us. She prays for us and for The Salvation Army. Later, we receive a briefing on the seminar/workshop I am to give. We meet with Sergeant Jean–Marc Mbumu, the national bandmaster, and Sergeant Joseph Nsilulu, the national songster leader.
The seminar is to be held at the Army’s William Booth University. The Army runs many elementary and high schools and has a university, which, according to Daniel, is the largest Salvation Army university with over 2,000 students. The compound covers many rocky and dusty acres.
The Central Corps, formerly called Leopoldville Central, is on the university. We look inside and see the young people’s band rehearsing. They are good. I think, Perhaps the Staff Band is as promising! There’s a 3,000–seat hall being built for General Cox’s visit a month from now.
After we walk across a soccer field and into a weathered building, doors open on a spectacular chandeliered room, complete with red velvet–covered chairs and most important—air conditioning. God is so good, all the time!
Wednesday, September 3: Forty bandmasters and songster leaders attend the seminar. We sing beautiful Army choruses and enjoy a time of prayer. I speak to them about making musical sound, living lives of sound judgment and doctrine so that our Christian witness sends the right message to people.
I enlist four trombonists to play a lovely piece arranged by Dr. Dorothy Gates on the hymn “Be Thou My Vision.” This piece features the trombones in unison. Then we harmonize the music for a quartet. Then I tell the group, “Harmony, blend, and balance are important in our lives as well as in our music.”
I then share the NYSB congregational song series. They enjoy singing a couple of them. I give National Bandmaster Mbumu the published set and the DVD to use with the KSB and around the territory.
I say to the delegates, “We must think big and always have something on the horizon.” I then share a video of the NYSB in Pasadena, Calif. The video gives us a chance to talk about opportunities for special musical programs.
I then introduce them to Salvationist “Star Search” and “Future All Stars” before holding a Q&A session. I answer general questions about the NYSB and typical leadership questions such as “How do we move old people out and bring in our young people?” “How do you deal with people who are less faithful or less competent?” I think, these are much the same issues that we have at home!
I rehearse with the band that, in a few short days, will be commissioned as the Kinshasa Staff Band. I spend time working on style, precision, and pitch.
We enjoy supper on our own at a beautiful, quiet restaurant. Lt. Colonel Lucien Lamartiniere, chief secretary, takes Captain Diakanwa and myself to what seems to me to be an oasis in the midst of dry and dusty streets.
Thursday, September 4: I want to sleep in. However, once I have a little breakfast pizza and some strong coffee, I’m ready. Daniel and I catch a ride to the city to visit a corps and a Salvation Army school. This corps has started a new building that will have a seating capacity of 1,000 people. They have a corps band of 25 and are next to a Salvation Army school that has 800 students. That morning, 65 principals from Salvation Army schools show up for a conference.
The corps officer is a lieutenant who also holds a degree in law. We talk about the corps’ potential as well as the difficulty he finds in making things happen. However, I think he will have a great future!
We return to THQ, visit Trade, and then go back to the hotel for lunch and a bit of regrouping.
Back at that beautiful room at the University, we rehearse with the National Songsters.
They sing with a strong chest voice rather than a head voice, typical of western choirs. When the songsters sing gospel and incorporate “gospel steps,” there’s no doubt that they invented them.
“Total Praise,” translated by Daniel and sung in Lingala, is beautiful. I’m reminded that God started something special with The Salvation Army.
Captain Diakanwa seems to know people everywhere. His father, Commissioner Mbakanu Diakanwa, was the first African territorial commander.
Tonight, supper is at the home of Major and Mrs. Philippe Mabwidi, the territorial music & arts secretary. They have a modest home within the walls of the William Booth University. We enjoy a tasty meal of fish, chicken, beef, potatoes, rice, and salad.
Friday, September 5: We travel 50 miles to the Army’s Kansangulu School & Clinic. Dirt roads, dusty beyond belief, are driven on by Jaguars and Porsches.
The boarding school comprises 800 students, elementary through high school. Purchased many years ago and built by Salvation Army missionaries from Belgium and Sweden, I sense a joy and pride in the administrators as they tell me, “Yes, the students test well!”
Songster rehearsal is great fun as, once again, I speak in English and they respond in French or in Lingala. I think, Bill Rollins would enjoy hearing in Lingala his “I Feel Like Praising Him.”
Sunday, September 7: We go to the Kintambo Corps. After pushing the van to get it started, we cruise along the beautiful, 8–lane Boulevard of Independence. The Chinese have invested in this boulevard as well as other infrastructures in Kinshasa. The hotel where I’m staying was built and is owned by people from India.
The corps facility is similar to other Army properties—a vast but dusty land holding. Nonetheless, about 200–250 soldiers (actually a comparatively smaller corps) gathers for what will become a three–hour worship service. Junior Band, Senior Band, Singing Company, Contemporary Group, Senior Songsters, and Timbrels all take part.
It is my privilege to give the Bible message. I speak on Joshua 5 and the Walls of Jericho. It is as if God is testing the walls of the corps as the band plays and the people shout “hallelujah!” The joy of the Lord fills the room.
After a lovely meal at the corps officer’s quarters, we head back to the university for a festival to inaugurate the Kinshasa Staff Band. Today, we celebrate 75 years of banding in this territory.
The 75th Anniversary Band plays classics, including “The Star Lake March” by Eric Ball. The 75th Anniversary Songsters also sing. The Kinshasa Staff Band then enters. Wearing new red festival tunics and gleaming white trousers, they march to a video showing the New York Staff Band performing “Come Join Our Army.”
Jean Marc Minubu, bandmaster, leads the band in Kevin Larsson’s “They Shall Come from the East.” Commissioner Ngwanga, territorial commander, offers a powerful inaugural speech, receives the new staff band flag presented by Daniel Diakanwa on behalf of Congolese Salvationists in the U.S., installs the band, and prays as the members kneel.
Among items played by the KSB are Martin Cordner’s “The Adventurers,” which features Tom Mack’s “He Leadeth Me,” and “Star Lake 70” by Stephen Bulla, “Troops Salute” by Paul Sharman, and the ever–popular “Vitae Aeternum” by Paul Lovett Cooper. The band’s unique approach is much appreciated by the 500 people in the university’s concert hall.
After the concert, cameras flash until Major Mabwidi finally says, “We must get ready to have supper with the Territorial Commander!”
All around Kinshasa, there are walls. Some are dirty, run down, and frightening. But behind them are beautiful homes and elegant restaurants.
We find a lovely, modern one where we enjoy a delicious meal. Speaking in Lingala, Commissioner Ngwanga exudes strength, charm, and warmth. Daniel translates every word.
But more than that, I’m happy to have him with me because he so thoroughly understands both the American and the Congolese cultures.
by Ronald Waiksnoris