Rumba Rules

The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu’s Zaire

Bob W. White



Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) from 1965 until 1997, was fond of saying “happy are those who sing and dance,” and his regime energetically promoted the notion of culture as a national resource. During this period Zairian popular dance music (often referred to as la rumba zaïroise) became a sort of musica franca in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. But how did this privileged form of cultural expression, one primarily known for a sound of sweetness and joy, flourish under one of the continent’s most brutal authoritarian regimes? In Rumba Rules, the first ethnography of popular music in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bob W. White examines not only the economic and political conditions that brought this powerful music industry to its knees, but also the ways that popular musicians sought to remain socially relevant in a time of increasing insecurity.


[White's] poignant research and heavily-referenced text showcases a rather complex and dynamic musical historiography and ethnography of Zaire's (now Congo's) musicians. . . . [A]n in-depth guide to the music and society of a people transformed and shaped by political policies and pressures. The text contains an extensive notes section, bibliography, small discography, and index. Scholars and students of African music with Congolese interests would benefit most from the text’s information. Yet, it is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in music. - Matthew J. Forss, Callaloo


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