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Congoloese rumba 'cha-chas' into UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage list

The smooth grooves of Congolese rumba was added to UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list
The smooth grooves of Congolese rumba was added to UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list   -   Copyright  AFP
By Theo Farrant  & AFP

UNESCO are adding the Congolese rumba dance to its intangible cultural heritage list, sparking delight in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo-Brazzaville.

A United Nations' culture summit approved the two countries' joint application to add rumba to its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list, where it joins Cuban rumba, the Central African Republic's polyphonic pygmy music and the drums of Burundi.

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi says he welcomes the news "with joy and happiness" as citizens from both nations celebrated on social media.

Where did rumba originate?

Specialists have located rumba's origins in the ancient central African kingdom of Kongo, where people practised a dance called 'Nkumba'.

The word means navel as performances involved a man and woman dancing with their navel opposite the other person's.

Africans brought their music and culture across the Atlantic through the slave trade, eventually giving birth to jazz in North America and rumba in South America.

Traders then brought the music back to Africa through records and guitars in more recent times.

What does rumba look like today?

The modern version of rumba is 100 years old and symbolises cities and bars, Andre Yoka Lye, a director at the DRC's national arts institute in the capital Kinshasa, told AFP.

He says rumba has been marked by the political history of the two Congos before and after independence and is "present in all areas of national life".

It draws on nostalgia, cultural exchange, resistance, resilience and the sharing of pleasure through its flamboyant "sape" dress code.

"These treasures from Congo and exported throughout the world are part of our pride," DRC government spokesman Patrick Muyaya tweeted last week in anticipation of the announcement.

The people of both countries say the dance lives on and hope its addition to UNESCO's list will give it greater fame even among Congolese.

Check out the video above to see the dancers in action.