Thursday, April 7, 2011

Congo Classical & African Hip Hop In the Bronx: New York African Film Festival 2011

Opening the New York African Film Festival last night were two films about music, featuring hip hop in the Bronx by way of Tanzania, and classical music in the Congo. The term 'African music' can cover a lot!

The eight minute Bongo Barbershop began the evening. Filmed in a matter of hours in the Bronx, it gives us a little insight into the African diaspora here in New York.  Director Charlie Ahearn recreates the arrival of a Tanzanian citizen who is looking for 'the real hip hop' and ends up in a barbershop in the Bronx. Like a streetwise musical, the barbershop becomes a performance space as the US and Tanzania challenge each other to rap. Short in time and budget, the film is more of a lyrical styling around an idea than a fully fledged film, but it had the audience at the Lincoln center wooping. Check the whole film on youtube:

The opening night feature, Kinshasa Symphony, is a gem. Stories from the Congo usually reach US screens through news reports of civil war, rape, mass migration, and poverty. Kinshasa Symphony brings a very different story to the global stage: a documentary on the city's Symphony Orchestra as it prepares for its biggest concert yet in Kinshasa. In spite of a total lack of funding, instruments and, for many members, musical experience, the director pushes the orchestra on with determination. Watch on as classical music takes over Kinshasa!

The film is a joy to watch, with intriguing characters and hilarious moments. It is beautifully shot, and worth the price of a ticket for the images of Kinshasa and the orchestra alone. Of course, the soundtrack filling almost the entire film is a welcome bonus! From Beethoven on a bus to Congolese soukous in the streets, music drives the film forward.

We highly recommend Kinshasa Symphony and urge all those in New York to see it this Friday.

You can watch the trailer below, but be warned of spoilers!

Check out the rest of the New York African Film Festival program here.

And don't forget that the New York Havana Film Festival is an all this week too, including a salsa film or two. Check out their program here.

Make the most of it, NYC!

-Kate Bolgar Smith
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