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Congolese Rumba the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO



Congolese rumba was inscribed in 2021 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Congolese rumba is a musical genre and a dance common in urban areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo. Generally danced by a male-female couple, it is a multicultural form of expression originating from an ancient dance called nkumba (meaning ‘waist’ in Kikongo). The rumba is used for celebration and mourning, in private, public and religious spaces. It is performed by professional and amateur orchestras, choirs, dancers and individual musicians, and women have played a predominant role in the development of religious and romantic styles. The tradition of Congolese rumba is passed down to younger generations through neighbourhood clubs, formal training schools and community organisations. For instance, rumba musicians maintain clubs and apprentice artists to carry on the practice and the manufacture of instruments. The rumba also plays an important economic role, as orchestras are increasingly developing cultural entrepreneurship aimed at reducing poverty. The rumba is considered an essential and representative part of the identity of Congolese people and its diaspora. It is perceived as a means of conveying the social and cultural values of the region and of promoting intergenerational and social cohesion and solidarity.



Congolese rumba joins other living traditions such as Jamaican reggae music and Singaporean hawker food on Unesco's "intangible cultural heritage of humanity" list. The UN's cultural body says bestowing this status helps to "maintain cultural diversity in the face of growing globalisation".

The music and dance became emblematic of the anti-colonial fight in the 20th Century, notes Unesco Director-General Audrey Azoulay, adding that it is the "political nature of this music which inspires so many artists all around the world today".



Congolese rumba is a musical genre and a dance used in formal and informal spaces for celebration and mourning. It is primarily an urban practice danced by a male-female couple. Performed by professional and amateur artists, the practice is passed down to younger generations through neighbourhood clubs, formal training schools and community organisations. The rumba is considered an integral part of Congolese identity and a means of promoting intergenerational cohesion and solidarity.
 UNESCO


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