Now, she’s working on a multimedia project, “Commemorating Congo: Unsung Stories of Resource Wars,” which shares the experiences of survivors and participants of the Congolese wars.
“Sometimes creative expression is a matter of survival,” Ndaliko writes in “Necessary Noise.” “But sometimes it is a currency that cloaks the machinery of power in the guise of art.”
From Congo to Carolina
Bringing attention to the conflict in Congo was a large part of Ndaliko’s decision to bring her work to the United States.
Ndaliko returned to the U.S. in 2010 while on tour for her husband’s film, “Jazz Mama,” which focuses on the strength and dignity of Congolese women in the face of violence. As part of the film’s introduction, she asked the crowds how many had heard of the wars in Congo. The responses were disappointing — usually less than three people raised their hands, and of those people, few knew what the conflict was about. The pair visited 33 universities and colleges and the results were the same.
“This is an economic war. It is funded by multinational corporations, most of which are rooted in this country,” Ndaliko says. “Even if we can empower every single Congolese in this generation, they have no influence over American corporate policy. And the people who do have influence over that have no idea that this is even happening.”
In 2012, Ndaliko decided to come teach at Carolina.
“If we think of education as the long-term strategy of change, who needs this information?” Ndaliko asks. Her answer? Young Americans.
As a way to forge a connection with Congo, Ndaliko has her Carolina students work on a collaborative art project with their peers at Yole!Africa. Over Skype and Facebook, they produce music videos, songs, and photo essays.
“They get really excited,” Ndaliko says. “And they make fast friends. There are plenty of folks I can think of who have maintained relationships with the people they’ve collaborated with.”
Forging connections with Congolese students, Ndaliko believes, is a powerful way to learn about the conflict and advocate for change.
“You’re not thinking about some abstract place, you’re thinking about the family of the friends who you’re producing a thing with, who you become close with on social media,” she says. “In my experience of the world, that kind of human connection will be a far bigger motivating factor.”
Grace Garcia sits in the Stone & Leaf Cafe and scrolls through a series of artfully designed slides on her laptop. This is the draft of her “look book,” a document that outlines the thoughts and discussions that she and her classmates developed in Ndaliko’s class last semester. She and Ndaliko are working on this project together.
“So, this is kind of what I’m working on,” she says as she flicks through the earth-toned graphics, photographs, and lists. “I focused on incorporating the idea of film, specifically historical representations through film, through the actual design details of the look book.”
Garcia is a first-year student studying journalism and art history at Carolina. Last semester, she took Ndaliko’s first-year seminar, “Arts, Activism, Africa,” and is now in her class focused on media and social change in Africa. She says that she has learned a lot about Congo from these courses.
“The fact that I wasn’t hearing these stories, the fact that a lot if it remains in the shadows, was very eye-opening for me,” Garcia says. “Something that I had never consciously thought of is now something that I participate in daily. I read news articles about Congo, watch films by documentarians, and engage with musicians from the African continent, specifically in Congo.”
Later this month, Garcia and Ndaliko will send the look book to directors and students at Yole!Africa. It will serve as a tool for Congolese students and help them understand and discuss the ways their peers in the United States navigate issues of Congolese representation, contextualization, and colonization.
“We, as Westerners, need to recognize our own complicity in the issues that are current and also historical,” Garcia says. “We have the ability to have a voice and take action and to elevate the platforms that the Congolese have already created.”
Without Ndaliko, Garcia admits, she never would have made these connections.
“She’s been so inspirational,” she says. “I really aspire to look at the world the way she does.”
Chérie Rivers Ndaliko is an assistant professor in the Department of Music and an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Communication within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences. She is the director of research and education at Yole!Africa, which is based in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Grace Garcia is a freshman studying journalism and art history within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences.
Special thanks to the Carolina Digital Repository (CDR) for making the research articles linked within this piece accessible to the public. Within University Libraries, the CDR provides long-term access and safekeeping for scholarly works, datasets, research materials, records, and audiovisual materials produced by the UNC community. To learn more about their work, visit cdr.lib.unc.edu.