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Alaska Quarterly Review

Excerpted from "Liberty and Justice (For All): A Global Photo Mosaic"

Andrew McConnell

Andrew McConnell 
Joséphine Nsimba Mpongo practices the cello in the Kimbanguiste neighborhood of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. She is a member of the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste, Central Africa’s only symphony orchestra. Andrew McConnell

When I think of Africa I always think of the untapped potential that exists among the more than one billion people who live there. How many are great scientists, intellectuals, artists, musicians – unknown to the outside world and even to themselves? So much of that potential has been suppressed over the decades, as a lack of opportunity overpowered natural talent and promise.

Some do find their calling and pursue it with all the vigor and passion they can muster. Joséphine Nsimba Mpongo is such a person: cello player par excellence in central Africa’s only symphony orchestra.

Joséphine lives in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is perhaps the African country with the most potential, but the least to show for it. During the day, she works in the market selling food to make ends meet. In the evenings she practices with her fellow musicians in the Kimbanguiste neighborhood of the city. To watch her there and hear the music rising through the rundown streets is one of the most uplifting experiences imaginable. Women in this part of the world often suffer huge injustices, but in those moments listening to Joséphine play I glimpsed something else: that rare instant when the human spirit is displayed before your eyes, indestructible, with all that hope, all that possibility.

 
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Page Updated: 3/22/12  By:  Jeffery Oliver