Popular Congolese singer Tshala Muana was arrested and detained in Kinshasa on Monday over her latest song Ingratitude, which she released days earlier online.
Her companion and producer, Claude Mashala, said Tshala Muana, who is 62, was “treated like a criminal, regardless of her state of health” by National Intelligence Agency officers who seized her.
Ingratitude criticises a man who becomes successful, then bites the hand of his mentor. Though the man is not named, it was taken to refer to President Felix Tshisekedi, who is in a very troubled coalition with his predecessor Joseph Kabila’s party. Muana, as the street would put it, is Kabila’s woman.
Indeed, she was released the next day, following pressure from Kabila’s party.
Not fancied as a favourite in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 2018 election, Tshisekedi emerged surprise winner in one of the most implausible outcomes of a recent African vote. That was possible because Kabila threw his own party’s candidate Emmanuel Shadary under the bus, and allegedly fiddled the vote for Tshisekedi.
Tshisekedi partisans have threatened Muana over the song, and it has been banned from local radio stations.
Muana was one of the most happening musicians in East and Central Africa, especially at the height of her heady career in the 1990s. However, anyone who followed her exploits then and shortly after, would have expected that she would be arrested for raunchy dancing, not singing.
Muana would do unmentionable things with her waist, and allow her male fans to get to the edge of the stage and touch parts of her body that members of the Mothers’ Union would never approve of, sending them into hysteria.
She was much-beloved in Kampala, and when she was in town and performing on a Friday evening, it was nearly impossible to get some journalists to do late hours and to have order in the newsroom.
There was, nonetheless, a political element to her racy act. With the dawn of something resembling liberal democracy as old one-party and military dictatorships in Africa fell in the dawn of the post-Cold War era, there was exuberance all around the continent.
Apartheid had ended in South Africa. State controlled economies were being dismantled and free market reforms and new wealth, unleashed. Thousands of the African middle class and intellectuals who had fled to the West in the cruel period, were flocking back.
The evangelicals and other puritans, who’d been repressed by military dictators, had also emerged and were blossoming, and decrying the growing licentiousness of society. Muana subverted all that, expressing the people’s right to the small sins and simple things of life.
Yet here we are.
Political allegories begin like Ingratitude. Today, it might tell of a local food fight between Tshisekedi and Kabila. Tomorrow, the mentor might be a people, in DRC’s neighbourhood and beyond, where the leaders of revolutions eat the revolutionaries. Where the big man who comes to power on the backs of a people who dared to see a saviour in him, turns into a predator, looting their riches, and tormenting them.
When Tshala Muana stopped lifting her legs on stage and sat down, she found redemption. It’s the song. It’s always the song.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]