Grange Hotels hosts the world’s first all-black orchestra, visiting the UK for the first time.
As members of the Kinshasa symphony orchestra checked in on Friday night, ahead of their momentous and historic performance at Southbank Centre on Sunday 14th September, the BBC filmed their expressions and reactions. Such was the extraordinary nature of this project. These musicians, from the war torn capital city, Kinshasa, of the Democratic Republic of Congo, were to have the luxury of hot running water, breakfast cooked for them and coaches to pick them up for rehearsals. Swap that for walking several hours, across one of the world's most conflict-ridden areas, to attend rehearsals. Or playing your instrument on an empty stomach as there hasn’t been time to eat, or coping with multiple power cuts. The chaotic everyday life in the Congo is worlds away as this astounding orchestra, most of whom are self-taught and started out on homemade instruments, take to the stage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
‘When the Southbank Centre, one of our valued arts partnerships, approached us with this booking, we were delighted and honoured to help. To provide a small bit of luxury to such a courageous, inspirational and passionate group of musicians is exciting as it is remarkable. Grange Hotels made sure that they were welcomed warmly and had a comfortable stay.’ Claire Farrington, Partnerships Manager, Grange Hotels.
The orchestra was founded in 1994 by local hero and legend, Armand Diangienda, who found himself unemployed from his job as a pilot yet used the opportunity to rally followers of his father's church, the hugely popular Kimbanguiste church, to create a symphony orchestra. In the early days, instruments were scarce: violin strings were fashioned from bicycle brake wire. Music scores were copied out by hand and music stands were built from discarded pieces of wood. A far cry from the Queen Elizabeth Hall where the orchestra and choir transfixed the audience as much as with their accomplished renditions of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 Ode to Joy (symbolising the promotion of peace and hope in a country torn apart by war and poverty) but with the sheer achievement of 20 years of existence, survival and actually getting to London, to a world stage.
Tour manager, Phil Jackson, explained that many of these visiting Congolese musicians, 101 from the present 200 members, would be delighted and overwhelmed to stay in central London in a luxury property.
He added: “My thanks for how incredibly accommodating you and your staff were in advance of, and indeed throughout our visit to London between September 12th - 15th. Accommodating a touring party of 106 musicians from The Congo, along with a BBC documentary crew, was always going to be a challenging proposition, and everyone from the Grange Group rose to the challenge with elan.”
A touching note, in French, was left by two Kinshasa orchestra members, simply stating:
“In the name of the whole delegation, we must congratulate Beauchamp for all your efforts to serve us, welcome us and put up with our whims.
We really thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Thank you, thank you, thank you”
A hotel group cannot ask anymore than that. The extraordinary Kinshasa orchestra is a potent symbol of work, perseverance, self-respect and the power of music to lift the soul from reality. They shall stay in our hearts and remind us how lucky we are not to live in a country that often comes near or at the bottom of international lists for life expectancy, income, health and education. The congratulations are entirely theirs.