Africa at Noon on September 11, 2013

The One and the Many: Individual and Collective in Congolese Popular Music

John Nimis
Assistant Professor
African Languages and Literature
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Time and Loca­tion

12:00pm, 206 Ingra­ham Hall, 1155 Obser­va­tory Drive, Madi­son, WI

Download Poster (pdf)


Kinshasa is a city fraught with contradictions and ambivalences. In this talk I will discuss a set of contradictions about life in the city, as read through Congolese popular songs, pertaining to the perception of human beings. On the one hand, the individual, in particular as constructed by Western-style market capitalism and its ideologies, and on the other, a sense of the collective with its origins in precolonial African society, made all the more pertinent in the context of the failings of state institutions and formal civil society. Congolese music addresses these questions directly, and even more can be divulged through an analysis of its aesthetic structures.


John Nimis came to UW-Madison as a post-doc in the Center for Humanities and the department of French and Italian, and is now an assistant professor of African Languages and Literature. He holds a PhD in French from New York University, and his main research focus is on Francophone Africa, specifically the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he was a Fulbright Scholar. Before coming to Madison, he taught for one year at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and holds degrees from Miami University (Ohio), the University of Michigan, and Macalester College. He has also been an affiliate of WISER at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa, and studied in Cameroon with the School for International Training. John’s research on popular music in Congo combines his interests in Africa, in language learning and teaching, his training as a musician and performer, and his graduate work in literary studies.